Jeff Hornacek is no longer saying the Knicks can make a playoff run. The Knicks coach conceded the race is just about over and it’s time to start building for next season.
But Tuesday night the Knicks looked like they were playing for something, especially in the second half. They erased a 10-point third-quarter deficit, held Indiana to 29 second-half points and earned an 87-81 win over the Pacers at Madison Square Garden.
Carmelo Anthony scored 15 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Knicks (27-41). Derrick Rose added 16 and Willy Hernangomez had 13 and 16 rebounds.
Kristaps Porzingis left the game in the fourth quarter with a bruised left leg and didn’t return.
The Knicks remain in 12th place in the East, six games out of the final spot with 14 to play. They’re not mathematically eliminated, but they’ve been showing signs of being mentally done for a long time.
When it becomes official, it will be the fourth straight year that the Knicks have missed the postseason, including all three full seasons with Phil Jackson as team president.
“Until you’re mathematically done you’re always going for it but sometimes it’s realistic,” Hornacek said. “Many, many things would have to happen for that to happen.”
Hornacek was holding out hope, as were many of the Knicks’ veterans that they could get on a little roll and sneak into the playoffs. The final straw may have been Sunday’s loss to the NBA-worst Nets when the Knicks played as if “it didn’t matter” according to Hornacek.
“Whether you’re in the playoffs or out of the playoffs you want to play hard the whole time,” Hornacek said. “The playoffs may not be in reach but this could [be a chance] for some of our other guys who might get some time to show what they really can do and build something for next year.”
Hornacek may have conceded it, but not all of his players have.
“I still haven’t — until I know the season’s over,” Rose said. “It’s kind of hard setting goals or having goals early on in the year and things don’t work out the way you want them to work out or plans don’t go exactly how you want them to go.”
Rose was the Knicks’ major off-season acquisition and set the table for everything Jackson did after that — signing Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings to put with Anthony and Porzingis.
Over the summer, Rose called the Knicks “a super team” and put making the playoffs as his No. 2 goal after staying healthy.
“I didn’t care about my stats,” Rose said. “It was the fact I was coming to a new team, having a huge opportunity in front of me to come here and try to spark something. It’s messed up that it’s gone the way that it’s gone.”
Indeed. The Knicks started 14-10, and were 16-13 before playing on Christmas Day. They’ve gone 11-28 since then.
The Knicks tried to trade Anthony and Rose. Jennings, after not being traded, was waived. Noah, who played in 46 games, is likely done for the season and was a major disappointment when he was healthy.
Hornacek has said the Knicks would evaluate players based on how they fit in the triangle. The system Jackson loves is the focus again. Jackson even ran a triangle workout for guards last week.
Since Knicks owner James Dolan said he won’t fire Jackson after the season, there’s been speculation that Hornacek could be gone and that he’s already lost the locker room.
Porzingis said after Sunday’s loss to the Nets that the changing system and game plans have led to “a lot of confusion” and it’s “from top to bottom.” Hornacek said losing is tough on everyone.
“I think all of the teams when you’re losing go through the same thing,” Hornacek said. “The finger pointing starts. Is it coaches? Is it players? Is it management? Whatever it is. There’s probably things that happen when you’re winning that guys aren’t happy about but they don’t say anything. But when you lose, they go ‘OK I can say something.’ So that’s just the way it is.
“Everybody’s frustrated with the way the season went. But our job is to continue to try to teach these guys whatever we can and try to get better at things and push them. We’ve got to look at it as, not just giving up on this season and hey, counting the days down. You still play and if you’re a professional, you have pride and you go out there and play every game like it’s meaningful.”