rj barrett
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Fresh off a loss in which they gave up 145 points, the struggling New York Knicks are in the worst case scenario: A long road trip out west.

Such is the Knicks’ itinerary for the next five games. Five tough Western Conference opponents, all on the road, and capped with the same Oklahoma City Thunder who just hung 145 points on Madison Square Garden.

It’s oddly daunting, even as the Knicks sit just 6-7 early in the season. They’ve underperformed despite adding Jalen Brunson at point guard, and for a number of reasons. Stefan Bondy of the Daily News thinks it’s just a matter of adjusting on defense. If one were to ask SNY’s Ian Begley, he’d pivot and note coach Tom Thibodeau’s seat is “warm” because of the poor defense.

It’s a lot for any team to have on their plate, but these are the Knicks. They’ve been a mostly bad team in the sports world’s biggest media market for over two decades at this point. This road trip will be the toughest of the season and at a bare minimum, they’ll need to at least keep the losses close.

Let’s take a look at the opponents.

Utah Jazz. This is a game the Knicks absolutely need to win on Tuesday, particularly since the Jazz have started an uncharacteristic 10-5. Not bad for a team that traded away Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, and isn’t even starting Collin Sexton.

Remember, the Knicks offered RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin, and draft picks for Mitchell. Utah said no and instead of tanking, they’re thriving. No better way for New York to gain some momentum than to stroll into Salt Lake City and rain on the parade.

Denver Nuggets. This game, the second half of a back-to-back, has one goal: Keep the score close. The Knicks are 1-9 against the Nuggets in the last five years and haven’t won in Denver outright since 2006. A healthy Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic are unlikely to break that trend, even if Robinson returns from his knee injury.

Defensive stops will be at a premium in this game. Thibodeau’s strategy should simply be to keep up with Denver and hope for the best.

Golden State Warriors. This is where the road trip gets interesting for the Knicks. Their Friday game with the Warriors will be nationally televised on ESPN, but this isn’t the Golden State of old. The Dubs rank second in scoring, but 27th in points allowed and thus stand 6-8 thus far. The Warriors also rank 25th in turnovers.

Could New York steal a win here? Steph Curry is still Steph Curry, but Golden State doesn’t have a ton of size and the Knicks, for all their faults, are still a good rebounding team. This means if Robinson is healthy and playing without a minutes restriction, the Knicks may prevail in San Francisco.

Phoenix Suns. Currently the best defensive team in the NBA, it’s hard to figure out which Suns team the Knicks will get Sunday afternoon. Chris Paul is out with a heel injury, but could be back. Deadly shooter Cameron Johnson is out after recent knee surgery. Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are always tough to stop.

Thus, this game could go one of two ways. Either New York catches Phoenix on a bad day, or they’ll struggle to outrun them on the court.

Oklahoma City Thunder. And even if the Knicks lose the first four games of this road trip, they have no choice but to win this one. The team’s collective dignity depends on it, maybe even Thibodeau’s job security. The Knicks need to answer back after letting a supposedly equal or worse team score 145 points on them at home.

Let’s also look back to the 2018 draft when the Knicks passed on OKC point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for Kevin Knox. Cut to today, and Knox is a non-factor in Detroit. Gilgeous-Alexander, meanwhile, is having a career season. He also ranks fifth in the league in scoring, making the decision to draft Knox look even worse.

Again, the Knicks don’t need to win out this road trip. They just need to look competitive on both sides of the court, even if they lose all five games.

But as we’ve just covered, there’s room for the Knicks to succeed. The players should be motivated after such a humiliating loss, so they’ll hopefully respond in kind.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.