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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Young Knicks can’t take anything for granted

The players showed no effort early en route to the Knicks' third loss in a row.

The  Knicks' bench looks on during the second

The  Knicks' bench looks on during the second half of loss to the Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Are the Knicks for real?

Or has this winning and excitement been fool’s gold, a feel-good start that will not be sustainable over the course of an 82-game season? We should have that answer sooner rather than later, because how this young team plays over the next four weeks will say a lot about where they are going to end up this season.

The Knicks dropped their third game in a row Monday night as Portland defeated them, 103-91, at Madison Square Garden. A superior team with two All-Star caliber guards, Portland was going to be a tough out in any circumstance. But the complete lack of energy the Knicks showed in the first three quarters has to be concerning to anyone who had hoped that the Knicks would make a quantum leap this season and contend for the playoffs.

The Knicks really needed this win. They needed it emotionally to push past the awful collapse they had in Houston over the weekend, when they blew a 22-point first-quarter lead. And they needed it because, like a squirrel getting ready for the winter, the Knicks need to store away every “W” they can before entering a brutal post-Christmas schedule.

The Knicks are a .500 team overall. They’re a good team at home (9-4) and a terrible one on the road (1-6). After two rough road losses, the Knicks may have been lulled into a false sense of security Monday night by being back at home. At least that was one theory being tossed about by coach Jeff Hornacek in his postgame news conference when he was asked how the team found itself trailing by 26 points after three quarters.

“We’re not the team that just can come out there and think we’re just going to play and try to step it up later. We have to do it from the tipoff,” Hornacek said. “I thought our energy was not good enough the first three quarters.

“We can’t think we’re anything but the team that has to go out there and play all 48 minutes like it’s the last minute of the game. Maybe they thought we’re coming back home, we’ve been successful at home, we can kind of get through it and the crowd will get us into it and we’ll put the game out. We can’t do it.”

No, they can’t, especially not right now. This is a very winnable stretch for the Knicks. Beginning with Monday night’s game, they entered a period in which they play nine of 14 at home, with one of the road games being a quick trip to Brooklyn.

After Dec. 25, however, things get ugly. The Knicks will go on a stretch in which they play 24 games on the road versus just nine at the Garden. That includes two West Coast trips and visits to the tough Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Boston.

The Knicks have been one of the better stories in the league. No one thought that Kristaps Porzingis would mature at this speed and be one of the top players in the league. Yet KP alone can’t carry this team. Back in the lineup after a one- game absence because of lower-back tightness, he was not at his sharpest Monday night and sat for most of the second half.

Porzingis seems to play his best when Enes Kanter is beside him. Kanter, who missed his third straight game with back spasms, is beginning to look like the straw that stirs the drink and the Knicks certainly could have used his enthusiasm, especially at the start of the game.

Said Tim Hardaway Jr: “I don’t know what to say, but we have to come out better. We are a better ballclub and we know that. We have to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

And they have to make sure fast.

New York Sports