It was only three weeks into this season, but Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau was acutely aware that it could go suddenly and dramatically downhill, and wasn’t receptive to excuses for his team’s poor showing in a 112-100 Nov. 10 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden to put their record at 7-5.
“You know what they say. When it’s 10 games, you say we need 20,” Thibodeau snarled when questioned by the press if his team had played enough games to reasonably develop positive chemistry.
“When it’s 20, you say 30. When it’s 30, you say it’s 40. Before you know it, the season’s over. It’s a bunch of bull—t,” he maintained. One could argue that going into last night’s game versus the Philadelphia 76ers on the road, nearly four months later, with 21 games remaining, the Knicks’ season is effectively over relative to their playoff aspirations entering the campaign.
They were 25-36, 2-12 in their previous 14 games, and beginning a 12-day, seven-game stretch away from home in which only one of the opponents—the Sacramento Kings—is currently under .500. After falling under the even mark at 11-12 on Dec. 4, the Knicks haven’t been at/or above .500 since Jan. 7 when they were 22-22.
They were the 12th seed at tip-off against the 76ers, two positions below the last play-in spot, a disappointing and telling standing that Thibodeau forewarned just 12 games in. While the Knicks are still mathematically in the chase for the play-in tournament, they have shown no signs over the past month of possessing the necessities to string together wins consistently to overcome the deficit they now face.
The 10th seeded Charlotte Hornets, who have also struggled as of late, losing 11 of their previous 13 contests before playing the Cleveland Cavaliers last night on the road, were 30-33 and four games in front of the Knicks with a less prohibitive remaining slate of games based on their opponents’ winning percentage.
There are several reasons the Knicks find themselves in the midst of adversity. Some are the same issues that have befallen most of the NBA’s 30 teams. Key players lost for numerous games due to injuries and/or COVID-19 protocols among them. Guard Derrick Rose has been sidelined for 35 of the Knicks’ 61 games and center Nerlens Noel 36.
However, the Knicks’ regression from a 41-31 record last season is a confluence of the latter, the significant improvement of teams such as the Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors against whom they steadily accumulated wins, and a failure of the front office to effectively upgrade the talent.
The Knicks’ primary decision-makers must urgently persist in conducting an even deeper assessment of what has gone wrong and summarily reverse course.