Finally, some relief.
The Knicks may have gone into Friday riding a four-game losing streak — and playing some woeful defense in the process — but at least they had the services of Reggie Bullock, who had missed the previous two games with a sore hip.
Bullock, who said he felt "great now" and was back in the starting lineup, was candid about how he saw the Knicks take a "step back" in the last few games. He was candid, too, about how he thinks the Knicks need him to regain some of the modest momentum they had very early in the season. The Knicks started 5-3, winning five of six games after an 0-2 start, and Bullock was in the starting five for the first 10 games.
He was averaging 8.5 points in 28.7 minutes per game going into Friday. He scored four points in 31 minutes in the Knicks' 106-103 loss to the Cavaliers.
"It was just things that we had to get back to the drawing board and fix," Bullock said in a Zoom call with reporters after the morning shootaround Friday. "There were some small things that [we were] messing up on the defensive end. It’s all about coming out with a lot of energy to start games. I’m a part of that five that come out into games to bring a lot of energy."
Most glaringly, the 29-year-old was stuck just watching as the Knicks gave up 116 points to the Nets on Wednesday even though they didn’t have to face Kyrie Irving or newly acquired James Harden.
Bullock said the team spent Thursday going back to basics, drawing up new ways to approach the coming challenges and harping on the need for communication.
"We were talking" more in the beginning of the season, Bullock said. "I think we took a step back. We haven’t been getting a crazy amount of practice time in. We’re a young team and I think that helps a lot on the defensive end for us to get those reps. But like I said, we went back to the drawing board yesterday, getting a lot of those things cleaned up, and we can start putting some wins together."
Tom Thibodeau said Bullock is integral in getting the team back to where it should be.
"He’s a two-way player," the coach said. "The shooting component obviously is critical and his defense, also, so it’s a big plus for us to get him back."
Bullock said there have been missteps on both sides of the ball. He believes the Knicks have missed his court presence and ability to disrupt opposing teams.
His value is in "the things that I do on the defensive end and the offensive end, moving without the ball, being around the game a little bit and just willing to do whatever the coach needs me to do," Bullock said. "Whether that’s defense, whether that’s cutting, whether that’s setting the screen, I bring whatever I can to help the team."
All that puts a little extra pressure on his shoulders. Though Bullock said he felt completely healthy after tweaking his hip, there was some urgency to return. Watching the team struggle wasn’t easy, and knowing his absence was part of that struggle wasn’t all that great, either.
"I know my team, they need me out there, so I’ve got to be able to push through things," he said. "It’s a tough time for our team right now. So another player is an asset to our team to help fight."
Notes & quotes: Frank Ntilikina (knee sprain) will be out "for a little while longer," Thibodeau said. Ntilikina hurt himself Dec. 29, and despite the long recovery, Thibodeau said the injury wasn’t more serious than they first suspected. "We just have to be patient," he said . . . Bullock is proud that the Knicks are playing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. "I’m very honored to be playing on that day," he said of the matinee against the Magic at the Garden. "The Knicks is a huge franchise and it’s great for us to be able to use our platform
and continue [to raise] awareness for all the social issues that’s going on in America right now."