INDIANAPOLIS — The Knicks arrived in Indiana for the start of a two-game road trip with another game that, on paper at least, looked like a chance to continue their fast start. With a 5-2 record the Knicks were preparing to face a Pacers squad trying to find its way through a new coaching regime and a continuing series of injuries that have plagued them for the last year.
But even in the early going this season the Knicks know that the 2-6 record that the Pacers brought into the game means little if they don’t play with the effort and energy they did last year as they rose from a regular in the lottery to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks spent a long film session Tuesday breaking down the issues from Monday’s home loss to the Raptors and were honest with themselves in what they saw with no need for coach Tom Thibodeau to lose his voice screaming these truths at them.
"We try to stay on track," Derrick Rose said Wednesday morning. "We try to be honest and open to one another. We understand what our goals are and what we have to achieve this year. We want to do better than last year. It’s all about learning your routine, tendencies early, get that out of the way so we’re not worried about it later in the season.
"You know how it is in the league, when you win everything gets swept under the rug. Yesterday we looked at film. We were honest. We didn’t have the energy, we didn’t have the urgency that we normally had. Even in the games that we won we weren’t focused enough and let them back into games. It’s about being aware of it and making sure that it’s not something that’s steady happening throughout the year."
Recognizing you have a problem is a first step and players like Rose are experienced enough to know that the record can hide problems. The Knicks have seen their offense improve radically with the additions of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. Entering Wednesday’s game Walker was leading the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage (56.8%) and Rose was tied for seventh at 50%, with Fournier, RJ Barrett and Alec Burks all over 40%.
Even as he has put up decent numbers, Julius Randle has found teams still doubling him as they did before the offensive help arrived this season. Thibodeau has stuck to his message that if the double-teams come, Randle — and any player — must just move the ball. At times Randle has seemed to struggle to find the proper balance of when to force the offense to run through him and when to give up the ball. After Randle scored 18 first-quarter points Monday, Toronto clamped down and when the game turned in the second quarter Randle was 0-for-3 shooting with two turnovers.
"Just play his game," Rose said. "I feel like if he just goes out there and plays his game everything is going to be good. We know that we’ve got more scoring on the team. He’s got to find ways to get lost. Right now they’re double-teaming from different spots on the court.
"That’s why we’ve got Kemba and Evan on the floor with him, so that when you’ve got that type of person on that side of the ball, offensively, it’s easy to just get lost. Being that No. 1 option you want that opportunity to get lost in the offense. I played where I had to do everything, bring the ball up, set up the offense, score the ball — and if it was up to me I wouldn’t want to do all that but I was kind of forced to do it so I had to figure it out. Ju, he’s a great guy and he’s all about figuring things out. So it’s about just letting him learn and letting him adjust, playing with three new starters."
Rose believes that the Knicks will get on track and that by winning through these adjustments they have put themselves in position to reach their goals.
"We’ve got a winning record," he said. "I’ve played on teams where it was the opposite and you feel like the season is over and you’ve got to climb. You’re fighting up a mountain — not a hill but a mountain — the entire year. So yeah, it’s good to be on the other side."