GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Jeff Hornacek backed off his comment that he didn’t know if the Knicks had players “capable of” playing defense, but he still wants them to give more effort on that end of the court.
“I think these guys really are trying but defense is tough,” Hornacek said after what he described as a “spirited practice” Tuesday. “It’s all-out running into guys, hustling, not stopping. It’s a lot harder than offense.
“So the effort they are giving I think is good but we got to get it to be great.”
Hornacek said the coaches will continue “challenging” players to sustain their effort for longer stretches. But the fact that this is a topic almost daily isn’t a good sign for a veteran team that talks about being dangerous.
The Knicks (16-18) have dropped five straight and eight of 10, with a lack of defense and effort being their two biggest issues.
“Even if you do it wrong, if you have effort — not what you think is an effort, what the coaches think is an effort — you can fix a lot of things and help each other out,” Hornacek said.
Milwaukee’s “Greek Freak,” Giannis Antetokounmpo, probably can’t wait to face the Knicks on Wednesday at the Garden. Antetokounmpo has been a matchup nightmare for all teams. He’s averaging 23.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists.
The Knicks could be without Kristaps Porzingis for a third straight game because of a sore left Achilles. He was still stiff Tuesday and was held out of practice. Hornacek said Porzingis “might be doubtful.” But Porzingis said “there is a chance” he will play.
After the Knicks were beaten, 115-103, by Orlando on Monday, Hornacek spoke candidly about his concerns of whether his players could play defense and said he’d make lineup changes.
It doesn’t sound like those are coming yet, but Hornacek said the coaches have to recognize each player’s strengths and weaknesses and make sure they’re put in positions to succeed.
“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily that they [can’t] play defense — we have to find the right way to have them play defense,” Hornacek said. “If we’re asking a certain guy to pick up at halfcourt, we have to know, is he capable of doing that?
“We might have three guys on the team or four guys that can do that and the rest of them might not be able to. So we’ve got to put them in those positions that they’re capable of doing. We’ve got to figure out how as a team what we’re going to do that lends to everybody’s capabilities.”
When the media was let in at the end of practice, former Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah was having a conversation with Kurt Rambis, who is in charge of the Knicks’ defense. Later, all the coaches met and appeared to be discussing defense.
That was the subject all day, and rightfully so. The Knicks have allowed an average of 113.8 points during the five-game skid and 108.5 for the season, sixth-worst in the league.
Hornacek said they watched video of Monday’s game and the players “cleared up some concerns they had and questions they had.”
He said there won’t be any change in the coaching structure with Rambis as the defensive coordinator. But Hornacek said the Knicks could change up some of their defensive schemes, and not necessarily the starting lineup.
“We’ve just got to keep going over it and continue to reiterate what we want them to do,” Hornacek said.
“We’re always taking a look at things. But we’ve got some dynamic offensive players out there and we’ve got some guys that are strictly defense to help us out. We just all have to get better. I think that first group is able to do that. They really put the effort in today. That’s very promising to see, so we’ll see.”
Porzingis hasn’t really tested the Achilles, but he did some light shooting after practice. He was a focused onlooker during the practice that concentrated on defense.
“We had the type of fight that we need to have,” Porzingis said. “I’m sure tomorrow we’ll come out with a different mentality and a different effort. ”