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Knicks thankful for .500 record, return of Joakim Noah

Head coach Jeff Hornacek of the New York

Head coach Jeff Hornacek of the New York Knicks talks to his players during a time out against the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Knicks put in a Thanksgiving morning practice, feeling thankful to have broken even at 7-7 after winning two straight and four of five, and feeling hopeful that the arrow will continue to point upward.

“We’re happy we’re .500 with the way we maybe started,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “ . . . Do we wish we were 10-4 or whatever? Sure. But we’re moving in the right direction right now.”

And now they’re getting Joakim Noah back. The 6-11 center missed the last two games with an illness but returned for this practice and is probable for Friday night’s game against Charlotte at the Garden.

So how does Noah look?

“When you have that sickness, I don’t know if it was a flu or whatever it was where he was kind of dehydrated, he looks a little sluggish,” Hornacek said. “But usually that happens the first day. I’m sure tomorrow, finally having a day where he’s not feeling sick and he gets good rest, he’ll be ready to go.”

It’s just that his play also has been a little sluggish. Noah has averaged 4.3 points and 8.9 rebounds to tip off his four-year, $72-million deal.

“We’re trying to get him a little bit lower [toward the basket],” Hornacek said. “ . . . Get him close where he can explode quickly. Then things open up easier for him.”

The Knicks weren’t thrilled on Nov. 17 when Washington went up by 27 and scored 119 points. It was the continuation of some bad road work. Then came Saturday’s get-it-all-out-in-the-open meeting.

“I knew after that meeting, I said, ‘This might be the turning point for us,’ ” Brandon Jennings said.

Two well-done home wins followed — 104-94 over Atlanta on Sunday and 107-103 over Portland on Tuesday.

“I think the focus has been different,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Guys are really locking in from a defensive standpoint, which is giving us confidence to go play on the offensive end, get out in transition, trying to pick the pace up a little bit, not trying to play in the half-court offense.”

The Hornets arrive at 8-6 after a three-game slide. They are paced by guard Kemba Walker, who is averaging 24.8 points per game.

“If you don’t control Kemba,” Hornacek said, “he’s going to get in there and score or pass it to the guys for easy shots.”

The Knicks are 6-2 at home and have won five straight at the Garden, so the larger test may be whether they can take this improved defensive show to Charlotte for Saturday night’s game. They are 1-5 on the road with three straight losses.

“It shouldn’t be hard because you can play defense anywhere,” Hornacek said. “You may not shoot the ball as well on the road because you’re not [as] familiar as you are with your home baskets, but your defensive effort should be there. So I think we should be able to do it . . . We feel good about the strides the defense is making.”


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