New York Post
Skidding Knicks need another hot run — but it won’t be easy
The pendulum has begun to swing back the other way now, because of course it has. The Knicks have been nothing if not streaky.
An eight-game winning streak followed by a five-game losing streak followed by seven wins in eight games and now this current four-game losing streak that has featured three setbacks to teams with losing records. They have been consistently inconsistent, mixing strong stretches with poor ones.
This streak, however, feels different because of the upcoming schedule, the fractured right thumb that will keep defensive ace Mitchell Robinson out for at least a month and the sore left knee sixth man Immanuel Quickley is dealing with. If the Knicks (25-23) aren’t careful, this slide can spiral.
Six of their next seven games come against teams with winning records, and the one that doesn’t have more victories than defeats on its ledger is the Lakers, with a surging LeBron James. It starts Tuesday against Donovan Mitchell and Cavaliers at the Garden, where the Knicks are two games under .500 and have lost three of their last four. Then they visit the NBA-best Celtics and return to take on the contending Nets. It may get worse over the next few weeks, particularly if the Knicks can’t defend better than they have since Robinson was sidelined Wednesday.
They have allowed 35 firstquarter points in three straight games, and in the last two losses, they were blown away to start the fourth quarter. What’s scary is the Knicks’ offense performed well in those two setbacks, averaging 120 points and 15.5 made 3-pointers. It didn’t matter because they were defenseless, unable to slow down either opponent even a little bit.
They were torched on the glass by the Wizards, Hawks and Raptors, allowing a combined 49 offensive rebounds in the three games. In this losing streak, the Knicks have the worst defensive rating in the league (130.3) and worst defensive rebounding percentage (59.5) along with an ugly NET rating of minus-9.6 that is only better than that of four teams. They have not been able to defend without fouling, allowing an average of 27.8 free-throw attempts, which is also near the bottom of the league.
Before Sunday’s loss in Toronto, coach Tom Thibodeau emphasized the need for the Knicks to play with a sense of urgency and out-hustle the other team. That was missing early against the Raptors as the Knicks dug themselves a 17-point deficit. After the disheartening defeat, Jalen Brunson talked like someone who knows his team is in a precarious position, that the losses are weighing on him and his teammates.
“We can’t dwell on how we’ve been playing,” he said. “We know how we’ve played in the past and we have to get back to that.”
The Knicks can take comfort in the fact that they have been here before. It’s one bonus of playing to such extremes. They have played their way out of funks a few times already this season. It just so happens that this one coincides with a key injury and a daunting part of the schedule. But make no mistake, this feels like a pivotal time, the Knicks falling to seventh in the Eastern Conference and looking like a shell of the team that pretty recently won 15 of 21 games.
“The challenge is there’s always going to be moving parts to the season,” Thibodeau said. “You may be [in a period of] heavy travel. You may be down somebody. So, it’s how quickly can you adapt?”
The Knicks need to adapt fast and start a new streak. The current one is threatening to ruin what had been a feel-good season.