In his 15-year NBA playing career with the Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz, Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek experienced the capacity a long road trip can build. He believes his team’s current seven-game, 12-day perilous journey away from Madison Square Garden can offer the power of reclamation the Knicks crucially need.
It began Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in Brooklyn with a 119-104 victory over the Nets. The win came 24 hours after a dispiriting 123-118 overtime loss at the Garden to the New Orleans Pelicans in a game the Knicks led by 19 in the third quarter. Before playing the Grizzlies in Memphis last night (Wednesday), the Knicks were 20-24 and had lost 11 of their previous 15 games. They were 5-15 on the road.
“I told the guys a lot this is an opportunity to go on the road for two weeks. You’ll be with each other for two straight weeks. It’s a great time to get that bonding, get a couple of those wins,” Hornacek said in his pregame news conference Sunday before the Knicks faced the Pelicans.
He continued, “Those are trips that in the past, teams that I’ve been on, teams that our coaches have been on, teams that some of these players have been on, that can turn things around. You go out there and somehow win five of seven road games, all of a sudden your mentality becomes much different. So we’re looking at it as an opportunity to see if we can rise to it.”
Despite their inability to string together wins over the past month—heading into Memphis the Knicks had not won two consecutive games since defeating the Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 14 and 16 respectively—Hornacek’s squad was still only three games behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth seed in Eastern Conference after defeating the Nets for the third time this season.
The Knicks’ troubles cannot be attributed to one primary factor, but their inefficiency in the fourth quarter of games, when Hornacek has been hard pressed to put a unit on the floor that can sustain leads, has been a common thread. Last week at MSG, after they began the final period with a four-point advantage over the Chicago Bulls yet lost in overtime 122-119, their starting point-guard, Jarrett Jack, who registered a triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, maintained that perhaps it is a lack of will and not execution that has been the Knicks’ most constraining flaw.
“I think there are moments where we get a bit lax,” Jack said. “I think there are moments when we take a step back in that area…We gotta understand there’s a sense of urgency for us every possession. I’m looking at myself first…I don’t say nothing to anybody else or ask of anybody else what I’m not asking of myself. I gotta give more. I gotta go out there and set the tone.”
Urgency is undoubtedly required for a Knicks team that has seen its record steadily trend downward.