Knicks’ longest win streak in seven years sets up unlikely showdown against Hawks

R.J. Barrett hates missing shots and calls himself a perfectionist. He was nearly perfect in the third quarter Tuesday to spark the New York Knicks to another victory that extended their longest winning streak in seven years.

Barrett scored 18 of his team-high 24 points in the third quarter to help the Knicks drop the Charlotte Hornets 109-97. Barrett shot 6-of-7 in the quarter, including 4-of-4 on 3-pointers, as the Knicks erased a six-point halftime deficit and took control of the game for their seventh consecutive win.

"I hate missing," Barrett said. "I hate when things are not perfect, especially if I do everything right and I miss the shot, or I do everything right and then I turn over the ball, or something. I hate when things aren't perfect."


“I hate missing. I hate when things are not perfect, especially if I do everything right”- RJ Barrett on being a perfectionist

Barrett and the Knicks have been perfect in the win column for almost two weeks now. The seven-game win streak is the longest active streak in the NBA and the Knicks' longest since an eight-game run in March 2014. New York is a season-high five games over .500 at 32-27 and has climbed to fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks are right on the heels of fourth place, too, just a half-game behind the Atlanta Hawks, who have won nine of 11 for a hot streak of their own. All of it sets up an unlikely East showdown Wednesday when the Hawks visit Madison Square Garden.

"The important thing for us is not to get lost," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You start thinking about down the road, the playoffs, win streaks, and you lose focus on getting ready for Atlanta. That's where our focus has to be.

"We just go day-by-day, step-by-step, and if we're taking care of all the things we need to take care of, then all of the other stuff will take care of itself. And it's easy to get knocked off course. You can't do that. Your focus and your concentration are everything. That's what gives you your intensity."

The @nyknicks pick up their 7th straight win behind 24 PTS, 6 3PM from RJ Barrett.

With 13 games left in the regular season, the Knicks are in line for their first playoff appearance since 2013. Barring a collapse, the only question is if they can maintain a top-six spot and avoid the new play-in tournament. In either case, excitement is growing for the imminent return of postseason basketball at MSG.

Here are four more things to know today in the NBA:

PG steps up without Kawhi

Paul George scored 33 points and calmly hit the go-ahead free throws with 4.8 seconds left to give the Los Angeles Clippers a 113-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. The Clippers were without leading scorer Kawhi Leonard, who has missed four of the last five games with right foot soreness. George has shouldered the offensive load in Leonard's absence, scoring at least 32 points in six of the last seven games.

"He's been carrying us," said Clippers coach Ty Lue said. "He's really stepped up by making his teammates better but also scoring the basketball. He's just doing everything. It was a complete game tonight and we needed every bit of it."

33 PTS, 11 REB and the game-winning free throws for Paul George in the @LAClippers W.

Harden 'back to square one'

Brooklyn Nets star James Harden is out indefinitely after a "setback" during his rehab from a strained right hamstring. Harden has missed the last seven games and was progressing well before experiencing the setback Monday during an "on-court rehab session," according to the team. With 14 games left in the regular season, Nets coach Steve Nash said it was uncertain if Harden returns before the playoffs.

"Back to square one," Nash said before Tuesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans. "We'll rehabilitate him and get him back whenever we can. Who knows when that will be."

Ahead of tonight’s game, Steve Nash provided injury updates on James Harden, who suffered a setback, and Kevin Durant.

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Rivers joins shorthanded Nuggets

Austin Rivers has a new home with the Denver Nuggets after signing a 10-day contract, the team announced Tuesday. Rivers started the season with the New York Knicks and played 21 games before being traded at the deadline to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who then waived the veteran guard. The 28-year-old brings steady 3-point shooting and ballhandling to a backcourt that lost Jamal Murray to a torn ACL last week. Rivers is expected to be available Wednesday when the Nuggets play the Blazers in Portland.

Game of the night: Suns at Sixers

The Suns' daunting Eastern Conference road trip stops in Philadelphia on Wednesday to face the first-place Sixers. Phoenix began its five-game trip Monday with a one-point win over the Milwaukee Bucks and will finish with the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks. The Suns have won 15 of 18 and are 1½ games out of first in the West, while the Sixers are trying to hold off the Nets for the top spot in the East.

Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.

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