Back on the East Coast, the Knicks hope they can return to winning ways.Getty images

The Knicks have come home from a West Coast road trip that was an up-and-down ride. And while Carmelo Anthony deemed prior to Saturday night’s tilt in his original NBA home of Denver that it was must-win, his squad fell short with a lackluster affair.

It’s hard to imagine the 27th contest of an 82-game campaign to be bigger than what Anthony urged, but it’s understandable that the franchise leader wants his team to match his urgency. Too bad for Anthony that it was the third such game in a row where his team failed to come out of the gate fast. Two of the three were against teams that are considered less-than: the Phoenix Suns (8-19) and the Nuggets (11-16). The other game that was sandwiched in between was against the Golden State Warriors — a loss that was expected, especially with stars like Anthony and Derrick Rose receiving the night off by head coach Jeff Hornacek.

The losses to both the Suns (113-111 in overtime) and Nuggets (127-114) might’ve been particularly alarming to Anthony, who has his best chance of reaching the postseason in four years — especially in Phoenix where the Knicks (14-13) fell behind by 14 points early before fighting back late in the fourth quarter, only to squander the momentum and blow it in overtime.

Anthony, who wasn’t made available to the local media following Monday’s practice, criticized his team for “playing with a lack of effort” after the Denver defeat. Teammate Kristaps Porzingis wasn’t about to go that route, but did put some of the onus on him — after all, the Latvian sensation is also considered a co-franchise player for the Knicks and will one day seize sole grip of the team once Anthony no longer dons the orange and blue.


Porzingis noted that he always looks in the mirror first before trying to assess the team’s fortunes. And he reasoned that he, too, didn’t play well as the trip neared conclusion. Porzingis has totaled 30 points in his past two games — including an eight-point performance in Golden State. The Warriors game featured a 31 percent shooting effort, as he was hounded all night by Draymond Green, while the game in Denver produced a 37 percent performance.

Porzingis wouldn’t join Anthony’s chorus of guys not playing with effort, but was quick to explain his role in the recent subpar play.

“It’s more about me missing shots and not being in rhythm,” Porzingis said when recalling his personal and team’s minislump. “I’ve gotta relax my mind, because it can be a chain reaction. I just gotta slow it down. The game will come to me. Sometimes I get off to bad starts, but I know I gotta be patient.”

Porzingis’s time will come. He’s too good of a player to stay down for too long. And usually when he plays well, it does kick start that positive chain reaction. The team is also too veteran-laden to see a prolonged slump hit them. Luckily for the Knicks, losers of three-straight, they’ve returned to the comfy confines of the Garden, where they’ve won two of its last three in front of the faithful and sport a 9-4 mark overall at home.

And even better news is the prospect that point guard Derrick Rose (back) went through a full practice today. He’s missed the past three games due to back spasms, so he’ll definitely give the team a spark — and at the same time strengthen the Knicks’ bench because that means super-sub Brandon Jennings will return to his sixth-man role.

Rose said he plans to play tomorrow against Indiana — and not a moment too soon for Porzingis and company.

“Of course it’s great if we get somebody like Derrick back,” Porzingis reasoned. “But he’s important for the long haul, so we gotta make sure he gets healthy first.”

The Knicks face two teams this week at home who aren’t among the elites in Indiana (14-14) and the Orlando Magic (12-17), before hosting the Boston Celtics (15-12) on Christmas Day, so this week could be the start of a nice stretch for a team in sudden need of turning the tide.

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