A lot has changed in the 12 days since the Knicks last took the Garden Floor.
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They left for the Midwest shortly after one of their worst performances of the young season amid questions that were starting to bubble about coach Tom Thibodeau’s job security, and they were looking for a good-enough season after a 3-2 road trip. The Khasis returned after a road trip.
After allowing 145 points to the Thunder a week ago this past Sunday, they played with more energy on the defensive end and performed very well in the fourth quarter of a three-win win, despite several players battling the flu. Young players like Jericho Sims and Quentin Grimes showed flashes of promise, while Jalen Brunson continued to thrive in his first year as a Knick, finishing the trip with a stellar 34-point, nine-assist masterpiece.
Now the 9-9 Knicks will have to build on that on tour and beat some quality teams at home, which they have been unable to do so far. They’ve fared better on the road overall, defeating the likes of the Timberwolves, 76ers (albeit without Joel Embiid and James Harden), the Jazz, Nuggets, and Thunder, and doing well in tough contests with the Grizzlies and Cavaliers. By the time the Friday night tip-off against the Trail Blazers comes, they will have gone four days without a game.
“It’s a challenge. You’re coming off a trip, and obviously, you have a recovery day, then you have practices and then games. They come, and you have to be ready,” Thibodeau said. “This time of year, it’s a challenge. So, just be ready, and we’ve got to lock in. We’ve got to be focused, and we’ve got to be ready to go when that ball goes up on Friday.
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At the Garden, the Knicks have a 4-3 mark, and those wins have come over the Pistons (twice), the Magic, and the shorthanded Hornets. Those teams have a combined record of 15–42. Meanwhile, the Celtics, Thunder and Hawks teased the Knicks at home. It was a problem the year before as well, with Thibodeau’s team going 17-24 there. In the Eastern Conference, only the Pistons, Pacers and Magic had fewer home wins last season.
This upcoming stretch will provide the Knicks with an opportunity to heal themselves at home. However, like the recent road trip, it will not be easy. It begins on Friday against the Damian Lillard-less Trail Blazers, followed by Sunday trips to Ja Morant and the Grizzlies. The Bucks come to town on the tail-end of back-to-backs against the Pistons in Detroit on Wednesday. Next weekend will present one daunting challenge after another against the Mavericks and Cavaliers. Three days later, Hawks and Garden-villain Trey Young return.
Those six teams all have winning records and are projected playoff teams. First up is Portland, which got off to a very strong start, winning nine of its first 12 games, but losing four straight. The Blazers are in the midst of a tough four-game road trip. In addition, Lillard has missed the last two games due to a calf strain and will not be available against the Knicks.
“This is a team that works hard and can break [you] down the dribble, and he started shooting, and he [are a good] bounce again [team],” Thibodeau said. “They have a lot of things we have to be prepared for.”