PORTLAND — It happened again. Even though they said it wouldn’t this time, not with a group “that’s going to fight to the end no matter what our record is,” as Jeff Hornacek predicted in December.
As it turned out, though, the Knicks were more of the rolling over type and are on their way to a third consecutive season of completely collapsing after New Year’s.
If nothing else, the Knicks are great at turning promise into ruin.
Two seasons ago, they started 22-22 before losing 29 of their final 39 games. Last season, they went from 16-13 to 31-51. This season, they began 17-14 and entered Tuesday’s game against the Blazers at 24-40, losers of 12 of their last 13.
It’s now ingrained in their culture, to the point that a collapse will be expected next season if they manage to exceed expectations in December.
Right now, it’s also following a familiar pattern of the team letting go of the rope by March, while the criticisms pivot to the lack of effort.
“A lot of it is pride. Just really what it boils down to,” Lance Thomas, who is the only Knick remaining who was part of all three collapses, told the Daily News. “Just willing yourself not to let someone outdo you on the floor. And when we’re in tough times, especially this time of the season when we’re not winning, when playoffs are out of reach, you have to play for pride.”
Effort is typically an excuse used by players and coaches when they don’t want to admit they’re outclassed. After all, effort can be corrected unlike talent. With the Knicks, that’s certainly part of it because they’re not very good.
But they’re also lazy. Inexcusably. It will be Hornacek’s biggest stain when the front office assesses his job at the end of the season.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Blazers, the Knicks were in the bottom-9 of the league in all four of the important hustle stats: deflections (25th), loose balls recovered (21st), charges drawn (22nd) and contested shots (23rd).
They were also near the bottom in fouls drawn (24th) and fouls committed (21st). In other words, the Knicks are soft as Charmin.
“You don’t want to give up lay ups or dunks. Keep them from that,” Hornacek pleaded Tuesday. “If you get in foul trouble and have to come out of the game, so be it. I think a lot of times guys say, ‘I don’t want to foul because I don’t want to get out of the game.’ Don’t worry about that. If the other guy has an advantage going to the basket, they have to earn it.”
Apparently they don’t very often against the Knicks.