Not Much Fun During Knicks Tough Stretch

5 thoughts on the loss:

1. Al Trautwig read me a tweet from a fan during the game that seemed to sum it up best. The question was simple: remember when this was a fun team to watch?

That peaked on Dec. 21, with that 102-93 win over the Celtics at The Garden. It improved their record to 17-14. There have been only four wins since.

That was a hardworking team that Jeff Hornacek spoke so proudly about after games. There was camaraderie, resiliency and a tangible belief that this group was different than the ones from previous seasons.

But as each loss mounts, the talk goes from an April playoff push to the February trade deadline.

“If I get traded, I get traded. If I’m here, I’m here,” Courtney Lee said when reporters approached him about it. “I’m happy either way.”

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Kristaps Porzingis returned to the lineup after missing the game in Golden State with a knee issue. The 22-year-old early this season enjoyed the spoils of a star-level talent who can put up 30 a night and now he’s enduring the weight of expectations to carry a team through the toughest times of a season.

Kyle O’Quinn (left calf contusion) sat out for the second straight game as rumors swirl around him about possible trades. Joakim Noah left the team during the trip for what the team is calling “personal reasons.”

A week ago, Hornacek was facing questions about his job security, which always comes during a month that has seen 10 losses in 13 games.

Remember when this team was fun? Unfortunately, none of this is fun right now. The only one smiling these days is Porzingis, who was named to his first All-Star appearance.

And that prompted my studio partner Wally Szczerbiak, a former NBA All-Star, himself, to say, “The guy who just got named to the All-Star team cannot allow this to go on if he’s a true All-Star.”

Kristaps Porzingis became the first Latvian and second-youngest Knick to earn an All-Star nod. The Knicks' young star speaks about what the honor means to him and gives an update on his sore knee.

2. The Knicks gave up 130 points, which represented a season high. It’s also the most points in a regulation game (no overtime) the Knicks have allowed in almost a year. Coincidentally, the Knicks gave up 131 to the Nuggets in regulation on Feb. 10, 2017 at The Garden.

That’s now three straight games the Knicks have given up over 120 points in a game and if you are saying to yourself, “I can’t remember the last time the Knicks gave up that many points a game in three straight games,” that’s because it’s been, for some of you, a lifetime.

Think mullets, stonewashed denim, “jogging” suits, Nike Air Force III’s, Z Cavariccis and Bobby McFerrin.

It’s been almost 30 years, in fact, since the Knicks gave up over 120 points in at least three straight games. That was Nov. 15-19, 1988, when they gave up 121 to the Rockets and 137 and 122, respectively, in a home-and-home with the 76ers.

Here’s the crazy part: Rick Pitino and the Knicks won two of the three games and went on to win 52 games that season.

That team allowed 113 points per game, but scored almost 117 a game. Hornacek’s Knicks are running a very efficient offense these days but they can’t keep up with the lack of intensity on the defensive end.

3. So we just outlined a lack of defense. Here’s what they said about that topic:

“The start of the game, it was too easy,” Hornacek said of the 39 points the Knicks allowed in the first quarter.

Hornacek also added that the team, compared to earlier in the season, is “just guarding guys now” and suggests there is a fear of getting beat off the dribble so the perimeter defenders give up too much space. That points to a lack of trust in help defense and the bigs behind them.

One of those bigs, Porzingis, leads the NBA in shot-blocking and is one of the league’s top rim defenders.

“Defense is not talent, really,” he said. “Defense is effort, intensity and communication.”

Trey Burke, who was one guard who got into his matchup and battled through screens, offered this observation: “Collectively, we were bad on the weak side.”

He said there was a lack of focus on the backside of the defense, which too often led to easy layups and open shots. That’s something I’ve noticed, as well. There has been, for a few weeks now, a problem with “ball watching” from those defending away from the ball. Enes Kanter is someone who gets caught doing this.

Trey Burke speaks with Rebecca Haarlow after recording 18 points and 11 assists in the Knicks' 130-118 loss to the Nuggets in Denver.

4. On the topic of Burke, can we all agree it’s time he gets regular minutes in the rotation? He had 18 points and 11 assists in 29 minutes and very much looked the part of a point guard who can run an offense, get shots for himself and his teammates and push the pace.

“The game changed a little bit when he’s in there,” Hornacek said.

The coach seems to tread carefully when offering praise for Burke. Is there concern about how Jarrett Jack will react to seeing his minutes — or his role as the starting point guard — diminish? Jack is a veteran and at this point in the season should be smart enough to read the writing on the wall.

Burke is 25 and looks very comfortable in the pick-and-roll. He also can break down defenders off the dribble, get into the paint and finish at the basket. The lone concern is his size, especially on defense, but he seems to know he has to prove himself at that end of the floor by how active he was against Denver.

What do you do at this point if you’re Hornacek? Risk losing a veteran leader and voice in the locker room by putting him on the bench in favor of Burke? Or should Jack understand where the team is at this point in the season, recognize what the team has in Burke, and step aside without making an issue of it?

5. What seems clear in the suddenly competitive point guard position is that Frank Ntilikina will not be the odd man out of the rotation. Hornacek has been steadfast in playing Ntilikina through his inconsistencies and recently dismissed the idea of sending the 19-year-old to the G-League.

In Denver, Ntilikina played off the ball in the two-guard spot, which was a different look. The spot in the rotation opened up as a result of Tim Hardaway Jr. sitting out for rest purposes as he is eased back from the stress injury in his leg. Ntilikina struggled with his shooting (1 for 6) in 19 minutes.

Ntilikina did get some good news in the midst of a tough stretch for him. He was selected to play in the Rising Stars game at All-Star weekend next month in Los Angeles.

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