Tom Thibodeau has a few maxims as a head coach. He stresses defense and accountability. But mostly what he does is try to get his team to focus on the task in front of them, doing the day of work whether it is on the practice court or in a video session or even in a game. Don’t worry about the big picture and enjoy the magic in the work.
That might explain how the team did not panic when they lost five of six games recently and also how they lifted themselves off the floor and entered Friday night’s game in Dallas with a four-game winning streak, their longest of the season.
"In the NBA you always get a little panic," Taj Gibson said. "But whatever team you go to, you have to work your way out of the situations. When you think somebody is going to come save you, no one is going to save you. Every team is going to try to capitalize on you in your down state.
"It’s about coming together as a group, believing in each other and mustering up enough fight and toughness to pull out a tough win, even if it’s on the road or at home. Every game in this league is tough. Everybody in the league will give you a tough night. It’s the best basketball players in the league. The league is talented."
The Knicks entered the game with a 29-27 record, holding the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, a place few could have expected to find them when the season began. But with 16 games left, they almost certainly are going to wind up in the postseason, whether it is securing a top-six spot or finishing from seventh to 10th place to put them in the play-in tournament.
The task ahead is not an easy one. The schedule is tough and the Knicks got a bit of harsh news Friday when Alec Burks, the team’s third-leading scorer, was ruled out because of NBA health and safety protocols.
When Gibson was discussing the prospect of facing the Mavericks, he may have hinted that the team would be without Burks as he noted that a previous loss to Dallas was a different challenge from this one because every game now finds teams with different lineups.
"It was a common loss," Gibson said of the 99-86 defeat to Dallas on April 2. "A loss is a loss. You’re going to learn from it. As far as Thibs, the adjustment was it’s taking our time on offense. Film always shows you what you can correct or do better. We have to move the ball, talk. We can’t worry about that. it’s a whole new game with a different lineup. We don’t know who they will have or who we will have. Every game is a testament of being prepared. And be ready to play. It comes down to doing what Thibs wants to do. Last game we didn’t do that."
If the Knicks were to lose Burks for an extended period it would certainly hurt their prospects, but getting Gibson or Thibodeau or the team to look beyond the task at hand is a fruitless exercise.
"We’ve just been having a next man up mentality," Gibson said. "We’ve got a lot of guys just fighting. We’re just fighting. We just believe in each other. We all hang out together. We’re always getting shots up late. It’s a real family. The coach is a real good coach. And every game is like a testament to us just growing as a team, from top to bottom.
"Everybody's just locked in. The young guys, [Norvel] Pelle we just got, he's locked in. Everybody's just trying to do what they have to do … Everybody’s basically using their voices, everybody from top to bottom, even the young guys. If somebody slips up, somebody corrects them, Somebody is always picking you up. Somebody is always going to be there to help you if you don’t know the plays. It’s just a constant, stepping up and working together."