Is the Knicks’ season starting to fade away?
Of course, no one came right out and suggested this after they dropped their third straight game Friday night. Yet there was a definite acknowledgment from the coach and players in the wake of their 99-86 loss to the Dallas Mavericks that they had to fix things and do it quickly.
And so, with a Monday night game against the conference-leading Nets on the horizon, the Knicks’ Saturday night road game against the Detroit Pistons, the worst team in the conference, took on a magnified importance. This game against a very beatable opponent had to be seen as a must-win.
"We have to have amnesia, especially when we play [the Pistons]," Derrick Rose said when asked about putting the skid behind them. "In the game, we just got to find a way to get easy shots, easy looks. We have to be mindful of it whenever we are on the floor and always look for easy shots.’’
The Knicks had been as high as fourth place in the Eastern Conference, but the loss to the Mavericks dropped them to 24-25 and into a tie for seventh with the Celtics. It also was disconcerting because it marked the third straight game in which they fell apart.
Against the Heat, the Knicks led by 10 points at the half but gave up 38 points in the final quarter.
In their loss to Minnesota, which has the worst record in the NBA, the Knicks blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.
And in the loss to Dallas on Friday, they led by 13 points in the second quarter before letting the Mavericks take control of a close game with 12 straight points in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks’ top-ranked defense under coach Tom Thibodeau is the primary reason they have been able to put themselves in playoff contention. A second reason is the one-two punch of Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.
Carrying the offense for four quarters, however, appears to be taking a toll physically on both players. Randle, playing with a sore thigh, shot 5-for-20 against Dallas. Barrett, who played Friday despite a sprained ankle, was 3-for-11.
"I don’t know if they’re banged up. I think that we’re at a point in the season where if you play this many games, every player in the league has something right now," Thibodeau said. "That’s pro sports. We have to manage that. We have to play better. Right now, we’re in a little bit of a funk and we’ve got to work our way out of it.
"We need everyone. Our margin of error isn’t great. You can deal with missed shots if you are playing well without shooting well. For the most part, we’ve done that."
The Pistons, who entered Saturday night with a 14-34 record, are one of the few easy teams left on the Knicks’ schedule. Based on current records, the Knicks’ remaining schedule is the second hardest in the league.
The Knicks knew heading into Saturday night that they had to use this opportunity in Detroit, even if it was on the second night of a back-to-back, to snap out of their current slide.
And they also knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
"Every team is fighting for something right now," Rose said. "And the teams that [are] not fighting for something, they will love to see or be the team to knock us out of the playoffs."