R.J. Barrett Credit: Bill Moore photo

Coming into this season, it stood to reason that although the Knicks conceivably could be a better team than they were last season when they finished 41-31 and the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, by the conclusion of the 2021-’22 NBA regular season campaign, which is back to its normal 82-game schedule, the Knicks could be lower in the standings as a result of the improvement of several other teams.

That premise has manifested in a little under one month and 15 games into their schedule as the Knicks have encountered a much more competitive East. Last season, they were 15-6 versus the bottom seven teams in the conference. Conversely, heading into last night’s game (Wednesday) against the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks were 8-6, sixth in the East, and had gone 3-5 against the Magic, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets, none of which were playoff teams a season ago.

Furthermore, the Knicks, who were 25-11 at MSG last season, had struggled in their own building early on and were 3-4 prior to hosting the Magic. With a new starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, and third year forward Barrett moving to the small forward position to open games, the Knicks have made significant alterations to their lineup. But their head coach Tom Thibodeau was not entertaining any excuses regarding his team being in the midst of an adjustment period.

“You know what they say. When it’s 10 games, you say we need 20,” Thibodeau maintained following the Knicks’ 112-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at the Garden Nov. 10. “When you get to 20, you say 30. And then once you get to 30, you say 40. And then before you know it, the season’s over. So, it’s a bunch of bullsh*t.”

The eye test affirms that as a collective unit, the Knicks’ starters, which also include forward Julius Randle and center Mitch Robinson, have not demonstrated positive consistency. Thibodeau has had to rely on his bench to retake leads and pull out wins for the ballclub in several games this season. The most recent being on Sunday against the Indiana Pacers at home.

The Knicks fell behind by 12 points in the third quarter before the reserves rallied them in the fourth, holding the Pacers to just two baskets and 10 points in a much needed 92-84 win, stopping a three-game losing streak. Guards Immanuel Quickley and Derrick

Rose led the charge. Quickley scored 16 points and Rose 14. Quickley and Walker (16 points) were tied for a team high but Walker didn’t play the entire final period because of the effectiveness of the Quickley-Rose duo.

R.J. Barrett, who was just 4-13 for 12 points against the Pacers, stayed stuck in a shooting slump but hit three impactful 3-pointers in the second half. In his five games before taking on the Magic last night, Barrett had made only 17 of 63 attempts and 6-26 on threes.

The Knicks will host the Houston Rockets on Saturday, face the Bulls in Chicago on Sunday and be back at the Garden next Tuesday to meet the Los Angeles Lakers.

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