The Knicks had a positive start on Tuesday to their five-game, seven-day road trip, this after perhaps their worst performance of the season on Sunday at home.
Before facing the Denver Nuggets last night (Wednesday), the Knicks upended the Utah Jazz 118-111. They came into the game to face a Jazz squad that was a surprising third in the Western Conference (10-6 following the loss to the Knicks) after trading All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert this past summer.
Conversely, the Knicks were 6-7 and run out of Madison Square Garden by the Oklahoma City Thunder 145-135 to end their week. They played the Nuggets without Nikola Jokic to torment them, as the reigning back-to-back MVP entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Tuesday.
The Knicks will be in San Francisco to challenge the defending champion Golden State Warriors tomorrow, then head to Phoenix to meet the Suns on Sunday and end the week-long trek with a rematch with the Thunder on Monday. They’ll have three days off before hosting the Portland Trailblazers at MSG on Nov. 25.
The remaking of the Knicks roster by team president Leon Rose from a strong defensive team to one that has relied heavily on its offense this season is a dubious paradigm, particularly because head coach Tom Thibodeau’s reputation and success has been built on being one of the smartest defensive minds in the sport. Furthermore, the Knicks do not have proficient and by and large efficient scorers that play a high number of minutes with proven track records with the exception of Julius Randle, whose career average of 17.8 prior to taking on the Nuggets can best be characterized as merely solid.
Since first signing with the Knicks in 2019 for three-years and $63 million—Randle signed a four-year, $117 million extension in August of 2021—he has averaged 19.5, 24.1, 20.1 and this season 20.4 points per game on 46, 45.6, 41.1 and 45.9 shooting percentages respectively. Yet the Knicks have made the playoffs just once over his time with the team, a No. 4 seed in the East and first round loss to the Atlanta Hawks in 2020.
The Knicks aren’t going to move far up the Eastern Conference pecking order by being one of the league’s top scoring teams as they lack the requisite offensive talent. So it is necessary for them to be one of the best defensive teams to compete for a playoff spot. Last season, the NBA’s finalists, the Boston Celtics (No. 1) and Golden State Warriors (No. 2) were the two best defensive teams in the league. And the Warriors held the Celtics to under 100 points in all four Finals wins.
“…Our defense was the problem,” said Thibodeau after falling to the Thunder. “We have to fix that. It’s hard to win if we don’t make a better effort to defend. … If we’re relying on trying to outscore people, that’s not going to work. Our margin for error is small.”
The Knicks went into last night’s game in Denver 24th in the 30-team league in opponents points allowed at 116.4. They were first in the 2020-21 season at 104.7 when they last made the playoffs. Offensively, the Knicks were 11th going into last night’s game at 114.9.