GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Knicks returned home from their winless four-game trip to face a team that is headed in the opposite direction. For Jeff Hornacek, the Raptors are a team and organization to emulate.
Toronto is one of the hottest teams in the NBA, and one of the best. With 14 wins in 15 games, the Raptors lead the Eastern Conference at 48-17. The Knicks have dropped 14 of their last 15 and are spiraling toward a fourth straight season of at least 50 losses.
Aside from talent, Hornacek said the differences between the Raptors and the Knicks are that Toronto executes better and has more familiarity. “We just watched Toronto tape,” Hornacek said after Saturday’s practice. “I asked the guys, ‘Do they run anything we don’t?’ It’s just they do it with a little more force, a little more quickness. I think guys are trying to figure it out, they’re trying hard. We’re just going to continue to work at it.”
The talent margin is wide, though, and the Raptors’ continuity is something that the Knicks (24-42) can only dream about.
The Raptors have two perennial All-Stars, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. That duo and center Jonas Valanciunas have played — and, for the most part, started — together since 2012-13. Dwane Casey has been the coach that entire time. They’ve reached the playoffs five straight seasons and reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2016.
The Knicks have had four coaches in that time. They have used 130 different starting lineups, including 13 this season. Only six of the players on the roster were on the team last season. Because Kristaps Porzingis and Ron Baker are injured and Joakim Noah is not with the team, only three of the six are active: Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas and Kyle O’Quinn.
“That’s the biggest thing with basketball,” Hornacek said about continuity. “Since we’re playing Toronto, you could use them as a great example. They were a pretty decent team, but you look back three years ago, they were talking about blowing that team up. They’ve stayed with it. They’ve stayed with those guys.
“Now, three years later, they look like one of the best teams in the league because now they have a lot of familiarity with each other. They know what each guy’s going to do. And then when you add a guy here or there, a couple young guys who know how to play, suddenly they’re right there. They didn’t give up on those guys. It takes a little bit of time.”
Long-suffering Knicks fans don’t want to hear that, though. Including this season, the Knicks have made the playoffs only four times in the last 17 seasons and have won only one series. They could add to that futility next season, because the timetable for Porzingis’ return from a torn ACL has yet to be determined and the Knicks are not going to take on much salary, hoping to have cap room to sign a top-level free agent or two in 2009.
For now, the Knicks’ plan is to build around Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr., developing young players and add pieces through the draft and free agency.
“I think everybody thinks, ‘OK, these guys are professionals. You can put a bunch of new guys together and it’s going to work great,’ ” Hornacek said. “If you put five All-Stars together, it might work great.
“Developing guys, basketball’s a lot of that and we’re trying to get these guys developed. Hopefully we keep a good core of these guys together to continue to build on what we’re doing now.”