The New York Knicks were the darlings of the Eastern Conference last season, parlaying their smothering defense and egalitarian approach to leadership into a surprising postseason berth.
One month into this season, things haven’t gone quite as rosily in New York. The Knicks still own a winning record and have all the components required to qualify for the playoffs, but their overall play has been occasionally lackluster and the results haven’t yet matched expectations.
When the Knicks host the Houston Rockets on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, they will do so coming off a home loss to the Orlando Magic Wednesday, their third defeat in four games. Following a 5-1 start to the season, the Knicks have yet to win back-to-back games this month.
“We’re a team. This is all part of what we have to figure out,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of the uneven efforts. “There have been some real good moments, there have been some disappointing moments, but we have to build a consistency to us, things that we have to be able to count on every night: our defense, our rebounding, our low turnovers. That puts you in position to win.
“The first thing you have to do is eliminate ways you beat yourself, and that’s got to be a priority.”
While the Knicks limited Orlando to just 40.6 percent shooting they committed 18 turnovers and posted a minus-6 rebounding margin. The Knicks are tied for 16th in defensive rebounding rate and 20th in field goal percentage, reflections of pedestrian performances on both ends of the court.
And while five Knicks are averaging double figures in scoring, they have yet to unlock the right combination of players to best undergird their offense. One month in, things haven’t yet clicked.
“The good thing about the depth is you have depth,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes the tough thing is trying to figure out who’s going well and that sort of thing. We’re capable of doing better and we have to. Our only way out is we’ve got to work our way out of this.”
While suffering their 13th consecutive loss on Wednesday, the Rockets got a glimpse of rookie guard Jalen Green without third-year guard Kevin Porter Jr. starting alongside him. Porter missed the Rockets’ 101-89 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder with a thigh injury, leaving Green to shoulder more of a load facilitating the offense for teammates as well as for himself individually.
At 19 years old, Green will experience his share of ups and downs, but against the Thunder he was solid, recording 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting with three rebounds and a pair of assists. Of significance was the fact that Green recorded only one turnover while logging 36 minutes.
“He should be more and more comfortable with every game as far as turning the corner, as far as playing in drags, as far as being a primary ball-handler and using the lightning-quick first step that he has,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said of Green. “He should continue to do that.”