Over the last seven games, the Knicks have been challenged with one of the tougher stretches they will face in this NBA season. They had three games against the Top 2 teams in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls and Nets, as well as last season’s playoff rival (the Hawks) and games against three West contenders—the Lakers, Nuggets and Suns.
And it was ugly. The Knicks beat the Lakers, without LeBron James, and logged an impressive road win in Atlanta. Other than that, it was five losses, including the last three in a row. The Knicks fell below .500 for the first time this season with Saturday’s flop against Denver, and now stand at 11-12.
Whatever grit, hustle and grind this team showed with its thrilling stretch run last year—remember the stretch of 12 wins in 13 games in April?—obviously did not carry over to this season. That team finished 16-4 in its final 20 games. This team has had a much less inspiring start.
In fact, veteran New York Post columnist Ian O’Connor has even saddled them with a label any NBA team dreads: The Knicks of this season, he wrote, are soft.
‘Right Now, the Knicks Are Soft’
Here is how O’Connor put it after the team’s uninspiring fall against the Nuggets on Saturday afternoon: “Right now, the Knicks are soft, which is something you are not allowed to be in New York. … the Nuggets turned a spotlight on the Knicks’ biggest problem: their lack of consistent competitive heart.”
It was hard to argue that point after a game in which the Knicks look defeated from the outset. New York, playing on its home floor, never led in the game and trailed by as many as 30 points. Only the good grace of the Nuggets allowed the tally to get to a reasonable 14 points by the end.
The Knicks were booed on their home floor, mostly for a lack of defensive effort. The Nuggets shot 52.4% from the field on Saturday and 46.5% from the 3-point line.
“There’s no magic to that, it’s just we got into it together, we gotta get out of it together,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s all of us, players, coaches, everybody. Where does intensity come from? It comes from maximum effort and maximum concentration. That’s where it comes from. So, we gotta put those two things together.”
Knicks Effort Has Not Been Bad All Season
The good news for the Knicks was that they have not laid too many eggs like that in recent weeks. Even during their current downswing, they have been in the fight and had a chance to win in their previous two games in the final minutes.
“Every team has a game, or a couple of games like this during a season,” Knicks guard R.J. Barrett said. “We’ve just got to fight. At the end of the day, all the X’s and O’s, all that doesn’t matter. If we’re gonna play defense, we’ve got to fight and fight together for the whole game and do whatever it takes to win.”
The Knicks now face a three-game road trip—the games will come in a total of four nights— through San Antonio, Indiana and Toronto.