GREENBURGH, N.Y. — With only one practice left before the opener, getting their starting point guard comfortable and up to speed with the new offense isn’t the only concern for the Knicks. The player they brought in to anchor their defense isn’t moving as well as he would like.
“Right now, I feel a step slow defensively,” Joakim Noah said after Sunday’s practice. “I have to do better. I have to do better for this ballclub. We all do.”
The Knicks open Tuesday night against LeBron James and the Cavaliers, who will receive their NBA championship rings before the game. The Cavs could pick the Knicks apart regardless, but more so if Derrick Rose and Noah are slow on the defensive end.
Rose missed more than two weeks of practice and preseason games to attend his sexual assault civil trial in Los Angeles. This was only his second practice since Oct. 3, but the Knicks say he looks sharp and good.
Former Defensive Player of the Year Noah, whom the Knicks signed to a four-year, $72-million deal in July, has been slowed by hamstring and ankle injuries in the preseason. He also was sidelined for 53 games with Chicago last season, missing the last three-plus months after shoulder surgery.
“I feel like I haven’t played in a long time,” Noah said. “I just have to get my steps, get my first step back, and it will come. It will come.”
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek doesn’t seem overly concerned.
“Jo just kind of got back to practicing here again about a week ago,” he said. “So he’s continuing to get in better shape. But his enthusiasm, his energy level kind of inspires all of our guys when he’s out there.
“Since he got hurt a little, I think he maybe took a little step back, but he’s getting it back. But we want him to kind of be the guy patrolling back there. [If] somebody gets beat, that he’s there protecting us. I’m sure he’ll get there.”
The Knicks, who brought in 10 new players and a new coach in the offseason, are looking at opening against the Cavaliers as a good measuring stick. The Knicks believe they have made enough improvements to be a playoff team, and potentially a dangerous one.
“It’s going to be a huge game for us to open the season,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “I think that’s the right game to start the season off — us against the Cavs.”
With the Cavaliers getting their rings, it will be an emotional night in Cleveland. Hornacek wants the Knicks to take something out of it.
“A couple of things: inspired or ticks you off that you’re not doing it,” Hornacek said. “I always felt it was good to have your guys watch it. If you lose in the playoffs, watch the other team celebrate, because that gets you ready for the next year and hopefully spurs you on to work harder and see what it takes to get to that level.”
Hornacek is an Illinois native and a Cubs fan, so he came to work happy after Chicago reached the World Series for the first time since 1945 on Saturday night. Game 1 against the Indians also will be in Cleveland on Tuesday night.
“It was fun to watch,” Hornacek said. “They’re a fun group of guys to watch. You just wish you could take that, when you see playoffs in any sport, you see teams that get to the top, the confidence and the togetherness that they have, you just want your own team to see that stuff. ‘Hey, look, this is what we can do.’ ”
Hornacek said he likes to splice up video of teams enjoying success and will show them to the players for motivation.
“All those things kind of get into your head — that’s our ultimate goal,” he said. “Everybody wants to do it at the beginning of the year. There’s only one team that can do it. Why not you?”