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Struggling Knicks have been relying on talent, not team basketball

New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose drives the

New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose drives the ball into the Indiana Pacers defense during the first half of an NBA game, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Indianapolis. Credit: AP / Doug McSchooler

The Knicks were riding high when they were four games over .500 a little less than a month ago, but not everyone believed they would continue to climb.

Within the Knicks’ locker room, some players believed they were winning on talent but weren’t playing good team basketball. Since then, the Knicks, who will host New Orleans on Monday night, have been losing because they’re not playing good team basketball. They’ve dropped 10 of 13 games and are a disappointing 17-20.

“In the moment where we were four games above .500, I said I don’t see ourselves as that good of a team yet,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “We were still growing. We were winning games. But we still have a lot to learn as a team, a lot to grow.

“It was just a good moment that we were up, we were winning games based off of our talent. But we just weren’t there yet, and now it’s kind of showing that we’re not there yet.”

Brandon Jennings echoed Porzingis’ statements.

“I don’t think we’ve played well at all this year, honestly,” Jennings said. “We’re winning games because of our talent, but as far as basketball-wise, I don’t think we’re playing basketball like we should be. Some stretches we might, like two games here and there. But we haven’t been really playing like how I feel the Knicks should be playing.”

Defense continues to be the Knicks’ Achilles’ heel.

Indiana scored 123 points on Saturday night, when the Knicks lost for the seventh time in eight games. The Pacers came in averaging a little more than 105 points. Earlier in the week, the Knicks allowed 115 points to Orlando, which was averaging less than 99.

Derrick Rose has been railing about the defense from the beginning. He came from the Bulls, and under Tom Thibodeau, playing defense was second only to breathing. But the Knicks don’t have that mentality.

“It’s all defense,” Rose said. “Like I said, and like I’ve been saying ever since we were having this problem, if we’re not stopping anyone, we’ve got to have the same mentality where they’re going to have a hard time scoring.”

Joakim Noah, a former Defensive Player of the Year with the Bulls, doesn’t think it’s realistic for the Knicks to be as stingy as those Chicago teams. Those Bulls had better defensive players and schemes. But he thinks the Knicks can be far better than they are.

“Chicago, we had a defensive coach and we had a lot of defensive players as well,” Noah said. “Will it be that? I don’t think so. But at the end of the day, we can always improve. We can always improve where we’re at right now, and I know that this group is more than capable.”

After falling behind by 29 in Indiana, the Knicks cut it to 10 in the fourth quarter, playing with four subs and Porzingis. Jeff Hornacek again said he might have to consider changing the lineup or playing the bench more.

But the bench helped squander a double-digit lead Wednesday night before the Knicks lost at the buzzer to Milwaukee. Jennings, who pointed the finger at himself, sees that the Knicks are letting valuable time and winnable games slip away.

“For sure we are,” he said. “For sure. This month, with having so many games, we’ve got to find a way to get into a rhythm and be more consistent winning. That’s all of us, including myself.

“I’ve been playing like [expletive]. Some games I might have good games and the next game, it’s like, where am I? I’ve got to find a way to bring energy to every game.”

Jennings isn’t alone. Many nights, the Knicks collectively have played with little energy. But Porzingis hopes something changes soon.

“We’re still just kind of starting to play together,” he said. “We still have so much room to grow. It’s taking us a while, but hopefully we can all stick together and keep making steps in the right direction, and then I see ourselves growing as a team and then hopefully getting to our goal — that’s making the playoffs.”

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