Tom Thibodeau soared into the All-Star break smiling and owning a winning record.
The Knicks whipped the Pistons, 114-104, Thursday to enter the All-Star break on an 8-3 spree, a 19-18 record overall and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks haven’t owned a winning record this late in a season since the 54-win, 2012-13 campaign.
With chants of “Let’s Go Knicks’’ from the 2,000 strong on hand at the Garden, they clobbered the Eastern Conference-worst Pistons for the second time in four days, making sure to take advantage on what has been a soft patch of the schedule recently.
Asked what he planned to do during the All-Star break, the hard-driving Thibodeau broke into a smile and joked, “You know me, Turks and Caicos.’’
Nah, there’s no Carribbean beach laying ahead for Thibodeau, though the Knicks first-year coach has earned at least a couple of days of respite.
“I’ll get some time with my family, just relax and recharge a little bit and then get ready for the second half,’’ Thibodeau said.
Of the Knicks’ last eight victories, seven have come against clubs well below .500 (Washington, Houston, Atlanta, Minnesota, Sacramento and Detroit).
“Last year those games were a tossup,’’ said first-time All-Star Julius Randle. “This year we’re handling business when we’re supposed to. That’s always encouraging, taking care of what you’re supposed to. It’s definitely helped us get in the position that we’re in right now.’’
Indeed, after seven years as the league’s laughingstocks, the Knicks will take it. Whether they can keep it up when play resumes is another story.
The Knicks will open the season’s second half with a four-game road trip that will test their mettle — at Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Philadelphia — and won’t play the Garden again until March 18 against Orlando. They are 11-7 at home.
Randle closed his brilliant first half with 27 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. He’ll be in Atlanta on All-Star Sunday for his first appearance after hearing loud “M-V-P’’ chants since fans were allowed back two weeks ago.
Randle’s sidekick, RJ Barrett, may get there one day. He soared into the All-Star break with a 21-point, five-assist evening in which he shot 9 of 13.
“We’re growing as a team, growing as a unit,’’ Randle said. “We got to go into the break and stay ready because the second half will be a beast. First half was great for us but we know we can keep improving and get better as a team and we will.’’
It was another giddy Garden night as the limited fans chanted, “We Want Pinson” — calling for 12th man Theo Pinson.
Point guard Elfrid Payton was not only back in action after missing four straight games with a hamstring strain but started. He picked up six quick points, not showing rust with his ability to penetrate, setting the tone and finishing with 20 points in 35 minutes.
“We’re in a good place but it can easily go another way in the second half of the season,’’ Payton said. “We feel like we’re close but we got so much more room to grow so coach is always on us.”
While the Knicks have won their share of games against standout teams (Milwaukee, Indiana, Boston, Golden State), they have taken care of business against the dregs — 12-5 against losing squads.
The Knicks closed the game’s first half with panache. Sparked by Barrett, they went on an 18-4 run to go up by 15 points before a driving layup by Detroit’s Dennis Smith Jr. in the final seconds made the score 59-46 at halftime. It was never close in the second half.
Randle now heads to Atlanta an All-Star and a leader. He wrote about failing as a leader last season in an essay for the Players’ Tribune. Now he is Captain Randle — without the official title.
“I definitely think I’ve grown as a leader,’’ Randle said. “I definitely think I’m a person on our team that leads by example with how I approach, how I work, I care about my teammates. I definitely think it’s something that guys look to me every night to bring my game a certain way.’’