GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Knicks’ record on the road is cringeworthy, but the team is not dreading leaving its comfort zone of Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks believe they have the players and mentality to handle a brutal stretch that includes 16 of the next 20 games on the road, and 19 of 25.
“We just need to fire ourselves up and just stay together,” Enes Kanter said after practice Tuesday. “If you look at this team, we have enough talent to beat every team on every court. It doesn’t matter on the road, not on the road. We just need to stay together and just bring energy.”
The Knicks benefited from a heavy home schedule early in the season and took advantage of it. The team is 17-16 after its Christmas Day loss to the 76ers at the Garden. But only two of those victories have come away from MSG, where the Knicks are 2-10 and have lost eight games by at least 12 points. They have played the fewest road games of any team in the league.
The team starts a three-game trip — its longest of the season to this point — Wednesday night in Chicago. From there they go to San Antonio and New Orleans. The always-confident Kanter said we will learn a lot about the Knicks over the next four days.
“I think we’re ready,” Kanter said. “The important thing is good teams bounce back quick. We got three games coming up in four days so you’re going to see how good of a team we are. Just bounce back and set the tone early with the Bulls game and just go from there.”
The Knicks were in a similar spot last year record-wise. They were 16-14 after losing at home on Christmas to the Celtics. The Knicks then went on the road for three games, and dropped all three. It was part of a six-game losing skid from which the Knicks did not recover. They dropped 20 of 26 games, including the Christmas loss, on their way to a 31-51 season.
But it’s a new season, with different players, and fewer distractions. At this time last year, former Knicks president Phil Jackson had begun his critical remarks about Carmelo Anthony, which continued throughout the season.
The 26-game stretch also included Derrick Rose’s disappearance on a gameday when he flew to Chicago without notifying the team as well as the ugly incident involving Charles Oakley being forcibly removed from the Garden by security.
This year’s Knicks have been focused on basketball and trying to make an improbable playoff run. Coach Jeff Hornacek believes the team will handle adversity much differently than last year.
“I think so,” Hornacek said. “Usually when you have an older team — veteran guys — and the losses start piling up, guys have a tendency to go, ‘OK, the season [is over.]’ These guys are going to fight until the end of the season no matter what our record is.
“A lot of young guys, they know we’re working not just for this year but the next couple of years of getting better at certain things. So there won’t be any quit in these guys.”
That also gives Hornacek the feeling they can withstand this heavy dose of road games. They’ve stayed afloat despite being without second-leading scorer Tim Hardaway Jr. for the last 12 games because of a stress injury in his left leg.
“You’re going to hit those stretches,” Hornacek said. “There’s a lot of teams in that midrange where some part in the season you might lose five or six in a row, and how will you handle that? You going to keep fighting or are you going to feel sorry for yourselves? This is a great group of guys. And they may not win every game, but they’re trying the best they can.”
There is still no timetable for Hardaway’s return. He worked on his shooting after practice without the hard brace on his lower leg and was moving well. Hardaway is supposed to be re-evaluated this week.
“He’s moving more every day,” Hornacek said. “We’re just monitoring him more, giving him a little bit of time to see how that stress reaction — whatever it is — responds when he puts a little weight on it. So it’s a good sign that he’s out there doing that.”