As the Knicks were finishing off the win in Philadelphia Monday night the 76ers fans streamed for the exits, one stopping to throw a ball onto the court that halted play momentarily. Then Knicks fans who were still in the Wells Fargo Center started up a "Let’s go Knicks" chant.
The Knicks celebrated as if they were in the Garden and in the early going this season the road has felt like home for them. The win improved the Knicks to 5-1 on the road in the early going this season, the best road mark in the Eastern Conference and only bettered by the Golden State Warriors perfect 3-0 record away from home.
The problem for the Knicks so far this season is that Madison Square Garden has not exactly been hospitable for the home team. The Knicks hosted the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night and entered the game with a 2-3 home record.
Last season, with the stands empty for most of the season because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Knicks were 25-11 at Madison Square Garden while managing just a 16-20 road record, the home dominance helping them to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and their first playoff berth in eight seasons. They then lost two of three at home with the stands nearly full in the playoffs and were swept in their two games on the road in Atlanta.
"Being ready to play," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said earlier in the week of the team’s ability to win on the road this season. "I think that’s the big thing. Sometimes we bounced around pretty good in terms of — we were in the Midwest, went from Chicago to New Orleans, home for a game, back out.
"Being ready to play is a big part of winning in this league. The games keep coming. Regardless of what happened the previous night, you have to bring that energy every night and get yourself ready to play. So I think that’s the biggest challenge. Sometimes the schedules in your favor and sometimes it’s not. So your defense, your rebounding, keeping your turnovers down, that puts you in position to win. We can’t let go. We have to fight. Some nights things don’t go well, but you still can win. That’s the most important thing."
Some of the oddities of this early season may come just because the team is still finding its way together after a bit of roster revamping in the offseason. The Knicks have two new starters — Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier — and even Mitchell Robinson was just a part-time player last season, appearing in only 31 games because of injuries.
"Not just them," Thibodeau said of the starters acclimating to each other. "Our entire team. And that’s the challenge of every season is to come in and put everything you have into each and every day so you can improve. So come in with the right attitude, the right approach, the right commitment, we have to be connected together. It’s not an individual sport so it’s not just about how do you bring the best out of yourself. It’s how do you bring the best out of your group so we can win."
Notes & quotes: Robinson was back after sitting out Monday’s game with a hip flexor injury. Nerlens Noel, who missed the preseason and much of the regular season with a right knee and hamstring injury, suffered an injury to his left knee Monday and was held out Wednesday night. "Day to day," Thibodeau said. "So we’ll see how he feels tomorrow."