The New York Knicks are in the midst of their worst slump of the season and the schedule offers no respite in the near future.
NEW YORK, NY—It almost feels like David Fizdale is Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Another close game finishes in familiar fashion — with the New York Knicks on the losing end. So far this season, the Knicks are 1-6 in games decided by single-digits. The only win came against the lowly Hawks. The Knicks are scuffling through a six-game losing streak after falling to the Portland Trail Blazers in another close-but-no-cigar type of game.
Portland entered the night in a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference. But Portland’s hot start to the season didn’t faze the Knicks. David Fizdale’s squad came out swinging behind a new starting lineup. Emmanuel Mudiay, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh, and Enes Kanter are not a great defensive lineup by any stretch, but they hung tough against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum early.
The Blazers’ early gameplan was clear — attack Kanter in the pick and roll. Lillard and McCollum were benefiting from open looks, but they missed a few midrange shots and six first-quarter threes from New York kept Portland at bay.
The second quarter was much of the same. The two sides traded buckets for much of the game, but that’s a risky proposition when the other side has Lillard and McCollum running the show. The duo for the Trail Blazers combined for 60 points.
New York held a 10-point lead with 7:15 to play in the third quarter, but the Blazers would finish the quarter on a 24-10 run and wrest control away from the Knickerbockers. Fizdale’s squad hung tough throughout the fourth quarter, but once again, they could not execute late to come away with the victory. Missed free throws and late miscues from the Knicks coincided with elite shotmaking from the Blazers — a story Knicks fans should be familiar with at this point in the season.
The Knicks suffer through yet another close loss and there was a noticeable feeling of disappointment in the depths of the Garden. A somber Hardaway, who led the Knicks with 32 points, spoke with reporters following the loss and he reiterated how tough it is to lose these close games.
“We can’t accept it, you know? At the end of the day we’re taking the L home.” Hardaway wasn’t talking about the subway system. “It’s part of the game, it’s part of the process, it’s part of becoming a great team in this league so we’ve gotta take this one to the chin and move on to Boston.”
The quick turnaround could be a blessing in disguise for Hardaway and his compadres. It gives them the opportunity to put this loss in the past with a victory over one of the better teams in the league. That being said, the Knicks are 0-7 in either night of back-to-back games this season. They’ll attempt to buck this trend on Thanksgiving Eve in Boston, but the Celtics are no cake walk, despite their early scuffles.
The sullen locker room atmosphere was that of a team mired in a losing streak with a tough road ahead. Enes Kanter emphasized the need for the team to stay together and keep fighting. The 26-year-old is young by most standards, but not by comparison to the rest of his teammates. The gregarious Turk is one of the elder statesmen in the locker room and he knows how disheartening a losing streak can be.
“Just stay together” is Enes Kanter’s message during the losing streak. #NewYorkForever pic.twitter.com/VIs86F6oUE
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) November 21, 2018
The next six Knicks opponents are potential playoff teams. New York will finish November against the Celtics (9-8), Pelicans (10-7), Grizzlies (11-5), Pistons (8-6), and Sixers (12-7).
Their inability to close out close games doesn’t bode well against five teams with playoff experience. The Celtics, Pelicans, and Sixers all made it to the second round of the playoffs last year while Memphis is led by seasoned veterans Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. The one team without significant playoff experience is Detroit and they’re led by star forward, Blake Griffin and reigning Coach of the Year, Dwane Casey.
It’s safe to say that the Knicks will be the underdog heading into each and every one of these games. In the NBA, anyone can win on any given night, but that fact won’t make this stretch of games any easier. Moreover, the Knicks will square off against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on the very first day in December. That sets up the possibility that the Knicks could double their current losing streak and slip to 16 games below .500 by Dec. 1.
That doomsday scenario is far from a reality at this point, but it certainly feels possible after watching the Knicks let close game after close game slip through their grasp.
On Tuesday, Portland avoided the upset, despite the best efforts of the youthful Knicks. As Kanter emphasized to reporters, the Knicks won’t stop fighting and competing.
“Just go out there and just keep fighting. Don’t make any excuses. Even if you’re going to lose a game, make them feel us.”
They’ll continue to battle, but their failure to close out close games could make for a brutal end to November.