The idea that the Knicks can make a run at the playoffs had been Jeff Hornacek’s motivating force, a card he carried because of the weak Eastern Conference.
Not anymore. The illusion is over and the coach all-but conceded the postseason Tuesday, just before Kristaps Porzingis limped off the court during an 87-81 victory over the Pacers.
“The playoffs may not be in reach but this could be, especially for some of our other guys who might get some time, for them to show what they really can do and build something for next year,” Hornacek said.
This is a different stance for Hornacek than as recently as March 6, when he was talking about how a strong run could launch them into the eighth seed. An embarrassing loss to the Nets on Sunday — when the Knicks basically just quit on defense — killed that narrative.
“You know how tough that is for me,” Carmelo Anthony said. “But you got to play it out. You got an idea of how I feel about that.”
The Knicks (27-41) are six games out of a playoff spot with 14 remaining. And it’s about to be a long 14 games, with disgruntled veterans on the roster and a fan base rooting for more Ping Pong balls.
Matters somehow looked worse with 11:31 remaining in the fourth quarter Tuesday when prized possession Porzingis collided with Indiana’s Monta Ellis and had to be peeled off the court.
Porzingis was diagnosed with a thigh bruise and never returned. Hornacek’s squad then responded with lockdown defense and snapped a three-game losing streak.
“Until you’re mathematically done you’re always going for it. But sometimes it’s realistic,” Hornacek said. “Many, many things will have to happen for that to happen (to make the playoffs). So you just have to go out and play every game.”
This has been a rough year for Hornacek, who has stepped into the crosshairs recently because, 1) James Dolan deemed Phil Jackson untouchable, 2) The team is certainly underachieving with its talent, and 3) Recent comments from players, most notably Porzingis and Anthony, have implied that coaching is at fault for the losing.
A source close to the situation also said that players have tuned out Hornacek. Following Sunday’s loss, Porzingis described the game-planning as inconsistent and confusing.
“It’s always difficult when you lose,” Hornacek said. “I think all of the teams when you’re losing go through the same thing. The finger pointing starts — is it coaches, is it players, is it management? Whatever it is. So when you’re winning everything’s fine. There’s probably things that happen when you’re winning that guys aren’t happy about but they don’t say anything. But when you lose, they go, ‘OK I can say something. So that’s just the way it is.’”
Still, Hornacek acknowledged there’s merit in Porzingis’ frustration, even as the coach tried to pass the problem as typical in a season.
“I think part of it is we have changed different things. We changed the defense in the beginning. The offense has changed a little bit midseason. But that’s part of a long season,” Hornacek said. “Teams make different adjustments. It’d be nice to play the same way the whole time but when things aren’t working you got to try some other things. It hasn’t been the same thing all year but I think that’s where he was coming from.”
The erraticism was clear over the previous four days.
In a loss Saturday to the Pistons, the Knicks went all-in on the triangle, with Anthony taking only nine shots. It seemed to be a statement from the star, who has resisted the embrace of Jackson’s system. A day later in Brooklyn, New York abandoned the triangle and Anthony took 26 shots.
On Tuesday, the Knicks turned back to the triangle, scored just 87 points, but put together one of their best defensive efforts of the season.
“Everybody’s frustrated with the way the season went,” said Hornacek, whose latest motivational tactic was telling players about his final full season as Phoenix’s coach when the Suns played decently down the stretch despite little chance of the playoffs. “So we’ve got to look at it as, not just giving up on this season and hey, counting the days down. You still play and if you’re a professional, you have pride and you go out there and play every game like it’s meaningful.”
Published at Wed, 15 Mar 2017 04:08:12 +0000