Knicks Take to The Road For Key Stretch

The doomsayers believe this is the beginning of the end of the Knicks playoff chances.

They remember last season when the Knicks were 16-13 on December 22 and proceeded to lose 11 of their next 13.

They look at this year’s team, in the playoff hunt with a 17-16 record, but see the schedule and shudder.

Of the next 20 games, 16 are on the road. And the Knicks one Achilles’ heel has been winning games away from The World’s Most Arena.

The Knicks are 2-10 on the road (cue scary movie music).

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But Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek doesn’t see another post-Christmas collapse. This team is younger than last season’s but it makes up for its lack of experience with a youthful resiliency.

“Usually when you have an older team — veteran guys — and the losses start piling up, guys have a tendency to go, ‘OK, the season [is over.]’” Hornacek said. “These guys are going to fight until the end of the season no matter what our record is.”

Jeff Hornacek gives an update on Tim Hardaway's injury and discusses the Knicks' mindset going into a stretch where they play six of their next seven games on the road and 16 of 20 away from home.

It sounds good but Hornacek knows one of the keys to winning on the road is not letting the games get sideways in the first quarter. He mentioned the recent 104-101 loss at Detroit.

The Pistons opened a 15-2 lead. The Knicks rallied to take a 99-95 lead with less than two minutes to go but couldn’t hold on.

“I think there’s some stat out there that says the team that wins the first quarter wins like 80-percent of the games or some crazy number,’’ Hornacek said. “So like that game in Detroit, I think we were down 15-2. Now you’re climbing back and trying to climb out of the hole you make your run and tie a game but you expended a ton of energy. So it’s important to get off to those good starts.’’

According to one 2015 study, teams that win the first quarter win 68.2-percent of the time. In the two road wins (111-104 at the Nets; 114-95 at Cleveland) the Knicks won the first quarter (32-26 at Brooklyn; 29-19 at Cleveland).

“All the teams that I’ve been with always said if you’re in the lead or you’re within one or two points at the end of the first quarter, you feel real good,’’ Hornacek said.

Frank Ntilikina looks back on what the Sixers did on defense to deny the Knicks and discusses what he and the team can do better on offense.

Hornacek identified one reason for the Knicks slow starts, especially on the road. The team has become a little too methodical on offense.

Tuesday’s practice, the last before the Knicks play at Chicago tonight, was dedicated to addressing that issue.

“We’ve been a little slow the last few days,’’ Hornacek said. “We want to speed things up a little bit and get us pushing the ball a little bit more, try to get some easy buckets, not having to execute a play every time.

“We’ve got to play more up tempo a little bit. When you’re on another team’s court and you’re slowing it down every time it makes it a little more difficult.’’

Center Enes Kanter, who has playoff experience from his time in Oklahoma City, knows the importance of winning on the road.

“It’s really important,’’ Kanter said. “If we want to make the playoffs and go far in the playoffs, we need to learn how to win on the road and just stay together.”

Enes Kanter talks about the mentality the Knicks need to have with a heavy road schedule coming up, whether his back is still bothering him and his leadership role on the team.

Hornacek isn’t concerned about this group’s unity. Unlike last season, Hornacek sees a group of players that have each other’s back.

“This is a great group of guys,’’ he said. “They may not win every game but they’re trying the best they can.’’

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