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Knicks' young core shines in possible last game of the season

Coronavirus is an immediate concern, but the future appears to be bright for the Knicks

March 11, 2020 is never going to be remembered as the day that the New York Knicks beat the Atlanta Hawks in overtime.

Honestly, it may not even be remembered as the last game of Vince Carter's iconic 22-year career, if indeed it was.

No, March 11, 2020 will forever be remembered as the day that the NBA suspended its season just a month before the start of  the playoffs in the midst of an international health crisis centered on COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.

The Knicks were playing what was one of their better overall games of the season. They entered the fourth quarter up by 18 on the Hawks, seemingly exorcising the demons of the night prior when they blew an identical lead to the Wizards.

And then, right as the Knicks were blowing their lead to the Hawks late after Trae Young woke from his slumber, the news broke that the season was being suspended. Poetic, really.

The Knicks managed to not totally blow it, coming through in overtime behind some clutch shot-making from RJ Barrett and Julius Randle. And that, along with the career-best night from Frank Ntilikina the night prior, might be enough to buoy Knicks fans' hopes, if the worst-case scenario kicks in and this was indeed the final game the Knicks played in the 2019-20 season.

Instead of a more traditional recap, instead, here's five things to provide some hope going forward from these two very encouraging games:

RJ Barrett is a jumper and a lead role away from potential stardom

RJ Barrett had one of the best games of his young career against the Hawks, dropping in a very efficient 26 points on 9-14 shooting (2-5 from three, 6-6 from the line). He also had five rebounds, four assists and two steals, and his chemistry with Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle was at arguably its highest levels of the whole season.

Payton may or may not be back with the Knicks next year, but with a point guard-heavy draft and Chris Paul rumors swirling, it probably stands to reason that he won't be back. But Barrett and Randle vibing together is something that will be an asset to the Knicks next year, in Randle's second guaranteed year of his three-year contract with a third-year team option he signed last offseason.

Julius Randle is pretty good when in the right role and playing well

Randle has been kind of a lightning rod for criticism this season as the Knicks' highest-paid player and miscast superstar, but if one paid attention throughout the season, there's been flashes of a guy that can be at best a very useful player for the Knicks next season, and at worst a guy that could potentially fetch some draft or player compensation at next year's trade deadline.

Randle dropped 33 points on 13-22 shooting and snatched 11 rebounds against Atlanta. That's outlier production for Randle, but even two-thirds of that on a nightly basis at the same efficiency is enough to make Randle a very useful player.

Frank Ntilikina has the green light

Ntilikina didn't exactly follow up his career-best 20-point, 10-assist explosion of Tuesday night on Wednesday, but one thing was made pretty clear — he's not showing the reluctance he once did to shoot, and it seems like the coaching staff and his teammates are completely behind him taking as many attempts as he wants.

Ntilikina finished with just eight points, two assists and four rebounds on 1-7 shooting Wednesday, but some other things stood out. For one, he got to the free throw line six times for the second straight night, and sunk five of them. For another thing, he was still a noticeable presence on the court even without the ball in his hands, looking much more talkative and demonstrative than he's been at points in his career.

Mitchell Robinson is ready to start

This has probably been the case for weeks now, but the point was just further hammered home on Wednesday. Robinson capped another perfect shooting night in his pursuit of Wilt Chamberlain's single-season field goal percentage record, scoring 16 points on 7-7 shooting and blocking two shots. If the Knicks (and the NBA) are indeed gone for a long absence, too, Robinson certainly left fans with some lasting images.

Kevin Knox just might be OK

Knox put together one of his best shooting efforts since his early-season surge, scoring 12 points on 3-7 shooting (3-3 from 3) in just 16 minutes of action. Knox's effortless shooting stroke and sky-high shooting arc was on full display, once again proving that once the confidence and consistency comes around for Knox, he could be a dangerous multi-level scorer in the NBA.

Knox is still only 20 years old, and won't turn 21 until shortly before next season. If he can find some consistency, much like Ntilikina and Barrett, the Knicks might really have something in this young core to look forward to — if/when the NBA season resumes, or next season if need be.