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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

These Knicks are capable of winning almost every night

Knicks guard Alec Burks shoots as Utah Jazz

Knicks guard Alec Burks shoots as Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic defends in the first half on Jan. 26, 2021, in Salt Lake City.  Credit: AP/Rick Bowmer

Admit it. You knew it.

You knew when Austin Rivers was draining shot after shot against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night that the Knicks were not going to win. You knew that despite building a 15-point lead over the hottest team in the league that the Knicks were too young, too exhausted, too outtalented to maintain their advantage for four quarters.

Admit it, you didn’t expect the Knicks to win. But you kept watching, despite the fact the game didn’t start in the Eastern Time Zone until after 9 p.m.

And you were not alone. Even Stephen Curry was tweeting about Rivers’ 10-for-10 performance in the first half.

Say what you want about the Knicks team that is returning home from a rough 1-3 road trip, but on a nightly basis they usually do something interesting.

The Knicks' West Coast trip confirmed something we already knew: They are not a good team. But for the first time in a while, they are compelling, competitive for long stretches and often fun to watch.

The Knicks (8-11) are taking a step forward. It may be a baby step, but after years of dysfunction, fans actually have some reasons to feel hopeful as their team returns from a road trip that actually had a number of bright moments despite the fact it produced only one win, a 119-104 victory over Golden State at the start.

"We knew going into the trip that it was going to be a tough stretch," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after the loss in Salt Lake City. "It would be a good test for us. Games reveal exactly where you are."

Where the Knicks are is in a place where they can be competitive on any given night.

The Knicks' win at Golden State featured a career-high 28-point performance by RJ Barrett. The next night, they looked gassed against a struggling team in Sacramento, failing to pull out a win when they had a chance down the stretch. In their third game at Portland, they fell behind big early in the first half but were able to battle back to make it a game in the fourth thanks to a 21-point final quarter by Immanuel Quickley. And then they fell to a Utah team that came in with an eight-game winning streak.

"There are a lot of good things and certainly some things that need to be corrected," Thibodeau said after the game when asked what he had learned about this team on the trip. "Our focus needs to be our daily improvement. If we are doing the right things every day, we will continue to get better and better."

Tough West Coast road trips have the ability to send teams into a downward spiral.

We’ve seen this happen to plenty of Knicks teams in the past, most notably two years ago when an 18-game losing streak started on a 1-3 West Coast trip.

How the Knicks play over the next week will say a lot about the resilience of this team, which has lost three straight. The Knicks resume play Friday against Cleveland at home. They will then host a tough Clippers team on Sunday before traveling to Chicago for two games against a beatable Bulls team.

The Knicks need to stop the losing before it turns into something ugly. They did it earlier this month, when they ended a five-game losing streak with a head-scratching domination of the Celtics, followed by wins over the Magic and the Warriors.

"The games keep coming and the challenges keep coming," Thibodeau said. "Each and every team in this league is capable of beating you. You have to be ready . . . In the NBA, there are different stretches. It’s how you handle it. We had some adversity and fought through it. We’ve bounced back before. And you have to bounce back again."

And yes, there is some actual hope the Knicks will again bounce back. With a quarter of the season over, they entered Friday night in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and as the top-ranked defensive team in the league as far as points allowed at 103.8.

Who would have thought? The Knicks have a chance to pull out a win almost every night. When was the last time you could say that? Stay tuned.

New York Sports