GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The atmosphere for practice Saturday afternoon was as close as the Knicks could get to mimicking a real game at Madison Square Garden. While players finished up what was the longest practice of the year with free throw shooting drills, crowd noise was pumped into their practice facility and they even had their version of celebrity row with rapper J Cole sitting courtside watching.
But the important question is whether the work will translate to a real game and it has not so far this season. After the first 10 games of the season when the Knicks started out 2-8, team executives took to the microphone to express their displeasure. Sunday afternoon the second 10 games will conclude when the Knicks host the Boston Celtics and if they can’t pull off an upset in that game the results will be another 2-8 run.
“We’ve played better basketball,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “It may not show up in wins, but I think overall, consistency and effort, giving ourselves a chance to win these games, has been much better. Other than the Toronto game the other night I feel like all of the games we’ve been right there with these teams.”
It’s hard to point to much that has improved other than the Knicks have at least established a consistent starting lineup. Free throws have been the problem that they point to as a difference in many of the close losses, but it’s not totally unexpected as the Knicks are the worst free-throw shooting team and that is not an aberration with a roster filled with mediocre free throw shooters.
The development of the youth on the roster has been a spotty experiment. While Frank Ntilikina has ascended into the starting point guard spot — really because of injuries and a death in the family — Kevin Knox has moved from a starter last season to absorbing his first DNP-coach’s decision Friday.
But the Knicks might need Knox Sunday because Marcus Morris did not practice, suffering from cervical spasms, which has him listed as questionable for Sunday.
Ntilikina said that he learned from his own benching last season and even early this season.
“To stay with it,” Ntilikina said of the lesson. “Control what you can control. And see how I can affect the team even when I’m not playing, talk to teammates, give advice, be a great teammate and keep working in practice, keep working on your game, and the opportunity will come. Obviously it’s a long season. An opportunity will come. Most of it is how can I be a good teammate and still be part of the team.”
“Sometimes they’ve got to go through some tough love to find themselves and watch the game from 25,000 feet, see it, and see the things that I’m emphasizing,” Fizdale said. “I was tough on Frank last year and I just feel like Frank has come back with a whole different mindset about how he’s going to go about this season. I’ve been so happy with the way he’s played and produced. But I do think a little bit of tough love on some of these young guys isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”