There are ominous signs that the Knicks may fail to meet their own high expectations.
Coach Jeff Hornacek said no one is panicking; it’s still early and there’s time for things to come together. That’s true. Things could get better, but they always could get worse.
They haven’t had any health issues, which was a concern coming into this season. But the way the Knicks are losing — three games by at least 19 points — their body language, their expressions of frustration and their carefully chosen words indicate things go deeper than a lack of defense.
The Knicks lost their composure in Friday’s 115-87 loss in Boston. It was an aberration in some ways. Carmelo Anthony hadn’t gotten ejected from a game in nearly four years and mild-mannered Kristaps Porzingis doesn’t often pick up technical fouls.
The troubling things were the usual lack of intensity and effort on defense — wasn’t Kurt Rambis just appointed “defensive coordinator?” — and being stagnant offensively.
Yes, that has something to do with being forced to play the triangle offense. The system team president Phil Jackson brought to New York is unpopular within the locker room and doesn’t fit the team’s personnel.
“We’re starting off in a hole every game,” Joakim Noah said. “We got to get better. We got to get better defensively. We got to get better executing, and stop pressing.”
The Knicks are pressing offensively. They’re not comfortable running the offense, making it easy for teams to defend them. An NBA scout said recently, “It’s not hard to figure out what the Knicks are doing.”
When the Knicks have had some success, it’s with more modern sets, whether it’s pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop or isolation. The Knicks have players who can flourish playing that way.
The Knicks beat the Bulls last week using pick-and-rolls, finding Porzingis in mismatches in the post, and with Derrick Rose attacking the basket. They beat the Nets Wednesday playing iso-Melo and pick-and-rolls with Brandon Jennings and Porzingis.
But they’re not always given the chance to play that way more often because the triangle rules in Jackson’s world. It’s OK to mix things up, blend styles together, and have a more versatile offense
The Knicks’ lack of a consistent offensive flow is hurting them on the other end, too. They’re back on their heels defensively, not able to get set and often out of position.
The truth is, the Knicks are letting their offensive struggles, and distaste for running the triangle, affect their defense.
That’s no excuse. They’re professionals and should play hard on defense, play with passion, pride and hunger. Teams are doing that against the Knicks, and they don’t reciprocate enough.
These early signs are concerning, but they shouldn’t be surprising. Jackson brought in 10 new players, a new coach, and they’re still running the same system that hasn’t worked here for the last two years.
In the triangle there’s supposed to be freedom of movement and players reading the defense and reacting. Jackson should be able to read his players and react by giving them the freedom to play a more diversified and modernized offense. It might change the path of this season.
The Cavaliers visited the White House Thursday and were honored by President Obama for winning the NBA championship. LeBron James hopes to capture more, but if it comes in the next four years he has some reservations about attending the presidential ceremony with Donald Trump.
“I don’t know,” James said Friday. “We’ll have to cross that road, I guess. We’ll see. I would love to have to cross that road.”
Triumphant first returns
Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Dwyane Wade already have been back to face their former teams in their old home arenas and left with wins. The big one will be Kevin Durant’s return to Oklahoma City, Feb. 11.
Durant scored 39 points in a rout of the Thunder in Golden State last week. A main topic was that he and Russell Westbrook never shook hands before or after and haven’t spoken since Durant left.
Wade shot 5-for-17 and scored 13 points in Chicago’s 98-95 win in Miami Thursday. He called it “The worst basketball game I’ve ever played in my life” and said, “I couldn’t wait until it was over. It was just weird.”
Sit or play
Stan Van Gundy, who doesn’t follow the trend of resting players altogether or limiting their minutes in back-to-backs to keep them healthy and fresh, is willing to be “criticized” for trying to win every game.
“Our guys get paid to play 82 games,” the Pistons’ coach said. “Everybody that’s healthy for us will play for us every single night. But that’s just us . . . We’re going to put our best guys out there every night and try to win.”
Brook Lopez, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol have been among healthy scratches in a back-to-back this season.
“It’s been a little surprising to me, the guys being rested already,” Van Gundy said. “Are guys really worn down already?”