A lot has changed in the 12 days since the Knicks last took the garden level.
They left for the Midwest immediately after one of their worst performances of the young season, amid questions beginning to bubble over coach Tom Thibodeau’s job security, and returned with momentum after a road Beneficial 3-2 trip.
After allowing the Thunder 145 points a week ago last Sunday, they played with more energy on the defensive end and performed very well in the fourth quarter of the three wins, despite several players struggling with the flu. Young players such as Jericho Sims and Quentin Grimes showed promising glimpses, while Jalen Brunson continued to thrive in his first year as a Knick, capping the journey with a brilliant 34-point masterpiece and nine assists.
Now the 9-9 Knicks need to build on that outing and beat some quality teams at home, something they haven’t been able to do so far. They played better on the road overall, beating the Timberwolves, 76ers (but without Joel Embiid and James Harden), Jazz, Nuggets and Thunder, and fared well in hard-fought losses to the Grizzlies and Cavaliers. They will have gone four days without a game by the time the whistleblower arrives Friday night against the Trail Blazers.
“It’s a challenge. You come out of a trip, and obviously you have a recovery day, then you have practice and then games. They come and you have to be ready,” Thibodeau said. “This time of year, it’s a challenge. So just be ready, and we’ve got to be locked in. We’ve got to be focused, and we’ve got to be ready to go when that ball goes up on Friday.
At the Garden, the Knicks own a 4-3 average mark, and those wins have come over the Pistons (twice), Magic and Hornets shorthanded. These teams have a combined record of 15-42. Meanwhile, the Celtics, Thunder and Hawks roughed up the Knicks at home. It was a problem a year ago as well, with Thibodeau’s team going 17-24 there. In the Eastern Conference, only the Pistons, Pacers and Magic had fewer home wins last season.
This upcoming stretch will provide the Knicks with an opportunity to begin to recover at home. However, like the recent road trip, it won’t be easy. It starts Friday against the Trail Blazers without Damian Lillard, followed by a Sunday visit from Ja Morant and the Grizzlies. The Bucks come to town Wednesday at the end of a straight game against the Pistons in Detroit. Next weekend, a tough back-to-back game against the Mavericks and Cavaliers. Three days later, the Hawks and Garden-villain Trae Young return.
These six teams all have winning records and are projected for the playoffs. The first is Portland, which got off to a great start winning nine of its first 12 games but has lost four in a row. The Blazers are in the middle of a tough four-game road trip. Additionally, Lillard has missed the last two games with a calf strain and will not be available against the Knicks.
“It’s a team that plays hard and can break [you] down the dribble, and they shot, and they [are a good] bounce [team]”, Thibodeau said. “They have a lot of things that we have to be ready for.