Tuesday, February 20, 2024

NBA Preview: Toronto Raptors (16-26) at New York Knicks (25-17)

RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley only had to wait three weeks to return to Madison Square Garden with the Toronto Raptors and get closure on their stints with the New York Knicks.

It will take a little bit longer to determine if the trade that sent Barrett and Quickley to the Raptors was the move that helped turn the Knicks from a uniquely consistent and intriguing team into a legitimate NBA title contender.

The early returns on the trade have been encouraging for the Knicks, who will try to continue their January surge Saturday night when they host the Raptors in a battle of Atlantic Division rivals.

Both teams were off Friday after playing at home Thursday, when the Knicks edged the Washington Wizards 113-109 and the Raptors fell to the Chicago Bulls 116-110.

The win was the eighth in 10 games this month for the Knicks, whose run began with the activation of OG Anunoby after he was acquired along with Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn on Dec. 30 in exchange for Barrett, Quickley and a 2024 second-round draft pick.

Anunoby is averaging 15.0 points per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from 3-point land for the Knicks. But Anunoby, who was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive second team last season, has been particularly effective on that end, where New York is holding opponents to 101 points per game over the last 10 games — down drastically from the 113.9 points per game it surrendered over the first 32 contests, and the best mark in the NBA over that time period.

Barrett and Quickley were valuable members of the young homegrown core that snapped the Knicks’ seven-year playoff drought in 2021 and helped New York reach the second round last spring for just the second time this century.

The trade shocked both players, who were in Indiana with the Knicks preparing for the Dec. 30 game against the Pacers.

But the trade has benefited Barrett and Quickley just as it did their former team. Quickley, inserted into the starting lineup for the rebuilding Raptors, is averaging 18.0 points per game and shooting 45.2 percent from 3-point land.

Barrett, a Toronto native, is averaging 20.2 points per game while shooting far better from the field with the Raptors (54.7 percent overall and 39.5 percent from 3-point land) than he did this season with the Knicks (42.3 percent and 33.1 percent, respectively).

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