Protecting one’s home court is a primary goal of each of the NBA’s 32 teams and an essential element of their success or lack thereof. The Knicks are a surprising 16-14 this season and eighth in the Eastern Conference standings when they host the 26-7 Boston Celtics tonight (Thursday), the team with the East’s best record at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks have stayed above .500 on the strength of a 14-5 mark at MSG. This time a year ago, they were 16-14 on Christmas Day before losing to the Celtics in an early afternoon meeting and won only 15 more games to finish the season 31-51.
The Knicks’ struggles away from home may foretell how their season will unfold, particularly over the next six and a half weeks, when they will play 17 of their next 23 games on the road. They are 2-9 in opponents’ arenas, including getting run out of North Carolina 109-91 by the Charlotte Hornets Monday, playing without their two leading scorers in forward Kristaps Porzingis (left knee soreness) and guard Tim Hardaway, who missed his ninth straight game with a stress injury to his lower left leg. The loss ended a four-game Knicks’ winning streak.
The aforementioned 23-game stretch will be a test of the Knicks’ mental toughness, resiliency and quality depth, as it is a near certainty they will be faced with the adversity that manifests for developing teams during long, arduous stages on the road. Forward Michael Beasley, who had 30 points in the Knicks’ 111-96 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Garden Saturday night, in particular, has been a revelation for the Knicks in the midst of their injury issues and is crucial to them staying on the plus side of their record.
One observer said he is impressed with what he has seen from the Knicks for the first part of this season. “I like what they have going on over there,” former Knick Carmelo Anthony shared Saturday night after he faced the Knicks as a member of the Thunder.
“For me, just to see those guys having fun again, knowing that it wasn’t fun—the fun was lost over the past couple of seasons. To see those guys having fun again, bringing that energy, bringing that love back to the game, back to the Garden is something that I’m happy for those guys.”