The pendulum has started to swing in the opposite direction now, because of course it has. The Knicks were nothing if not streaky.
An eight-game winning streak followed by a five-game losing streak followed by seven wins in eight games and now this current four-game losing streak that has three setbacks to teams with losing records. They were consistently inconsistent, mixing strong stretches with poor ones.
This streak, however, is different because of the upcoming schedule, a broken right thumb that will keep defensive ace Mitchell Robinson out for at least a month and sixth man tackle Immanuel Quickley’s sore left knee. If the Knicks (25-23) aren’t careful, that slide could spiral.
Six of their next seven games come against teams with winning records, and the one with no more wins than losses on their roster is the Lakers, with LeBron James on the rise. It begins Tuesday against Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers at the Garden, where the Knicks are two games under .500 and have lost three of their last four. They then visit the best Celtics in the NBA and return to face the rival Nets. It could get worse in the coming weeks, particularly if the Knicks can’t defend better than they have since Robinson was sidelined Wednesday.
They have allowed 35 first quarter points in three straight games, and in the last two losses, they started in the fourth quarter. What’s scary is that the Knicks offense performed well in those two setbacks, averaging 120 points and 15.5 3-pointers. It didn’t matter because they were defenseless, unable to slow down an opponent even a little bit.
They got burned on the glass by the Wizards, Hawks and Raptors, allowing a combined 49 offensive rebounds over the three games. In that losing streak, the Knicks have a league-worst defensive rating (130.3) and a league-worst defensive rebounding percentage (59.5) along with an ugly minus-9.6 NET rating that’s only better than four teams . They couldn’t defend without fouling, allowing an average of 27.8 free throw attempts, which is also near the bottom of the league.
Before Sunday’s loss in Toronto, coach Tom Thibodeau stressed the need for the Knicks to play with a sense of urgency and outscore the other team. That was missing early against the Raptors, as the Knicks dug themselves into a 17-point deficit. After the heartbreaking loss, Jalen Brunson spoke like someone who knows his team is in a precarious position, that the losses are weighing on him and his teammates.
“We can’t dwell on how we’ve been playing,” he said. “We know how we played in the past and we have to get back to that.”
The Knicks can take solace in the fact that they’ve been here before. It’s a bonus to play at such extremes. They have played their way out of funks a few times already this season. This just so happens to coincide with a key injury and a scary part of the schedule. But make no mistake, it feels like a pivotal moment, with the Knicks slumping to seventh in the Eastern Conference and looking like a shell of the team that recently won 15 of 21 games.
“The challenge is there’s always going to be moving parts in the season,” Thibodeau said. “You might be [in a period of] heavy trip. You may be under someone. So, how quickly can you adapt?’
The Knicks need to adjust quickly and start a new streak. The current one threatens to ruin what felt like a good season.