Uneven. That may be the most apt description of the Knicks’ 25 games into the season. They have shown the capability of playing better than their record reflects when defense and player and ball movement is prioritized. On many other occasions, a collective deficiency in star level talent when facing teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, to whom they have already lost, illuminates the evident gap between the Knicks and the league’s top teams.
They were 11-13 before playing the Atlanta Hawks last night (Wednesday) at Madison Square Garden and were two games under .500 (5-7) in their own building. Away from the Garden the Knicks were 6-6 as they look toward a five-game stretch beginning tomorrow versus the Hornets in which four will be in opposing arenas. The Knicks were 3-2 on a seven-day, five-game slate that spanned from Nov. 15-21 facing Western Conference competition.
They’ll have a rare two consecutive games on the road against the same team in facing the Chicago Bulls next Wednesday and Friday, and meet up with the rising Indiana Pacers on Dec. 18. The only contest of the five at MSG will be versus the much improved Sacramento Kings this Sunday.
The Knicks broke a five-game home losing streak on Sunday with a critical 92-81 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers that came one day following a disconcerting 121-100 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks in which the Knicks were outscored 41-15 in the third quarter after being up 59-52 at halftime.
Already Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is being positioned as the scapegoat for a season in which they haven’t been able to sustain consistently good performances. But starting point guard Jalen Brunson, who has been the team’s best player thus far, supported Thibodeau’s approach in preparing them.
“Coach Thibs has done a great job,” Brunson said after losing to the Mavericks, his former team before signing a free-agent deal with the Knicks in July. “He’s been able to put us in positions where we can succeed. And I think he knows where to put those puzzle pieces and it’s just on us to execute and do things.”
The Knicks showed determination and urgency in beating the Cavaliers, a tightly officiated game that had a ridiculous 14 calls for traveling. According to the Elias Bureau, it was the most called in an NBA in the last 25 years.
“Look, I’m all for enforcing the rules, I am. I thought we had a good crew. And they’re being told to call it a certain way,” said an incredulous Thibodeau. “So I think I know what the intent is…but it can’t be, you can’t pick and choose. I want to see a consistency to it. If I see consistency, there will not be any complaining by me.”
Thibodeau continues to try to establish a rotation that can be effective and efficient on both ends of the court. He has ushered in guard Quentin Grimes into the starting lineup and moved guard/forward Cam Reddish back to the bench. Reddish played just nine minutes against the Mavericks and received a DNP (did not play versus the Cavs). Prior to last night, Reddish had appeared in 20 games and started eight.