Gutty Performance by Knicks vs. Kings

KNICKS 106, KINGS 98 

Jeff Hornacek had just talked about it before the game; how his team’s recent tendency to build big leads only to give them back, had to be corrected. It’s a “Step on the Throat” mentality that Wally Szczerbiak often references in our postgame show.

After it happened yet again — the Knicks led by 21 points in the first half and by 20 in the third quarter — Hornacek opted to downplay the issue rather than harp on it. He said sometimes when you focus on it too much, a team tenses up. Hornacek referenced the team’s free throw shooting, which was an issue early in the season, and how “once we stopped talking about it, it got better.”

As we told you in the pregame Knicks Fix, the team has improved to be the 12th best free throw shooting team in the NBA and they’re 5th in the league when it matters most: the fourth quarter.

These games have been unnecessary nail-biters, but are these pressure minutes showing the Knicks, when they have to, actually can play good defense?

Against the Kings, just like against the Timberwolves on Friday, it took defense late in the game — blocks by Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle O’Quinn — and a big basket — once again Carmelo Anthony — to lock up a third straight win.

Wally Szczerbiak and Alan Hahn dissect a couple of examples of how the Knicks got wide open shots after guards drove into the paint and then dished the ball outside.

And as Derrick Rose said, the Knicks are winning games and still not anywhere near their potential as a team. “We’re still so far away from that,” he said.

As we wait for the team to grow into its potential, we can enjoy the latest evidence of the maturation of Porzingis’ game. On a night where he once again struggled with his shooting touch (6-or-18), he was a monster on the boards (14 rebounds) and defensively (4 blocks).

A quarter of the way into his second season, KP is playing – dare we say? – at an all-star level.

The Knicks have won 8 of their last 11 games and now are 11-9 on the season. They are over the .500 mark after 20 games for the first time since the 2012-13 season and just the third time in the last 15 years.

Next up is the Miami Heat on Tuesday night. We’ll have the pregame coverage on Knicks Game Night at 7 PM on MSG.