Credit: Bill Moore photos

The Knicks are back at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night, Jan. 29, to host the Cleveland Cavaliers, recovering from a laborious six-day, four-game road trip facing Western Conference opponents that began Jan. 21. They opened the slate with a decisive 119-104 win over Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, spearheaded by a career-high 28 points from RJ Barrett.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, the outcome did not foreshadow what was to come for the remaining three games. They took losses versus the Sacramento Kings (103-94), Portland Trailblazers (116-113) and Utah Jazz (108-94) in succession, to drop to 8-11. It is the first time this season the Knicks have been three games under .500.

Since losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden Jan. 8, which was the beginning of a five-game losing streak, the Knicks are 3-8. However, seven of those games were on the road and only once did they play two straight at the Garden.

Progress can be viewed using various measures. Employing a fundamental eye-test as well as wins and losses, the Knicks have made obvious strides and are demonstrably more competitive than they were last season over a comparable span of the schedule. Under former head coach David Fizdale, they were 4-14 after 18 games. Maintaining positive consistency and continuity both during a singular game and over a span of games has been the Knicks’ most pressing challenge.

A prime example was guard Austin Rivers’ performance against the Jazz on Tuesday night. Rivers came off of the bench to score 25 points in a little over 12 minutes of playing time in the first half. He was a sizzling 10-10, including 5-5 on three-point attempts to drive the Knicks to a 59-46 halftime advantage.

The second half was a totally different story. The Knicks were outscored 62-35 in the final two quarters and Rivers went scoreless, going 0-4. No Knick attempted more than four foul shots and as a team they were only 12-17 from the line.

“We knew right from the start, Utah’s playing as well as anyone in the league,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. “And so I thought our aggressiveness to start the game was very good. And then we didn’t sustain it for 48 minutes. And that’s something we’re still working toward.”

The Jazz’s victory over the Knicks was their ninth consecutive win.

Thibodeau has compelled and drilled his team to put forth maximum effort for a full four quarters. By and large, the Knicks have collectively heeded his charge, with their intensity and execution manifesting on the defensive end of the floor. The Knicks ended their game versus the Jazz ranked No. 1 overall in the NBA in defense, allowing just 103.8 points per game.

The slow pace at which the Knicks play has also factored into limiting opponents’ points. Conversely, in conjunction with poor offensive efficiency, it has been a significant reason why they are at the bottom of the league at 101.5 points per game. The Knicks are last in possessions per 48 minutes averaging 98.7. They are the only team under 100. It is even lower over their past three games at 95.9.

By comparison, the Los Angeles Clippers, who as of Wednesday had the fourth best record in the NBA at 13-5, were next to last in possessions per 48 minutes at 100.2, but No. 8 in scoring (113.9).