SAN FRANCISCO -- Phil Jackson didn't need to be sitting in a luxury suite in Phoenix to know the Knicks were "really awful'' again Friday night.
Jackson's assessment of the team during the Knicks' 31-point loss to the Lakers on Tuesday certainly applied in their 24- point drubbing by the Suns three nights later. The Knicks' new president could see on TV, for however long he watched the game from his home in Playa Del Rey, Calif., that fixing this team will be no walk on the beach.
The Knicks (30-43) are reverting to their old ways of late, and the timing couldn't be worse. They are alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race, 11/2 games behind the Hawks after Atlanta's loss Saturday night, with nine to play. In three of their last four games, however, they have played as if their season is over.
After an eight-game winning streak, the Knicks lost three of those four. Two weren't even close, and last Sunday against Cleveland, they gave away a 17-point lead. They're not defending hard or smart, they're not moving the ball on offense, and their body language is not good.
Players are looking at each other after defensive breakdowns as if to say, "Where were you?'' They're looking at officials for help or complaining about calls or no calls. Some may even be looking forward to vacation.
"You just got to go out there and play ball,'' Carmelo Anthony said. "There's no more talking. We got to do it. Either we want it or we don't. We got games to go play, we got games to win. Ain't no need to hold our head now. These last couple of games, you got to give it everything you got.''
After the Phoenix meltdown, Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire talked about the Knicks showing no fight. That's a damning statement, especially given that the Knicks have a chance to make something out of this mostly miserable season by getting in the playoffs. The Hawks, losers of 20 of 26, are giving them every opportunity to make it.
In Phoenix, Anthony said the Knicks weren't prepared. Stoudemire said they talked about what crafty, talented point guard Goran Dragic (32 points) would do, but they failed to execute.
"It was all mental,'' Stoudemire said. "We got to have supreme focus at this time of year. We can't have any slippage.''
Next up is another huge challenge Sunday night against Stephen Curry and the Warriors. Raymond Felton's poor defense up top and the Knicks' overall scheme have enabled quick point guards to exploit them all season. So something has to change quickly or Curry, who scored 54 against the Knicks last season, could add insult to ignominy.
Jackson has to be watching and thinking this team needs more than Zen, meditation or the Triangle offense. It needs a facelift, exorcism and cleansing.
Jackson already has to have an idea of whom he wants on this team and whom he doesn't. He said in Los Angeles, "We're in a hunt for talent,'' a statement that could extend beyond players.
Because he will spend much of his time in California, Jackson might opt to bring in front-office help. It's expected that a coach who knows the ins and outs of the triangle will replace Mike Woodson, who likely is coaching his final games with the Knicks.
But right now these games aren't meaningless, and Stoudemire knows the Knicks' approach and level of urgency need to reflect that. "We should win them all,'' he said. "Every game is a winnable game. We got to focus as if we can win every game and we have to play that way every single night. If we don't, we're fooling ourselves.''