TODAY'S PAPER
Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsBasketballKnicks

Knicks’ road trip turns tougher with next six games vs. Western Conference

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek speaks with his team

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek speaks with his team during a game against the Nets at Barclays Center on Jan. 15, 2018. Credit: Peter Foley / EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Jeff Hornacek met with his players before the Knicks began their long road trip and urged them not to look at it as daunting or difficult. He tried to appeal to their sense of togetherness and challenged them to return home with a feeling of accomplishment.

The Knicks responded Monday with a win in Brooklyn to open the seven-game trip. But now it turns tougher because airplanes are involved, and there won’t be as many fans cheering on the Knicks.

The next six games are against the Western Conference, beginning Wednesday in Memphis. The Knicks (20-24) begin their travels three games out of the last playoff spot in the East. They want to see that shrink rather than grow.

“This is an opportunity,” Hornacek said. “People look at road trips as ‘Man, we’ve got a tough trip.’ We’ve got to look at it as this is a chance for us. If you go out there and have a great road trip, that could give you the momentum to go into All-Star break and come back from that and maybe make a run at something later on . . . It’s an opportunity to get on a roll.

“Sometimes these trips can really turn the corner for you.”

Hornacek wouldn’t say it was make-or-break. But it certainly feels that way for the Knicks. It’s a huge stretch that could determine how Knicks management approaches the rest of the season.

They want Kristaps Porzingis and the rest of the young players to experience meaningful games in late March and April. But if the Knicks falter on this trip and they continue to fade — they have lost 10 of their last 13 games — GM Scott Perry could look to deal some veterans for young players and/or draft picks.

The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 8, less than two weeks after the Knicks return home.

Hornacek said the Knicks shouldn’t focus on the playoffs but just to continue to grow as a team.

“We talked about the beginning of the season with our guys is don’t look at what your goals are,” Hornacek said. “What we’re trying to do is get the best out of them and improve all year long. If playoffs come about, fine. And I think that’s what happened to us.

“We got off and got a couple games over .500 there, and then all of a sudden everyone is talking about, ‘Oh we have a chance. If we win we make playoffs.’ You don’t worry about that. You just go out there and try to be better each and every game. And then the wins will pile up and you’ll have a chance. So we have to get back to our basics that we talked about at the beginning of the year and how we’re going to approach this season and see where it lands.”

The players, however, weren’t downplaying the importance of this trip that features winnable games.

The Knicks are playing just one power (the Warriors) and one other team above .500 (Denver). The first three games, and four of the six, are against teams with worse records than the Knicks: Memphis, Utah, the Lakers and Phoenix.

“It’s going to be huge,” Porzingis said. “It’s going to show us where we are right now. We’ve been so close so many games on the road, we’re right there. All we need is to stick together, finish the games better and I’m sure the wins are going to come.”

Michael Beasley said, “Long trips like this will make or break a team.”

Despite their 5-15 road record, the Knicks left for Memphis feeling confident.

They have played better lately with three wins in their last six road games. Many of the games were without Tim Hardaway Jr., who missed six weeks with a stress injury in his lower left leg. He sat out Monday for precautionary reasons. Hardaway is expected to play in Memphis.

In the Knicks’ last three road losses, one was in overtime and they experienced late-game meltdowns in the other two. But Hornacek believes they’re close to breaking through and their victory against the Nets — after a meltdown at home in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans — will help them.

“I think early in the season when we lost, we lost big,” Hornacek said. “We lost by 20, 25 points. For this team to be in every single game, that’s a step in itself. So we’ll continue to work on that, and that’s experience they’re gaining every time they play in those close games.

“I think the guys have come together. You see they’re always for each other. They have great chemistry and they play hard.”

New York Sports