As is their annual tradition, the Knicks have the honor of playing on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But of all the participants, their dream of being a legitimate postseason contender is slowing turning into a nightmare. 

Of the 18 teams playing on Monday, New York’s playoff odds aren’t the longest, but the way their fortunes have changed in such a small amount of time just makes it seem that way. The recent turn of events have been very disappointing for a team that Derrick Rose once compared to a true super team like the Golden State Warriors. The 14-10 mark in mid-December, when the Knicks were among the top four teams in the Eastern Conference, seems so long ago.       

Head coach Jeff Hornacek has hinted that he will try to shake up the lineup and see if guys who aren’t accustomed to extended minutes can provide a spark. He’ll need to do something quick, because New York starts a stretch of games that could make or break their season. Sunday’s tilt in Toronto kicks off an 18-day period of 11 games. It’ll be the team’s first of four games in a five-day span – and all against teams that are currently in the top eight of the conference. The Knicks (18-22) are currently sitting at 10th. 

The Knicks have no identity, and little consistency from their star players – and the nagging Achilles injury that Kristaps Porzingis is dealing with doesn’t help matters. Porzingis is officially listed as a gametime decision, although he told reporters after Saturday’s practice that he “probably won’t play” against the Raptors. Porzingis participated in warm-up activities prior to the session, but was held out of live action. He noted he’ll travel with the team to Toronto and the medical staff will evaluate him prior to the 3 p.m. tip-off.        

The Latvian sensation has missed four of the last eight games and was last seen airballing a corner 3-pointer that would’ve sealed a win over the putrid Philadelphia 76ers, Wednesday night. Although he wouldn’t admit it, it’s hard to fathom that the Achilles didn’t affect Porzingis’s lift on that ill-fated jumper.  

Had New York not blown that game against Philadelphia -- and the gut-punching buzzer beater to the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 4 -- it would be sitting at .500, with a 20-20 mark. Instead, they now find themselves four games below .500 and searching for answers.   

Hornacek will need to find those answers quickly. Perhaps the team’s win Thursday night over the Chicago Bulls can be the catalyst to awaken this team. Carmelo Anthony and co. responded well to the Philadelphia heartbreak and played exceptionally well just one day later. It was the back-end of the squad’s back-to-back and that 104-89 win was a great sign that they didn’t have a hangover against Dwyane Wade and co. The Bulls game was one of the Knicks’ best all-around performances of the season – and definitely in a long time. Anthony had 23 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. Rose scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half. Centers Kyle O’Quinn (12 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks, and three assists) and Joakim Noah (12 points and 15 rebounds) each posted double-doubles. And budding forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas recorded a career-high 19 points.   

If the veteran stars and ascending youngsters can duplicate those numbers – and Porzingis can finally get healthy – the Knicks just may be able to climb back into the conference race. But if not, their playoff aspirations will all be just a dream.   

Knicks notes:  

  • Noah’s health could be the impetus, if his recent stretch is any indication. He’s been dealing with a shoulder malady for nearly two weeks now, but it hasn’t slowed him down much. While his minutes have been inconsistent during the last 10 games, he makes the most of them when on the floor. During the 11 games that the team has played since Christmas, Noah is averaging 11.1 rebounds on 57-percent shooting. His 15 boards against the Bulls, his former team, was just one shy of his season high. His battling of the shoulder discomfort could be an inspiration for a team needing some these days.     
  • The Knicks’ defensive deficiencies will be put to the test, Sunday, as the Raptors own the top offensive rating in the NBA (113.5). Toronto averages 111.2 points per game, shoot 47 percent from the floor, and are hitting 38.8 percent behind the arc this season. They’re 26-13 (14-6 at home) and are currently the second-best squad in the conference. The Raps are coming off a Friday night performance in which they tallied 132 points, the most in franchise history for a regulation game.