A lot has changed in the 12 days since the Knicks last took to the Garden Floor.
They headed to the Midwest amid questions about job security from coach Tom Thibodeau on the heels of one of their worst performances of the fledgling season, and they’ve returned to feeling good with momentum after a 3-2 outing.
After allowing 145 points for the Thunder a week ago last Sunday, they played with more energy on defense and performed very well in the fourth quarter of three wins, despite several players battling the flu. Young players like Jericho Sims and Quentin Grimes showed promise, while Jalen Brunson continued to thrive in his freshman year as a Knick, capping the journey with a brilliant 34-point, nine-assist masterpiece.
Now the 9-9 Knicks need to build on that outing and defeat some high-profile teams at home, something they’ve failed to do so far. They’ve played better overall on the road, beating players like the Timberwolves, 76ers (though without Joel Embiid and James Harden), Jazz, Nuggets and Thunder, and doing well in hard-fought losses to the Grizzlies and Cavaliers. They will have gone four days without a game until the tip against the Trail Blazers arrives on Friday night.
“It’s a challenge. You come off a trip and of course you have a rest day, then you have training and then the games. They’re coming and you have to be ready,” said Thibodeau. “At this time of year it’s a challenge. Be so ready and we have to be locked in. We have to be focused and ready when the ball goes up on Friday.
In the Garden, the Knicks hold an average 4-3 mark, and those wins have come over the Pistons (twice), Magic, and Shorthanded Hornets. These teams own a combined record of 15-42. Meanwhile, the Celtics, Thunder and Hawks have mistreated the Knicks at home. It was also a problem a year ago when Thibodeau’s team went 17-24 there. In the Eastern Conference, only the Pistons, Pacers, and Magic had fewer wins at home last season.
This upcoming stretch will give the Knicks a chance to find their feet at home. But like the last 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 on Wednesday after a duel against the Pistons in Detroit. Next weekend there is a challenging duel against the Mavericks and Cavaliers. Three days later, the Hawks and Garden villain Trae Young return.
These six teams all own winning records and are projected playoff teams. First up is Portland, who got off to a very strong start, winning nine of their first 12 games but losing four in a row. The Blazers are in the middle of a difficult four-game road trip. Also, Lillard missed the last two games with a calf strain and will be unavailable against the Knicks.
“It’s a team that plays hard and can break [you] down from dribbling, and they started shooting, and they [are a good] rebound [team]said Thibodeau. “They have a lot of things we need to be prepared for.”