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Knicks looking to rekindle earlier spirited play ahead of NBA All-Star break

Carmelo Anthony #7 and Arron Afflalo #4 of

Carmelo Anthony #7 and Arron Afflalo #4 of the New York Knicks reacts after a play against the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Arron Afflalo made the claim that the Knicks are “a playoff team” last week after an overtime loss to the Thunder without Carmelo Anthony. They have looked like anything but one lately.

The Knicks played all-out and with hunger and passion and had the Thunder on the ropes last Tuesday, leading to hype in the media and among their fan base that they were close to being a good team.

Suddenly the Knicks are playing as if they’re running in quicksand, rookie Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t been sharp or effective lately and their roster doesn’t look as good or deep. Overall the Knicks have dropped six of their last seven and for the first time they’re five games below .500 at 23-28.

It may be too soon to say the season is slipping away, but recent developments could lead to team president Phil Jackson trying to shake things up or acquire assets by the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

“We know what we’re playing for,” Afflalo said. “You have to keep a big-picture approach. You can’t get too high or too low. But as time moves on we’ve got to start winning games. Not to say that we have time, but we do have time to improve and we can get better.”

But it could get worse, too.

The Knicks, who began Wednesday tied for 11th in the East, 3 1⁄2 games out of the playoffs, have four games left before the All-Star break. Starting Thursday in Detroit, three of the Knicks’ last four games are against teams with better records.

Jose Calderon is probable to return Thursday after a four-game absence with a sore groin. That could help the Knicks’ offense and rotation. But unless the Knicks find the urgency they had previously and give more effort defensively, they could go into the break in a worse position in the standings and mentally.

“The morale is good. I don’t think the morale is changing,” Anthony said. “There’s a sense of urgency. But the morale, the confidence of this team is not going anywhere. I won’t allow that to happen. We just got to turn this thing around quickly.”

Anthony was in surprisingly good spirits considering how flat he and the Knicks were in Tuesday’s 97-89 defeat to the Celtics. He shot 4-for-16, finished with 16 points, and was scoreless in the fourth quarter.

It was the Knicks’ third loss in four games since Afflalo’s statement. The one win was a lopsided victory over the free-falling Suns, who fired coach Jeff Hornacek’s three days later. In the other three games, the Knicks faced double-digit deficits. But their struggles predate that.

The Knicks put up little fight in the first two losses of this stretch against the Clippers and in Charlotte. Derek Fisher noted a “slippage” in focus since “noise” that the Knicks could reach the postseason started.

“Defensively we’ve got to be better,” Porzingis said. “We’re not playing as good as we were in the beginning of the season defensively. And we’ve got to pick that up. And then if we get stops defensively then we’ll have better offense and flow into that and we’ll play better offensively and overall.”

Porzingis has hit a rough patch of his own.

Since returning from an upper respiratory illness three games ago, Porzingis is 10-for-27 with 31 points and 18 rebounds. He’s been slow footed or caught standing still on defense, and was pushed around against Boston. Fisher sat Porzingis for seven minutes during the fourth quarter. But Anthony isn’t worried about the rookie big man.

“He’ll be all right,” Anthony said. “All of this is a learning curve for him. We throw so much on him right now, the way he’s been playing previously and we tend to throw a lot of things on him. One thing at a time. He’ll get stronger, he’ll get used to this.”


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