The Knicks are most definitely better than last year’s 17-win squad, but judging by Sunday’s 116-95 shellacking at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, it’s still evident that they’re a ways away from calling themselves contenders.
Sure, the Warriors (44-4) outclass everyone, are the defending champions, and are looking poised to become one of the all-time great factions, but even by Eastern Conference standards, the Knicks (23-27) are still on the outside looking in when it comes to garnering a playoff seed in the lesser outfit.
New York currently stands three games behind the Detroit Pistons (25-23) for the eighth and final seeding in the playoffs. This is the same Pistons team that’s 4-6 in its last 10 games and on a two-game slide. But the Knicks are 3-7 in its last 10 contests and are having a hard time recently in stringing together a winning streak.
Shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who’s seemingly taken the mantle as the Knicks’ second-best crunchtime option after Carmelo Anthony, acknowledged the gap between his own squad and the upper echelon, but reasoned that his team is still ascending and will be in the playoff hunt the remainder of the season.
“We have 32 games left, [and] we have some home stretches,” said Afflalo, who correctly offered that the Knicks are still just five games out of the No. 3 seed. “We just have to take care of business, to be honest with you. We’re not that far removed from being anywhere between four [seed] and 11 [seed]. So, with that in mind we just have to put together a nice win streak.”
Win streaks have come few and far between lately, as the Knicks have lost five of its last six games. That’s not the mark of a team on ascension. It must also be frustrating for the Knicks to see themselves so thoroughly outplayed by the Warriors, who were coming off a tenuous last-second win over the lowly Philadelphia 76ers (7-41), Saturday night.
Another exasperating note for the Knicks is that despite their team defense being exceptional in slowing down Steph Curry (13 points on just 5-of-17 scoring), the Warriors’ depth still allowed for the runaway victory. Klay Thompson netted a game-high 34 points on 14-of-18 shooting, while Draymond Green contributed yet another triple-double (20 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists), his league-leading ninth of the season. Green, who shot 9-of-9 from the floor, has already tied Tom Gola for the most single-season triple-doubles in franchise history, and the All-Star break isn’t even here yet.
The Knicks, meanwhile, were led by Anthony’s 24 points, but the next highest scorer was Kristaps Porzingis’s 14 points. But the rookie sensation only attempted eight shots – far too few for the franchise’s second-most important player.
Such an imbalance isn’t a recipe for sustained competitiveness.
Fisher said he’s “working on” trying to establish an identity, adding guys should only focus on getting better and not “chasing” greater teams or the standings.
“We just need to focus on the process of getting better, [and] working harder. The results will take care of themselves,” Fisher said. “That thinking is what had us in a good position a couple of weeks ago, before the injuries hit us a little bit … We were playing one game at a time. It’ll sort itself. And if our record ends up being good enough to get us where we want to go that’s what we have to do these last 32 games.”
During their most recent game, Knicks fans could only imagine how things would’ve sorted out. After all, this is the same Warriors franchise that stole Curry with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, and their current head coach was the one who spurned Phil Jackson and the Knicks when he removed his name from consideration during the hunt for a new head coach. The consolation in each instance was Jordan Hill, a journeyman forward working for his fourth team in seven seasons who was drafted one pick later, and Fisher, a neophyte head coach who at times looks overwhelmed.
Fisher at times seems slow to make adjustments, as if he’s practicing an old Jackson technique of letting his players figure things out on the floor themselves instead of taking charge of the situation. That practice may work when you have guys with last names like Jordan, Pippen, O’Neal, and Bryant as your go-to guys. But the Knicks simply don’t have that type of talent to let their players work through trials and tribulations on their own.
Fisher and Co. better figure things out collectively – and fast – or they’ll put themselves in a hole that they won’t be able to climb out of, even in the parity-filled Eastern Conference.