HOUSTON -- It was quiet inside the visiting locker room. Players’ heads were down. Some tried to explain how they gave up a big lead and lost to the NBA’s worst team.
The prevailing thought I had after what happened, and amid this atmosphere, was “don’t print those playoff tickets just yet.’’
The Knicks’ season didn’t end in Atlanta on Friday night after they squandered a 17-point lead and lost by 12 to the Hawks. (It didn’t end in Houston on Saturday night after they squandered a 22-point lead and lost by 15 to the Rockets, either.) But the games shone a light on how vulnerable they are and how far they have to go for this entertaining and promising start to end with a postseason berth in the spring.
At 10-9, the Knicks have a reason to believe they can continue to exceed expectations. But they have to learn how to win on the road and how to put teams away when they have a big lead on them. The Knicks have lost four games in which they led by 17 points or more.
They have benefited from a home-heavy early-season schedule; they’re the only team in the Eastern Conference to have played 12 home games. Only the Suns have played more. But you know what that means — and the Knicks do, too. There are a lot of road games coming up.
The Knicks are handling their business at home. They’re 9-3 and feeding off the Garden crowd, but they’re also giving their fans a reason to be excited and to cheer. On the road, they are 1-6. All six losses were by double figures, including three by at least 20 points.
“We can’t just rely on our home court and our fans backing us up,” Courtney Lee said. “We got to go out there and get wins on the road, especially for what we’re trying to do.’’
The Knicks now will play three consecutive home games. That makes 15 of their first 22 games at home. But the schedule, and maybe the Knicks’ season, will turn at the end of December.
The Knicks will play 16 of 20 games away from Madison Square Garden from Dec. 27 to Feb. 2. Overall, 19 of their last 26 games before the All-Star break will be on the road.
“We got to be able to motivate each other and push each other and stay together in those tough moments,” Kristaps Porzingis said.
Some will excuse some of those road losses because of circumstances: Two were without Porzingis, two were without Enes Kanter and the first two were before Jeff Hornacek inserted Jarrett Jack into the starting lineup. But they are just that — excuses.
If you want to be a good team, you don’t make excuses, you make plays. To the Knicks’ credit, they are not making excuses. They know they need to make changes and fast.
“We’ve just got to find some type of formula or some type of mental attitude, mindset, going into these games away from our place,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “When we’re on the road, we’ve got to realize we’re 15 strong and have each other’s back out there. Once we start doing that, we can see some success on the road.”
If they don’t, there will be a lot of long faces and quiet nights in the Knicks’ locker room.
JACK A GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
Jarrett Jack has had an impact for the Knicks on and off the court. They are 10-6 since he became a starter, and he leads the Knicks in assists. But the giving doesn’t stop there. The Atlanta native had the team over to his house Thursday night for Thanksgiving dinner.
“It’s the chemistry of this team,” Jeff Hornacek said. “Jarrett is a veteran guy who’s really helped lend to that. To do something like that and have the team over to his house, it says wonders about what kind of leader he is for us.”
Former Knick All-Star David Lee announced his retirement from the NBA via Instagram. Lee, who spent five seasons with the Knicks, signed with the Warriors in 2010 after the Knicks reached a deal with Amar’e Stoudemire. Lee averaged 13.0 points and 9.6 rebounds as a Knick. He ranks third in franchise history in field-goal percentage (55.7) and fifth in defensive rebounds (2,498) and offensive rebounds (1,031). (Offensive and defensive rebounds weren’t recorded until 1973-74.)
The Thunder finally played like a team that could be a threat in the Western Conference, beating the Warriors by 17 points Wednesday in Oklahoma City on a night when Russell Westbrook was more emotional and animated than usual.
Playing against old teammate Kevin Durant will do that for Russ.
The two got in each other’s faces, literally, and were rubbing foreheads as they jawed. Durant was smiling, laughing and clapping while Westbrook had his trademark scowl.
“I’m coming at your neck every single night,” Westbrook said afterward. “And I just let him know that.”
Durant tried to make it seem like no big deal.
“Man, that’s just ball,” he said. “He’s competitive, I’m competitive. We like to go at it. Both of us. That’s just part of the game, so I respect it. I got nothing but love for him. I’m expecting it again when we play them again.”
They play three more times. The next one is Feb. 6 at Golden State. If we’re lucky, they’ll also face off seven more times in the playoffs.
LIFE OF LONZO
The Lakers knew what to expect when they drafted Lonzo Ball.
He’s a talented player who can fill up the stat sheet. His shooting needs work and his father is always shooting off his mouth.
Recently, LaVar Ball told Bleacher Report that the Lakers are “trying to baby” Lonzo and called the coaches “soft.” LaVar said, “They don’t know how to coach my son. I know how to coach him.”
Lakers coach Luke Walton masterfully avoided turning this into more drama, saying, “It’s not what we’re here to do or talk about.”
Lonzo, who has been compared to Jason Kidd, is averaging 9.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists but is shooting only 31.5 percent overall and 25.0 percent from three-point range.
But even Ball’s stats have caused some controversy; some allege that his assist totals are being padded at home.
- Kristaps Porzingis plans to get his bothersome right elbow checked out after the season. When asked why he won’t do it now to make sure there’s nothing wrong, he joked, “Traffic is bad. I’m going to sit 45 minutes to get to the hospital on my day off, then 45 minutes back. It’s going to be nothing. Then I’m going to be like, ‘Oh, I lost an hour and a half of my sleep.’ ”
- The Lakers recently met with ex-Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas and are considering signing him, ESPN.com reported. Kuzminskas was waived two weeks ago to open a roster spot for Joakim Noah when he came off the NBA’s suspended list.
- Celtics president Danny Ainge is very happy with the Kyrie Irving acquisition. After Irving scored 47 points to lead Boston to its 16th straight win, Ainge tweeted, “Maybe the world is flat” and included Irving’s Twitter handle. Irving has questioned if the Earth is round.
- LeBron James announced on Twitter that he will be the voice of Gwangi, a yeti in the animated movie “Smallfoot,” which is scheduled to be released next September.