In the end, Julius Randle tried to put a positive spin on what the Knicks are going through right now.
"It’s tough. But we’ve got a great group of guys, everybody is together," Randle said as he was finishing off a contemplative postgame session Wednesday night. "Everybody likes each other. We come in, we work hard. Everybody does all that. We’ve just got to continue to figure it out. Keep our hearts in the right places. It’s a long season. Fifteen games, I know it feels the end of the world here in New York, but it’s 15 games in."
Yes, it is just 15 games into the season — and a winning record thus far — but there is little indication that the revamped roster has the ingredients the Knicks rode to the No. 4 seed and a playoff berth last season.
The offense, which was supposed to be boosted by the arrival of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, has deteriorated almost game by game. The defense, effort and preparation that were trademarks of the team last season are absent. So despite the 8-7 record, the 67 games left and the professed affection for each other, the team is struggling to find a reason for that optimism.
After the Knicks lost to the Orlando Magic, a team that entered the night with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, the second time that happened already this season, they reflected. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau blamed himself. Randle said the team — starting with himself — needs to look in the mirror.
"They played well. They played hard. We didn’t," Thibodeau said. "I have to do a better job getting them ready. That’s on me."
"First, I think it starts with looking at yourself," Randle said. "Everybody taking a look in the mirror, to see if you’re giving everything you have to the team, to the game."
Randle said that teams are just too comfortable offensively against the Knicks, and he said he had no clue why that is happening. Offensively, it’s easier to explain what is happening: The players brought in to take pressure off Randle are not performing. In the last seven games, they have become almost non-factors. Fournier has spent the entire fourth quarter on the bench in six of those games, and Walker hasn't gotten into the fourth quarter in five of them. Fournier is averaging seven points per game in that span and Walker just nine.
"It’s just weird out there right now," Randle said. "That’s the best way I could describe it. It’s just kind of weird and just a little bit choppy and we’re just trying to figure it out. I think everybody’s hearts and intentions are in the right place. It’s just a little weird right now. We’re just trying to give everything we have and figure it out."
That has led Thibodeau to rely on the second unit, which has outplayed the starters on a nightly basis. And it has left him struggling to find a combination that works.
"Yeah, it’s all part of it," Thibodeau said. "The good thing about the depth is that you have depth. Sometimes, the tough thing is trying to figure out who’s going well and that sort of thing, but look — we’re capable of doing better, and we have to. Our only way out is, we gotta work our way out of this."