Shorthanded Knicks Drop Below .500

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. On a night the Knicks (11-12) fell under .500, Jeff Hornacek admitted “the battle just wasn’t there for us” and he threw in the towel early in the third quarter. The Knicks were already down by 26 at the half and came out to start the third with a turnover, three straight misses, a blocked shot and then a foul. There was 9:32 left in the quarter and the deficit had ballooned to 32 and Darren Collison made the first free throw to make the score 73-40.

Hornacek looked down his bench and waved in an entire line change. Five players in, five players out.

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A lineup headlined by opportunity-seekers such as Ron Baker, Willy Hernangomez and, in the fourth quarter, Joakim Noah, gladly took the burn while the rest of the undermanned roster watched from the bench. No Kristaps Porzingis, no Tim Hardaway Jr. and not much inspiration from Enes Kanter (7 points, 6 rebounds in 18:54) had the Knicks on their way to a fifth loss in their last six games.

“It wasn’t going to be,” Hornacek said. “In a back to back, the writing was on the wall … We’re not going to win that game.”

2. Before the subs got their legs under them, the deficit grew to as much as 38 points — 78-40 — with 8:59 left in the third. That represents the largest deficit the Knicks have faced this season. Previously, the most the Knicks had trailed in a game this season was 29 points, which came late in the third quarter of the Nov. 1 loss to the Rockets at Madison Square Garden.

The game also was the first time this season the Knicks had never held a lead of any kind.

3. You could point to the entire first half as an issue, as the Knicks gave up 66 points, surrendered 20 points off 11 turnovers and allowed the Pacers to shoot 63.4% from the field. But look no further than a 16-6 run in the middle of the first quarter that had Hornacek already worried about his team’s aforementioned battle level. He made some quick subs and the Pacers, who hit the 30-point mark with 3:27 left in the quarter, only scored 1 point the rest of the way.

The problem was the Knicks only managed two points in that pillow fight of a finish to the first quarter. And they already had been outscored 30-17 in the first 8:33 of the game.

The starting unit, with rookie Daymean Dotson and Michael Beasley once again filling in for Hardaway Jr. and Porzingis, had issues on defense for a second straight night in the opening quarter.

“Our rotations,” Beasley said, “we’re pretty bad.”

Beasley managed nine of his 13 points in that quarter, but he also had three turnovers that led to quick scores for the Pacers. The veteran forward finished with five turnovers in the game for a total of 21 over the last five games.

4. Jarrett Jack played just 16:57 and managed just two points and five assists as the Pacers picked on him at both ends of the floor. He’s 34-years-old and was signed just a few weeks before training camp with little expectation that he would even make the final roster, let alone wind up the team’s starting point guard. So it’s really not fair to criticize his play in comparison to typical starting point guards in this league.

But it’s such a critical position in this game and from a team perspective, the Knicks starting point guard’s player efficiency rating (PER) is just 9.8, which is tied with Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball as the lowest among all starting point guards in the NBA. The average for PER is set at 15.

With Porzingis and Hardaway out, the lack of a catalyst at the point of attack on offense is magnified because there aren’t any players outside of Beasley who can create their own offense. What most teams that have a talent deficiency rely on is pick-and-roll sets with a guard who can get into the paint and create movement that leads to either layups or kick-outs for three. The Knicks were just 6 for 23 in the game from downtown and most of those attempts came well after the game was out of reach.

Going into this game, the Knicks were among the NBA leaders in field goal percentage, but all of the analytics show that despite their good shooting, they take an inordinate amount of contested shots. They just happen to make most of them, which doesn’t seem like a sustainable formula.

The Knicks are also among the bottom third in the league in three-point attempts and the ones they do take are usually contested. Their point guards — Jack, Ramon Sessions and Frank Ntilikina — have combined to shoot just 19 of 73 from downtown on the season. That’s 26%. So teams go under screens and play off the point guards, daring them to shoot.

The other issue at the point guard position is the defense, as teams are going right at Jack in pick-and-roll. Ntilikina is slightly better at this when he’s on the floor, but he still has a lot of development ahead of him before he can be effective on the offensive end. He’s looking more for his shot, which is good, but he’s got to make the jump from being a taker to being a maker. He was 2 for 11 in the game and on the season he’s shooting just 33%.

Some fans want to see him thrust into the starting lineup, but it’s too soon for the 19-year-old to take on that kind of responsibility. He has great potential, but also a great deal of work ahead on his body, his jumper and his ability to drive off a screen and get to the basket. Unfortunately, a lot of this won’t be fine-tuned until the offseason.

So in the meantime, the Knicks will ask Jack to fill the role but should continue to monitor the trade market for a more athletic point guard to help improve the pace and efficiency of the offense. But those types aren’t easy to come by and they often come at an expensive price.

Meanwhile, Trey Burke went for 39 points in 34 minutes on Monday night in the G-League. He hit 6 of 7 from downtown and was 16 for 25 from the field. That wasn’t his season-high either. He had 43 points earlier in the season. The Knicks signed the former lottery pick and All-Rookie selection to their G-League team but they do not own his NBA rights, so he is free to sign with any NBA team if one makes an offer. It’s a situation worth watching closely.

5. And finally, we have to discuss this issue, which Wally Szczerbiak posted on his Instagram account:

A developing situation!! 😳😳😳

A post shared by Wally Szczerbiak (@wallyball10) on

You should know poor Bill Pidto is crushed. First, he gets pummeled in #TieGame, now this.

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