It was a long and arduous 12-day, seven-game road trip for the Knicks, an emotional rollercoaster that began March 2 with a 123-108 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers and ended with the Nets’ Kevin Durant’s 53-point performance at the Barclays Center on Sunday to hand them a 110-107 defeat.
In between, the Knicks had a crushing 115-114 buzzer-beating fall to the Phoenix Suns and their first three-game winning streak since achieving three in a row from Jan. 10-15. Overall they were 3-4 and finally returned to Madison Square Garden last night (Wednesday) to host the Portland Trailblazers with a 28-40 record. The Knicks were the 12th seed in the East and 5.5 games behind the No. 10 Charlotte Hornets for the last NBA Play-In Tournament spot.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau’s squad also sat 1.5 games under the 11th seed Washington Wizards. The Knicks have 13 regular season games remaining, including eight at home, and play their next three at the Garden, starting with the Wizards tomorrow. They will match up with the Utah Jazz on Sunday and the Atlanta Hawks on Monday then go on the road for three straight.
The Knicks lost to the Suns, Grizzlies (118-114 last Friday) and Nets by an average of 2.6 points. Every defeat on the long journey came down to the final few possessions, reflecting that the Knicks were highly competitive. But there are no moral victories at the pro level, especially with the postseason within a mathematical grasp for the Knicks. Time is not an ally and the Knicks have no margin for error over the final 25 days of their schedule.
The Knicks were decidedly undermanned on the road trip playing without Derrick Rose, Cam Reddish, Nerlens Noel and Quentin Grimes, and Obi Toppin for just one game. Rose has not returned from ankle surgery in December, Reddish is out for the season with a separated right shoulder, Noel sat with plantar fasciitis and Grimes was still unavailable after experiencing a right patella knee injury versus the Miami Heat on Feb. 25 at the Garden.
There is no definitive timetable for when either Rose, Noel or Grimes will play again. Toppin returned versus the Nets after missing the previous five games with a strained right hamstring. However, injuries are not an excuse for the Knicks opening this week 12 games under .500. They have been inconsistent and have had too many stretches of poor play. Their 116-93 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on March 6, the fourth game of the recent trip, ended a seven-game losing skid.
Over 69 games this season the Knicks have not had a four-game winning streak and have won three straight only four times. Last season in the shortened 71-game season in which they finished 41-31, the Knicks’ longest streak was nine victories. In addition, they accomplished three in a row seven times.