ATLANTA (AP)Jalen Brunson is on quite a streak.
The New York Knicks are confident it’s no fluke.
Brunson scored 28 points, Julius Randle added 25 and the Knicks cruised into their All-Star break with their third straight victory, blowing out the Atlanta Hawks 122-101 Wednesday night.
New York moved six games above .500 (33-27) and is brimming with confidence about its prospects for the remainder of the regular season.
”There’s still 22 games left,” said RJ Barrett, who chipped in 17 points and was among six Knicks in double figures. ”We’ve got to stay the course.”
The course looks promising the way Brunson is playing.
In his first season with the Knicks after signing a $104 million deal in free agency, he is averaging 31.5 points over his last 10 games and 23.9 for the season.
Hard to believe he was just a second-round pick by Dallas coming off a stellar college career at Villanova, where he won a pair of national titles.
”He’s good and he knows he’s good,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”I don’t think anyone is surprised by what he’s doing.”
But Brunson is hardly content. When told what his coach had said, the 26-year-old guard quickly pointed out he had five turnovers.
”Whenever I step on the court, I try to be the best player I can be,” he said. ”There’s always ways I can improve, no matter what’s going on, whether I’m playing good or bad.”
New York settled this one right from the start. The Knicks never trailed, building a 24-point lead in the first half and leading by double digits for the final 42 minutes of the game.
The only sign of life from the Hawks came late in the third quarter, when they crept within 11.
But Obi Toppin and Josh Hart connected on back-to-back 3s from the same corner early in the fourth to push the lead back to 19.
That was it for the Hawks, who lost their second in a row to dip below .500 (29-30) in what has been a hugely disappointing season just two years after they reached the Eastern Conference final.
Trae Young was held to 19 points on 4-of-14 shooting, making just one of six outside the 3-point stripe. De’Andre Hunter led the Hawks with 20 points.
”We definitely need a break,” Young said. ”I’ve got faith in my team. I’ve got trust that we can make a special run.”
Randle grabbed 11 rebounds for the Knicks, who finished with a 55-40 edge on the boards.
Thibodeau fretted before the game about his team letting up heading into the All-Star hiatus.
”You don’t want to go on break before the break,” he said.
Instead, it was the Hawks who sleepwalked through the contest, falling behind by double digits before the game was 5 minutes old.
New York stretched the margin to 34-14 late in the first period, and the Hawks never got closer than 14 the rest of the opening half.
The Knicks led by as many as 24 points and were up 66-44 at the break. Randle had 14 points over the first two quarters, while Brunson and Barrett chipped in with 12 apiece.
Shredding Atlanta’s defense, the Knicks knocked down 51% of their shots in the opening half, including 9 of 26 from beyond the 3-point stripe. The Hawks, on the other hand, connected on just 1 of 15 from long range before halftime.
Knicks: New York improved to 8-6 since C Mitchell Robinson went down with a thumb injury. Jericho Sims has stepped up to fill Robinson’s spot in the starting five, while Isaiah Hartenstein is providing solid minutes off the bench. ”When someone goes out, it’s opportunity for someone else to step in,” Thibodeau said. ”We’re getting good production out of that position.” ,,, New York wrapped up its season series with the Hawks. Each team won twice.
Hawks: Newcomer Saddiq Bey played his first game in front of the Atlanta fans after being acquired at the trade deadline. He had just 2 points in 18 1/2 minutes. … The Hawks finished 5 of 26 on 3-pointers. … John Collins left in the third quarter after taking an elbow the face.
Knicks: Return from the All-Star break at Washington, where they will face the Wizards on Feb. 24.
Hawks: Host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 24 in their first of four straight home games after the break.
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