After a streaky first few months of the 2015-’16 season, the New York Knicks came into Wednesday night’s Battle for New York as one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
Winners of six of their last eight, including a thrilling win over division rival Boston just a night earlier that evened their record at 20-20, the Knicks seemed prime to stomp the Brooklyn Nets, a team that playing just its second game since dumping head coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King.
Teams that lack consistency don’t get excuses made for them, but with Carmelo Anthony sidelined by an ankle injury (which also forced him to miss the second half against the Celtics), and the team playing its third game in four nights, its shouldn’t be the end of the world that the Knicks weren’t able to come away with a win. Without discrediting the Nets too badly, this was a quintessential trap game for the Knicks, and despite looking exhausted for prolonged stretches (which was most evident on the defensive end), the Knicks were fighting until the final possessions of this one.
A lot like the Houston and Cleveland gms, where things got stagnant. This is where they miss not having Melo. https://t.co/64gYtaYoQb
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 14, 2016
A reinforcement column shouldn’t be necessary, considering the Knicks have improved from 15-19 to 20-21 over the last couple of weeks; head coach Derek Fisher has finally found a rotation that works for him; and Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis look like one of the most potent duos in the league. However, a good chunk of the fan base will undoubtedly be disappointed with the team after losing to a relatively hated rival in Brooklyn. I’ve seen people on Twitter call the loss unacceptable, but this is where people are getting too carried away with the Knicks’ recent success.
Through much of the Knicks’ streakiness this season, I’ve begged fans to remember that this is a team coming off a 17-win season, and that we need to be patient and allow them to pile up the losses at times. I’m going to maintain that first sentiment regarding patience with a team still figuring things out, but these last couple of weeks have made any future losing streaks far less acceptable. There are more new players on this team than returning players. Defensively, the backcourt leaves a lot to be desired, but over their last seven games the Knicks have the fifth-best offensive rating in the NBA. Again, they really seem to be clicking around Anthony, who is playing some of the most unselfish basketball of his career.
With highs come lows, so it’s understandable to be disappointed about losing “on the road” (there were reportedly more Knicks fans at the Barclays Center on Wednesday night than Nets fans) to a team that had dropped 10 straight home games. However, the team was missing Anthony, Porzingis had arguably the worst shooting night of his young career, and the Nets had every reason to get up and give their all for this game.
All of that said, I’m still more focused on the good than the bad with this new-look Knicks team.
Rookie point guard Jerian Grant had a career night on Tuesday against the Celtics and continued to look aggressive against the Nets. Fisher has continued to succeed with his lineups (minus throwing Sasha Vujacic four minutes in Wednesday night’s loss), getting 31 points out of the streaky Derrick Williams. It seems the second-year coach has found a groove in terms of mixing and matching first- and second-unit players. One of the Knicks’ strengths over this latest stretch of winning basketball has been switching up the pace: The starters play slowly (and efficiently), and then the second unit is able to speed things up and do a better job in transition.
Some combination of the roster adjusting to playing together; playing within the triangle; and players such as Anthony, Jose Calderon, and Arron Afflalo shaking off rust from last season’s injuries has led to the Knicks becoming one of the tougher teams in the Eastern Conference. I understand that sounds like hyperbole for a team that’s a game under .500 and not even in a playoff spot, but the Knicks are 5-2 in their division, and have won four of their last five games against teams currently slated for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
There’s nothing to say that a team with three separate four-game losing streaks on the season won’t have another bad stretch, but I think their recent play leaves more room for optimism than anything else we’ve seen from them this season. Anthony being banged up is scary, but he wasn’t declared out for Wednesday night’s game until about an hour and a half before tip-off, leading me to believe this injury shouldn’t sideline him for long. This is great, considering that the Anthony of the last two weeks has played at an MVP-caliber level, on both ends of the court.
As disappointing as it is to be hanging with and beating San Antonio, Atlanta, Miami, and Boston and then lose to the Nets, perspective must remain: The Knicks have done more good than bad as of late. Over the next couple of weeks they’ll have huge tests against Memphis, the Clippers, the Thunder, and Warriors. Hopefully by that point we’ll know for sure if this team was as good as advertised over the past two weeks.