When it was over, the start-to-finish carnage inflicted upon them by the Denver Nuggets, the Knicks were content to put it behind them. Or more to the point, to discard it completely.
"Yeah, I’m throwing this one in the trash," Julius Randle said afterward. "Two-and- one to start the road trip. We’ve got a great opportunity in Phoenix, so that's what I'm looking forward to. I’m throwing this one in the trash."
For the Knicks, the 113-97 loss on Wednesday night was one which didn’t feel even that close. Denver built a 20-point lead halfway through the first quarter and stretched it to as many as 31 points before the Knicks managed to close the gap in a battle of the benches. Maybe they were overdue for one of these games, having won 12 of 13 coming into the game, and not suffering any one-sided losses since an ugly performance in San Antonio before the All-Star break.
"Yeah, 100%, definitely a throwaway game," Nerlens Noel said. "But you know, this team feels it. We feel it in the locker room. It just wasn't the same. Regardless, we know what we're capable of and just the energy postgame wasn't there. Because we know what we're able to do. So, definitely a throwaway but you know we've definitely taken it as a lesson — be ready from the jump, throw the first punch, be the aggressor and we’ll be in position to win. We won the last three quarters, as coach pointed out. We just lost the first quarter. You know if you [handle] your preparations a little better, whole different ballgame."
Left unsaid, there is the reality that lost the first quarter by a tune of 34-12. But there is little time for looking back with just six games left in the regular season and a race still going for postseason positioning. The Knicks are halfway through the six-game West Coast swing, which looked like a death march on the schedule, but they did manage to start it off with victories in Houston and Memphis. But after the loss to Denver they now face Phoenix Friday, followed by a pair of games in Los Angeles against the Clippers and Lakers.
Even when they return home for the final three games of the season it doesn’t get easy with matchups against San Antonio, Charlotte and Boston — all opponents playing for playoff berths, too. The Knicks still hold the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, but the lead over Atlanta slipped to just one-half game. Boston and Miami are two games back and if all three of those teams pass the Knicks then they fall into seventh place and the play-in tournament.
"We're confident going into it and look forward to the challenge," Randle said about starting with Phoenix, which beat the Knicks at the Garden last week. "Just another notch on our belt to test where we’re at. We’re confident. I’m looking forward to it. It should be a great challenge again and we look forward to coming out on top."
The loss to Phoenix in a close game ended the Knicks' nine-game win streak, and getting another shot at the Suns has been on their minds since.
"We’ve, as a group, collectively had the day circled on our calendar," Noel said. "We know we let one slip in New York. But we want to come here with the aggression that we need, the first punch, and play a full 48 minutes of basketball. And we know we can do that and keep this West Coast trip going. Try to take it game by game, day by day, and it's a good test for us down the stretch, getting ready for playoffs."
Notes & quotes: Alec Burks (contused left knee) and Immanuel Quickley (sprained left ankle) are doubtful for Friday’s game.