CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was like 2018 all over again.
The Villanova championship backcourt of Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo, best friends and former roommates, started together Saturday night and took turns dominating the Hornets, combining for 57 points to extend the Knicks’ winning streak to three games with a 122-108 victory.
“We’re in a good stretch,” Brunson said.
The surging Knicks (8-5) have six wins in their past seven games, emphatically handling an easy portion of the schedule.
The Knicks led wire-to-wire for a second consecutive night after similarly punishing the Wizards on Friday.
So over two nights and two games, the Knicks didn’t trail for a second.
And just like in Washington, the visiting team was serenaded with a “Let’s Go Knicks” chant from the orange-and-blue-clad crowd at the end of the evening.
The first half was all about Brunson, the shifty point guard who finished with 32 points and started the game with an “en fuego” boost.
Brunson shot 10 of 14 before the break in just 18 minutes.
His final shot of the second quarter — an off-balance and contested driving layup — might’ve been the most impressive.
The performance bolstered an already impressive start to Brunson’s second season with the Knicks.
“I would love for him to get an All-Star berth,” DiVincenzo said of his friend. “I think he is [an All-Star]. I think we have two All-Stars on this team [with Julius Randle].”
The second half belonged to DiVincenzo, who started in place of the injured Quentin Grimes and set a career high with 25 points (14 in the second half).
DiVincenzo, the Most Outstanding Player at the 2018 Final Four, was feeling it. He nailed 7 of his 10 3-point attempts and shot 9-for-12 overall.
“[DiVincenzo] was terrific, terrific,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought the shotmaking, the playmaking, the defense, it was a terrific all-around game from him.”
The Knicks trounced the defense-averse Hornets (3-8) less than a week ago at the Garden, and have the luxury of playing them again on Nov. 28.
Thibodeau’s squad has shown it can make easy work of the bad teams.
But the schedule heats up a bit with three upcoming games against the Timberwolves, Heat and Suns.
“There’s still a lot of room for growth and that’s the important thing, to understand there’s a lot of things we have to do better,” Thibodeau said. “The wins are important and hopefully we’re learning as we go. I’d prefer to learn from a win than a loss, but overall I think the unselfishness offensively has been terrific.”
RJ Barrett returned after a three-game absence due to his migraine/illness issue, starting at small forward and logging an encouraging 26 minutes.
With Brunson carrying the offensive load, Barrett wasn’t as aggressive in the first half in a reduced role.
But he picked it up in the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points, including a big corner 3-pointer with 8:32 remaining to halt a Hornets push and give the Knicks a 99-88 lead.
Randle was solid with 21 points and eight assists.
Mitchell Robinson grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, passing Bill Cartwright and Kurt Thomas for third on the franchise list for career offensive boards.
He still has a long way to catch Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing, however.
“I’m surprised it took him so long [to get to No. 3] the way he’s been rebounding. He’s been a man-imal,” Brunson said. “He’s … I can’t explain it. You’ve got to go out there and watch it. He’s been great. The things he’s been able to do for us on both sides of the ball is nothing short of spectacular.”
The Hornets are young, undisciplined and probably lottery-bound again.
They also brought back Miles Bridges, who hadn’t played in nearly 600 days before re-emerging this past week.
Bridges served a suspension to start this season after pleading no contest to felony domestic violence, which followed the mother of his children, Mychelle Johnson, posting an Instagram photo of alleged bruising and other injuries on her body.
Bridges, who was on a max-contract trajectory before the arrest, played 31 minutes and scored 19 points against the Knicks.
It was his second game back after the suspension, and, despite the ugly accusations, there wasn’t much public hesitation from the Hornets to bring him into the fold.
“I don’t think there’s a phase of the game where he doesn’t help the team,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.
Bridges didn’t help nearly enough Saturday to beat the ’Nova Knicks.