Season Halfway Over, Just Beginning For Knicks?

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. Here’s Kristaps Porzingis with the understatement of the season:

“We have some growing to do,” he said, “for sure.”

Al Trautwig, Alan Hahn and Wally Szczerbiak break down the key plays down the stretch during the Knicks' double-OT loss to the Bulls at The Garden.

After yet another painful, maddening loss to the Bulls, the Knicks hit the mid-point of the regular season with a 19-22 record. For a team many predicted wouldn’t win much more than 30 games — Vegas set the preseason ovah/undah at 30.5, while ESPN’s historically accurate analytics computer predicted 32 — the Knicks are on pace to win 38. That would be the highest win total over the last five seasons.

But it doesn’t project to be enough to end the five-year playoff drought. Last season, the Bulls clinched the 8th seed with 41 wins.

We should also point out that the 19-22 record is just one game better than last season’s record at the mid-point. And they have lost nine of the last 11 games after a 16-13 start, which is similar to last season, as well.

[Watch Knicks-Timberwolves Friday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Make no mistake, the Knicks goal this season is to make the playoffs. There is no plan in place to play for a lottery pick. As you heard general manager Scott Perry say earlier this season, he doesn’t believe in that. The Knicks are closer to a playoff spot (two games out of 8th, three-and-a-half out of 6th) than they are a top-5 lottery position (six games up). They are, however, in a precarious No Man’s Land between a top-10 pick and the top-8 playoff spots, so they need to continue to compete and stay in the playoff hunt as deep as they can.

Meaningful games are important to the development of the young players on this roster, especially Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina, and the development of the culture around this franchise.

The Knicks may be adding some insurance in the backcourt by signing Trey Burke from the Westchester Knicks. Alan Hahn has more in his latest Knicks Fix.

And that’s why you can expect the Knicks to be active before the Feb. 8 trade deadline to advance the cause and put themselves in position to contend for a playoff spot through April.

One addition we are anticipating this week is the signing of guard Trey Burke out of the G-League. Burke will add a dimension the team lacks: a guard who can drive into the paint and score. Burke is a former lottery pick and Rookie of the Year runner-up, so there’s legit NBA talent there. He’s destroyed the G-League all season and will come in with a lot of confidence and determination to re-establish himself.

The Knicks have reaped the benefits of one former lottery pick reclamation project in Michael Beasley. Might they have another one? This will be story to watch early in the second half of the season.

Another story will be what Perry does in his first trade deadline as Knicks GM. Can he loosen the logjam at center and use some of those assets to upgrade the talent in the backcourt and on the wing? And finally, can Ntilikina become more of a consistent performer and, perhaps, earn a starting role if the Knicks don’t have other options at the point guard spot?

You say half the season is already over. I say the season is only just beginning.

2. Oh yeah, another major story for the second half involves the return of Tim Hardaway Jr. He has missed the last six weeks recovering from the stress injury in his leg and the Knicks have lost 12 of the 20 games without him in the lineup.

Rebecca Haarlow provides an update on Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway Jr., as both Knicks inch closer to a return from injury.

As MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow reported during the broadcast, Hardaway Jr. is “closer than ever to making a return.” He has been cleared without restrictions and he ran through two days of rigorous practice. So far, so good as he reports no pain and no soreness.

Hornacek said Hardaway Jr. will be back in the lineup soon, perhaps as early as Friday in Minnesota or maybe Sunday afternoon against the Pelicans. He will be on a minutes restriction early on to slowly work him back up to game speed and game condition.

Just for perspective, 20 games is pretty much a quarter of the season, so that’s how much the Knicks have played without Hardaway Jr., who, at the time of the injury, had emerged as the team’s second most important player after Porzingis. Tim was averaging 19.2 points per game in 15 games during November when the injury surfaced. You think the Knicks would welcome that production back?

[Watch Knicks-Timberwolves Friday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

3. Lately, the Knicks have played in a lot of pressure-packed games. Six of the last 11 games have come down to the final possessions and have a margin of +/- 5 points. The Knicks have lost four of those six close games. That’s how you go 3-9 in an 11 game stretch.

It’s frustrating for everyone to lose these games, but there is still valuable experience to be taken out of it. The good start afforded this difficult stretch, but it can’t continue much longer.

On the season, the Knicks are 6-8 in games decided by 5 points or less. They’re also now 1-2 in overtime.

4. I said on the postgame show last night, it’s tough to be critical of Jarrett Jack because you have to understand you are getting blood from a stone. He posted a triple-double in this game, with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 40 minutes, but the five turnovers can’t be ignored.

In one moment, he’s making a heady veteran play by inbounding the ball off Kris Dunn’s back for a score, in another he’s missing badly on a drive to the rim. In one moment, he gets a huge steal. The next moment, he throws an ill-advised pass for a costly turnover.

Al Trautwig, Alan Hahn and Wally Szczerbiak put the player's spotlight on Jarrett Jack after the Knicks' point guard recorded a triple-double against the Bulls.

What do you really expect? He’s 34. When has he ever been a lead guard? Who expected he would be the starting point guard for this team this season? Jack is giving you his best and, unfortunately, the Knicks still need more out of that position.

Still, the triple-double. The 84th in franchise history and the 17th player to record one. He’s the first since Carmelo Anthony, who had 35 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against the Celtics on April 12, 2012.

It’s the second triple-double of Jack’s career and his first since March 2012. He’s also the oldest Knick to record a triple-double since Mark Jackson, who was 36 when he recorded his 7th and final with the Knicks on Feb. 20, 2002.

A quick historical Did You Know: Walt “Clyde” Frazier has the most triple-doubles in franchise history with 23.

Yes, kids, Clyde was that good.

5. More stat stuff (Wally Szczerbiak has probably already stopped reading anyway) for you: Lauri Markkanen loved his first pro experience shooting at The Garden. He was splashing threes through the first three quarters of the game (he hit 7 of his first 9 from downtown) and finished 8-of-15 from three while logging 33 points.

Markkanen’s eight three’s matched Dirk Nowitzki as the most made by a 7-footer in an NBA game, though it fell one shy of a Bulls franchise record for a single game.

It was also short of the Knicks’ opponent record. That came five years ago when Steph Curry buried 11 three’s for the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 27, 2013. Curry finished with 54 points in the game, but the Knicks pulled out a 109-105 win.

Porzingis, who, like Markkanen, draws parallels to Nowitzki, has a career-high of five three-pointers made in a game. He set that Dec. 12 this season against the Lakers.

JR Smith owns the franchise record for most three’s made in a game with 10. He set that one on April 6, 2014 against the Heat.

[Watch Knicks-Timberwolves Friday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]