The Knicks were upbeat — heck, perhaps even a tad optimistic — about their chances of giving the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors a run when they play Sunday night at the Garden.
“This is an opportunity for us,” rookie Kristaps Porzingis said. “They’re obviously the favorites. If we play hard and focus and we execute well, we’ll be able to compete with them.”
The Warriors (42-4 going into Saturday’s game at Philiadelphia) are on pace to eclipse the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ NBA record of 72 victories in a season. The Knicks are 23-26. But after their blowout win over the Suns on Friday night, the players sounded eager to test the defending champions.
“They’re a very good team, there’s no doubt about that,” center Robin Lopez said. “But that said, we’ve beaten some very good teams. I don’t think there’s any game out there that’s not winnable for us.”
There’s any number of explanations as to why the positive vibes were flowing.
They were speaking after a game in which they looked as good as they have all season. They also might not feel much pressure, given how the Warriors are such heavy favorites against almost every opponent.
Or maybe, as Carmelo Anthony suggested, it’s the competitors in them talking.
When Anthony was asked if he thinks the Warriors will set an NBA record for regular-season victories, he smiled, laughed and insisted on taking the Fifth.
“How do you want me to answer that question?” Anthony said. “As a competitor, I can’t say, ‘Yeah, they’re going to win 72.’ I can’t answer that question. I won’t say no comment, either. But I can’t answer that question.”
This season the Warriors have lost at Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee and Dallas. Two of those teams — the Nuggets and Bucks — are under .500 and headed for the lottery. So obviously the Knicks have a chance. But they have a few things working against them.
It will be the Knicks’ third game in four days. With injuries taking their toll of late, the Knicks needed a day off Saturday, robbing them of a game-planning day. And the Warriors have won four of the last five games played at Madison Square Garden. Three years ago next month, Stephen Curry scored 54 points at the Garden — although the Knicks won that one, 109-105.
“We have no choice but be ready,” Anthony said. “Whether we’re ready or not, they’re coming here.”
The Knicks have been a streaky and inconsistent team this season. They have had four four-game losing streaks, which accounts for nearly half of their total losses. But they’ve also shown positive flashes, such as Friday night’s blowout victory.
When they’re at their best, Anthony is both a scorer and a playmaker, Porzingis is a mismatch and the supporting cast of Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams and Lance Thomas scores enough to force defenses to stay honest.
Anthony returned on Friday night from a two-game break in which he nursed a sore left knee, and he said the time off helped him. Porzingis also returned Friday night after missing a game with an upper respiratory illness. His breathing was an issue during the game, but he expects a day off to help him get closer to 100 percent. Point guard Jose Calderon could return after missing two games because of a groin injury.
So the Knicks might be back at full strength, and no doubt they’re feeling good after their laugher of a win. Can they play with the Warriors?
For one game, at least, why not?
Said Anthony, “I don’t think it’s about them. It’s more about us.”