The New York Knicks enter Wednesday night’s home game against the Orlando Magic with a chance to get their season back on-track. Currently slumped in a five-game losing streak, the Knicks will face a Magic team playing it’s third game in four nights, followed by the young – but still competitive – Utah Jazz on Friday. Both winnable games, but both very losable at the same time if the team isn’t focused.
Without wanting to engage in hyperbole, these games could shape the Knicks’ season.
The Knicks are a confident team when things are going well, as they were in 2012-13, the locker room is a fun place to be. Guys believe they can beat any team in the league. When things are bad (*cough, cough* 2013-14), it gets real bad, Michael Jackson.
Shoulders are slumped, fingers get pointed. Body language tells all. A frustration borne out of losing. Beginning Wednesday, the Knicks have a chance to turn their season around before it descends into an irreversible slide.
“I can sit and say, ‘Hey, it’s only seven, eight games into the season, it’s early,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Or I can say, ‘Hey, it’s going to get better I know it’s going to get better. We’ve got to keep believing, we’ve got to keep having faith in it, we’ve got to stay positive and keep working at it,’ because we can easily just let this loom over our heads.”
Defensively the Knicks haven’t been awful – statistically, anyway. They rank 14th in the league in points allowed (98.4), and have held opponents to under 100 points in five of their eight games, but, offensively they’re still struggling to grasp the nuances of the much-vaunted triangle offense.
“I want to say that this is something that I discussed with my coaching staff and the players about three weeks ago, that this is going to be a very tough start, and we can’t get disappointed if things don’t go well right away,” Phil Jackson, the Knicks’ team president, said before Monday night’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
“It’s all part of the process,” Jackson added. “I think we think in terms of basketball-wise, Thanksgiving, December, as times when you really say, if you haven’t gotten it by now, we have to think about if you are a learner or if you’re not a learner as ballplayers, individual ballplayers, at that time.”
That gives the Knicks a couple more weeks time to master the offense, or at least show signs that they are. For a team that features Anthony, a former scoring champ, their offense is averaging an anemic 91.1 points per game; good for second-last in the league. Anthony is still struggling to balance playing within the triangle with his natural instinct of attacking, and creating his own shot.
“I think Carmelo’s getting more comfortable offensively, and where to find his spots to be aggressive and operate in the offense, and how to involve his teammates and make them better around him,” said coach Derek Fisher on Monday night as he, too, preached patience. “I think we’ve seen that the last couple of games.
“We just have to get guys, individually, to find ways to be at their best so we can put a collective effort together.”
Simply put, the Knicks need Anthony to be his usual more aggressive self to help kickstart the offense, although, Jackson said that he told Anthony at the Knicks’ Monday morning shootaround that he wants to see the seven-time All-Star “more engaged” in his rebounding, and passing the ball sooner to “activate the offense” if he’s not scoring.
“I thought we had a great conversation. … It was great for him just to pull me to the side with a sit-down and just have a casual conversation about what we’re trying to do,” Anthony said. “But it’s hard. We respect — I respect — what Phil says, what the coaching staff says, what Coach Fisher says. Although you do look at the big picture, when you’re dealing with the now it can be kind of frustrating.
“At the same time, we’ve just got to stay with it, stay positive, focused, as a team, as a unit, because the ship could easily sink early, you know? I think we are doing some good things although it is new to us.”
It doesn’t help that Fisher is still tinkering with his lineups, trying to determine who his ‘crunch-time five’ will be.
“I think it’s early in the season for sure to learn how to finish and close games,” Fisher said. “A lot of time it takes a group of five guys to become “that group” that will be on the court at the end of the fourth quarter.”
The Knicks have eight games until Thanksgiving when they will be re-evaluated, according to Jackson. Of those games only three of those teams have a record of .500 or better.
Last season the team entered December with a record of 3-13, the Knicks have been preaching patience, but the time for action is now before history repeats itself.