The confounding and frustrating ride on which the Knicks have taken their fans this season has been encapsulated in their last two games.
On Sunday, they were soundly beaten by the Brooklyn Nets, the worst team in the NBA—the Nets were 12-54 after a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday—by 120-112, inexcusably allowing their woeful opponent to end a 16-game home losing streak.
Then 48 hours later on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks defeated the Indiana Pacers by 87-81, producing one of their best defensive efforts this season.
It was the 27-41 Knicks, the 12th-place Knicks in the Eastern Conference, and not the 34-33 Pacers, the sixth seed, who bore the look of a team that is well positioned for a playoff spot in the East.
What is maddening and evident when analyzing the loss to the Nets and victory over the Pacers is that the Knicks have grossly underachieved this season. A year ago at this time under interim head coach Kurt Rambis, now an assistant to current head coach Jeff Hornacek, they were 28-41, one game better than they are today, falling full speed toward the NBA draft lottery.
Why are the Knicks, with more talent than they had a season ago, anchored with nearly an identical record? The simple answer is they have been terrible defensively, surrendering 108.8 points per game, placing them 25th in the 30-team league. But Kristaps Porzingis’ comments to the assembled media in Brooklyn on Sunday reveal much more.
“Never at any point in this season [have] we played like we wanted to,” said the second-year player. “So it was always like, ‘Maybe this will work, maybe this will work’”.
He continued, “So we were kind of looking for stuff and coaches. They obviously do the best job they can and giving us as much as they can so we have the information. But we never really got it together and were able to execute the way we should have. It’s been a lot of confusion.”
Porzingis, who sustained a left thigh contusion against the Pacers in the third quarter and sat out the remainder of the game, ominously spoke in the past tense, as if the season had already ended. Subconsciously, maybe it has for not just him but the entire organization, although the team’s effort against the Pacers refutes that premise.
The Knicks have 14 games remaining, including hosting the Nets at the Garden tonight (Thursday). Appointing blame as to why they are not going to the postseason is counterproductive to ascribing accountability. No one person has been the primary source of the Knicks’ inability, as Porzingis described, to get on the same page, achieve a consensus on both an offensive and defensive system, consistently execute schemes and perform at a markedly higher level than they have with only one month left before they begin their offseason.
Team president Phil Jackson, Hornacek and the players all share liability for the disappointing campaign. The Knicks should be so much better than 27-41. On Tuesday night they showed what they should have been for most of this season. But you are what your record says you are. Which for the Knicks is a lottery team.