The Knicks may have done the right thing and lifted the Garden ban on legendary fan favorite Charles Oakley and are coming off arguably its most impressive win of the season -- a 94-90 vanquishing of the San Antonio Spurs -- but that still doesn't remove the dark cloud hanging over the franchise, heading into this weekend’s All-Star break.
The Sunday afternoon win was very impressive -- and team owner Jim Dolan's breaking from the maleficent character that Knicks’ fans come to identify him with was a nice touch -- but for the Knicks (23-33) to really get themselves back on track, and at the very least enter the All-Star break on high emotions, they need to do something that's rarely been done in recent memory: beat Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
They get the chance to gain some momentum before the league breaks on Friday by going into Oklahoma City and knocking off the Thunder (31-25), tomorrow night. It's not something New York is accustomed to, as they’ve lost 11 of 16 games against the Thunder since they moved to Oklahoma City. But not many -- if any -- gave the Knicks a fighting chance to make the Spurs look like also-rans, and they did, so anything is possible.
But that's what's so maddening about this current batch of Knicks. They can look terrible on most nights, as they did in four of their five previous games on the homestand -- with a defeat to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers (19-37) and a shootout loss to the Denver Nuggets -- but then look like world beaters against a Spurs (41-13) team that is as potent and successful as any in the league.
Head coach Jeff Hornacek is certainly happy with the win, but must be racking his brain wondering why his team doesn't play with that type of intensity, focus, determination, and defense on a game-by-game basis. But at least it finally happened. There is proof that the effort can be found within this inconsistent group. And Hornacek no longer has to wonder what the potential of the team looks like.
Tomorrow night’s developments would go a long way into showing the embattled coach that his message is in fact reaching this squad.
Courtney Lee noted that the fight, determination, and attention to detail has been there all along. And if nothing else, Sunday’s win, coupled with a win in Oklahoma City would give the team confidence heading into the break and be the catalyst the team needs.
“Now we got it on tape against a good opponent. We’re showing that we’re capable of doing it against those guys and guys are capable of being able to rotate and help each other out and play for each other,” Lee said, who helped neutralize Spurs’ shooters on Sunday. “We can’t look back. We need to back that up [tomorrow night]. We have to use this as a measuring stick and get better from it.”
The homestand was one of the worst in team history, as the Knicks have never gone winless on a homestand that was at least five games. Its lone victory over the Spurs saved them from ignominy and only matched the worst stretch in such a manner. But even with the putrid stand, New York is surprisingly still in the playoff hunt, thanks to an Eastern Conference that is only top-heavy. A few more wins in the homestand would’ve certainly helped the Knicks, but a win over the Thunder, to add to the Spurs win, could definitely provide the squad with some “much-needed momentum” heading into the break, as Lee put it.
-Regarding Oakley’s ban, he noted that he accepts the lifting but still doesn’t plan on returning any time soon…unless an apology from Dolan happens, to the fans: “It’s not about being at the Garden. It’s about the fans. I want them [the Knicks] to apologize to the fans. I told the commissioner [Adam Silver] I want them to apologize to the fans,” Oakley said, adding he’s still in pain and hurt. He then reasoned that he’s not ready to return to the Garden for those reasons and more. “Right now, no, [on making another appearance]. I told him [Dolan] yesterday. I have never asked for nothing. I love the fans in New York. They’ve been supportive. One of the things I told the commissioner, I want to have a press conference and I want him [Dolan] to apologize to me and the fans. They’ve had my back and they’ve felt the pain. I really appreciate the people all around who’ve had my back.”