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Knicks showing improvement on defense

Interim head coach Mike Miller has the Knicks

Interim head coach Mike Miller has the Knicks playing better defense.   Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Behind the defensive efforts that propelled the Knicks past the Nets and Wizards lies an improved ability to string together a sustained stopping power.

Interim coach Mike Miller noted that a team that once could produce only about three to four strong consecutive possessions defensively now has shown it can do so for about five to seven possessions. The Knicks suddenly are capable of holding their opponents scoreless for several minutes at a time.

They showed that ability against the Nets last Thursday, holding them to 26.9% shooting, the lowest of any team since 2012, and limiting the Wizards to 34.4% shooting on Saturday.

“We’re able to impact the game a little bit more. We can see that in pockets,” Miller said after practice Monday. “I thought we defended really well at the beginning of the Brooklyn game, and in stretches, we put together really good possessions. It takes some of the pressure off our offense. When it does that, we can get into a possession game and be able to make stops.”

The revived defense will be put to the test Wednesday when Carmelo Anthony and the Trail Blazers visit Madison Square Garden.

The Blazers beat the Knicks, 115-87, and shot 43.3% on Dec. 10 in Portland, with Damian Lillard hitting eight three-pointers in 12 attempts in a 31-point outing.

“We’re not over-complicating anything,” Julius Randle said of the defense. “We’re doing a good job of sticking to our coverages and just executing our coverages, being disciplined in them, not over-complicating things, and we’re rebounding well.”

The Knicks (9-24) entered Monday tied for 18th in opponent field-goal percentage (.458), but they are trending in the right direction entering the new year, which is critical if they are going to make any type of push.

The Knicks do not have the offensive firepower to go basket-for-basket with most opponents. They have to win dogfights, as they did in their last two victories.

The Nets and Wizards shot a combined 31% from the floor in those contests. Randle credited the coaching staff’s game plans for allowing the defense to flourish. RJ Barrett added that the players have benefited from spending more time together.

Randle and Barrett believe the players also have been more accountable since their players-only meeting early this month.

“We’ve really locked in together as a group. Really just trying to get some stops,” Barrett said. “It’s been working. Definitely got to finish out some more rebounds. But it’s been working.”

Notes & quotes: Reggie Bullock practiced and “everything went well,” according to Miller. A decision will be made after Tuesday’s practice and he might make his debut Wednesday. The team also will wait to see about guard Dennis Smith Jr. (left oblique strain), who was limited in practice. Kevin Knox and Ignas Brazdeikis did not practice because of illness and Damyean Dotson was sidelined with a sore lower back.

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