Jeff Hornacek has issued a challenge to his team, and particularly his starters, saying that the type of passion the Knicks showed in their hard-fought 129-122 loss to the Rockets on New Year’s Eve has to be the norm in 2017.
He also said he might use his bench more because of the energy the reserves provided.
“We got to have an effort like we did, all-out 48 minutes of playing hard,” he said. “You should come in this locker room after the game and be dead tired. That’s the way it should be. If you come in the locker room and you’re not huffing and puffing and tired, then you didn’t play hard enough.”
Even without starters Kristaps Porzingis and Courtney Lee for the entire game and Carmelo Anthony for the second half, the Knicks were down three as the four-minute mark approached. But the Rockets, led by James Harden’s monstrous 53-point, 17-assist, 16-rebound performance, didn’t let the Knicks get any closer.
Hornacek wants that kind of effort more often, especially after watching too many games in which his team hasn’t gone all-out. It’s partly why 2016 didn’t go out the way the Knicks wanted. They dropped their last four games and seven of their last nine to start January under .500 for the fourth straight season. They were 14-10 on Dec. 13 but will take a 16-17 record into tonight’s game at the Garden against Orlando.
Anthony (sore left knee), Porzingis (sore left Achilles) and Lee (sore right wrist) all believe they will be able to play tonight. But even if they do, that doesn’t mean the Knicks can exhale.
Hornacek has said this mostly veteran-laden team relies on its talent too much and has a tendency to “cruise” at times, which is an indictment of the starters.
After Brandon Jennings and Justin Holiday played well in extended minutes and rookies Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Willie Hernangomez and Maurice Ndour were a part of the group that helped spark a comeback from 19 down, Hornacek might turn to them more.
“Some of the young guys can put that effort in there,” he said. “We have to take a look at maybe getting them in the games more, maybe giving our older guys a little bit more rest so maybe when they’re on shorter minutes, they can put the full effort out there. We’ll take a look at everything.
“We have 17 games in January. The bench is going to have to come up big for us.”
The Knicks may need more than that. Their bad finish to 2016 dropped them from fourth in the East to the ninth spot. Many of the Knicks’ January games are against teams they’re chasing or in the hunt with them.
They began 2017 1 1⁄2 games out of fifth and two games out of 12th. The Knicks realize they need to have more of a sense of urgency or this season could end like the previous three — out of the playoffs. “We got to come ready to play every night,” Jennings said. “This is a time where we can take that next step or it’s going to get ugly.’’
“It’s a new year for a reason,” Derrick Rose said. “We can put everything behind us.”