New York Post


Knicks out to prove they can win away from MSG


The similariti­es are eerie — almost like looking into a mirror.

A year ago at this time, there was optimism surroundin­g the Knicks, two games above . 500 following a hard-fought Christmas Day loss at the Garden to a division rival. A tough threegame road trip was on tap.

It became the precursor to a nightmaris­h stretch that would wash away those positive feelings and turn playoff hopes into lottery talk.

Now here are the Knicks (1716), a game over .500, heading on the road again after a Christmas Day loss at home, the start of the minefield part of the schedule. Of the next 20 games, 16 are on the road — where the Knicks are a dreadful 2-10.

“The important thing is good teams bounce back quick,” center Enes Kanter said Tuesday. “We got three games coming up in four days, so you’re going to see how good of a team we are.”

By then, either the Knicks will have reassured their fans this season will not follow last year’s ominous path, or history will be repeating itself. They are trending in the wrong direction, having lost three of four, following a four-game winning streak. But last year’s team was an older group hampered by injuries and off-the-court issues. There was Derrick Rose going AWOL and the Carmelo Anthony/Phil Jackson feud. There have been no signs of anything like that from this team through 33 games.

“These guys are going to fight until the end of the season no matter what our record is,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “A lot of young guys, they know we’re working not just for this year but the next couple of years of getting better at certain things. So there won’t be any quit in these guys.”

The daunting stretch begins with a three-game trip: Wednesday night against the improving Bulls, followed by the always formidable Spurs, and a Saturday meeting with the Pelicans and the dynamic Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins duo. On paper, the Bulls game is a soft landing spot. Chicago has the second-fewest wins in the Eastern Conference. But the Bulls did defeat the Knicks on Dec. 9 at the United Center, and before dropping their last two games, they had won seven straight.

“I think we’re ready,” Kanter said. “I think we’ve got to set the tone early, especially the f irst game with the Bulls. We owe them one.”

The Knicks did perform better in their most recent road game, a 104-101 setback to the Pistons. Unlike many of their other losses away from the Garden, the Knicks weren’t overwhelme­d. They rallied from a terrible start, down 17-2, and seemed in control, up four with 1:31 left, before unraveling. It was a poor finish, but it was better than eight of the 10 losses on the road that have been by double-figures.

“I think on the road we just need to learn how to win,” Kanter said. “It’s really important. If we want to make the playoffs and go far in the playoffs, we need to learn how to win on the road and just stay together.”

Obviously, it’s easier said than done. Hornacek emphasized the importance of the Knicks playing up-tempo, giving extra effort defensivel­y to nullify the opponents’ comfort level at home, and starting faster. Kanter talked about playing with more emotion without having their fans there to push them when adversity strikes.

“Everybody needs to bring energy,” Kanter said. “Because on the road it’s just us against 20,000 people. We’re playing against the whole crowd and the team. We just need to fire ourselves up and just stay together.

“If you look at this team, this team on t hi s court, we have enough talent to beat every team on every court. It doesn’t matter on the road, not on the road. We just need to stay together and just bring energy.”

It remains to be seen if the Knicks can even talk about the p l ayo ffs when this 20 - ga me stretch is complete. Last year, they lost all three road games on the trip immediatel­y following Christmas, and went on to drop 13-of-16. The rest of the season was about draft position.

All signs point to this year being different. Then again, few expected last season to fall apart as it did, either. The seasondefi­ning portion of the schedule has arrived.

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