In the wake of a third straight loss, the Knicks were looking for positives. There were few in their own performance, so they turned to history.
Not their own history. Some of the Knicks players weren’t born when the franchise last enjoyed glory days. Instead, coach David Fizdale pointed to the 2016-17 Miami Heat for inspiration.
It was a team he already had departed for a head-coaching job in Memphis. The Knicks’ current tenuous tie to that team is Wayne Ellington, who came off the bench for that team.
“Wayne Ellington went through a year where they started the year 11-30 and finished the season 30-11, down in Miami,” Fizdale said. “So he’s a great person for them to understand: Hey, it may not happen right away for us. But if we stick together and we keep plugging away at our details and challenging each other, we can get over the hump.”
Ellington believes it can happen to the Knicks. “Yeah, listen, it takes a lot of character to make a flip like that,” he said. “I think we’ve got that in this locker room. We’ve got the guys for it. We’ve got the guys that are hard-nosed, guys that aren’t going to quit, guys that aren’t going to roll over, guys that are going to block out all the outside noise. That’s what it takes.
“It’s tough. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to win in this league. That’s what I continue to tell the young guys. I see a lot of similarities to that team that we went 11-30 and flipped the whole thing and went 30-11 to finish the season. I don’t plan on us going 11-30, but I think that we’re going to have a breakthrough sooner or later.”
The Knicks aren’t 11-30 yet, but at 4-13 there are few signs that they can turn around the season and finish it at .500. The Knicks are three games into an 11-game stretch in which every opponent made the playoffs last season. The next five, starting in Toronto on Wednesday, are games in which every team is a contender this season.
But in narrow losses such as Sunday’s against the Nets or in the blown leads against Charlotte and Philadelphia in recent days, the Knicks insist there are hints that it could come together.
The argument basically is that they are still finding their way after adding seven free agents in the summer and attaching them to a young core.
“I take them one at a time,” Fizdale said. “I embrace the challenge. We’ve played all of those types of teams tough. We gave ourselves a chance to win in Boston, in Philly and places like that. So I don’t feel like we need to be looking at that like that’s impossible. We’re going to take it a game at a time and continue to try to give ourselves a chance to win every night.”
Taj Gibson wants his teammates to keep pushing. “It’s younger guys trying to figure out kind of where they fit in and the new guys trying to figure out where can they be effective, or how can they affect the game defensively and offensively,” Gibson said.
“But that’s not the case in the games we are in the hunt. It comes down to execution in the fourth, and we are always like one or two plays off. Just got to rectify, and it’s a tough, bitter taste for me because I’ve been in the playoffs my whole career.
“One thing about it, you’ve got to just continue to work. The moment you just let down, nobody is going to feel sorry for you. You’ve got to continue to get better. Everybody in this locker room is optimistic. Everybody is always smiling. Everybody is eager to do better, eager to do more. Just got to keep pushing.”