NY Post: Knicks thump Pistons to head into All-Star break over .500

From Marc Berman:

Tom Thibodeau soared into the All-Star break smiling and owning a winning record.

The Knicks whipped the Pistons, 114-104, Thursday to enter the All-Star break on an 8-3 spree, a 19-18 record overall and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks haven’t owned a winning record this late in a season since the 54-win, 2012-13 campaign.

With chants of “Let’s Go Knicks’’ from the 2,000 strong on hand at the Garden, they clobbered the Eastern Conference-worst Pistons for the second time in four days, making sure to take advantage on what has been a soft patch of the schedule recently.

Asked what he planned to do during the All-Star break, the hard-driving Thibodeau broke into a smile and joked, “You know me, Turks and Caicos.’’

Nah, there’s no Carribbean beach laying ahead for Thibodeau, though the Knicks first-year coach has earned at least a couple of days of respite.

“I’ll get some time with my family, just relax and recharge a little bit and then get ready for the second half,’’ Thibodeau said.

Of the Knicks’ last eight victories, seven have come against clubs well below .500 (Washington, Houston, Atlanta, Minnesota, Sacramento and Detroit).

“Last year those games were a tossup,’’ said first-time All-Star Julius Randle. “This year we’re handling business when we’re supposed to. That’s always encouraging, taking care of what you’re supposed to. It’s definitely helped us get in the position that we’re in right now.’’

Indeed, after seven years as the league’s laughingstocks, the Knicks will take it. Whether they can keep it up when play resumes is another story.

It’s not even that Berman is wrong, exactly, but that seems like a rather dour way to look at it. For now, we should just celebrate that the Knicks are .500 at the All-Star break!

It’s a fun situation to see them in.

NY Post: Derrick Rose-less Knicks ripped by Spurs, fall back to .500

From Marc Berman:

The Knicks were without Derrick Rose — and a pulse.

This pandemic season finally crushed the Knicks on Tuesday, with Rose’s COVID-19-related absence demonstrating how a player can go from invisible to prominent in an eye-blink.

Just a week ago, Frank Ntilikina hadn’t played since late December — felled by a knee sprain, COVID-19 protocols and being yanked from the rotation.

Tuesday in San Antonio, the Frenchman became the Knicks’ starting point guard, and may be for the foreseeable future.

Though Ntilikina held up his end of the bargain with 13 points, 5 of 7 from the field and 3 of 3 from 3-point range, the undermanned Knicks were awful in the second half and their three-game winning streak was snapped in an ugly 119-93 loss at AT&T Center.

“You get what you deserve,’’ Tom Thibodeau said.

The Spurs are a good team and Pop is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, so this really wasn’t a particularly surprising result, especially once the Knicks were officially out both of their starting point guards.

Still, you hate to see an ass-whupping, no matter what, especially from a team playing without a star player, as well (LaMarcus Aldridge, who is now the lone NBA player left from the draft picks that the Knicks traded for Eddy Curry, as former Knick Joakim Noah is now retired, although the Knicks are still paying Noah through next season) and who played an overtime game just last night.

Z-Man mentioned Chuck Connors, so I thought I’d share a fun story about him that I wrote about years ago.

NY Post: Knicks nip Pacers to reach .500, pull into fourth place in Eastern Conference

From Peter Botte:

Twice in the previous 10 days, the Knicks had wasted opportunities to push their record to the .500 mark in unsightly losses to the Magic and the Warriors.

They appeared headed for another blown chance to even their record and move up in the murky Eastern Conference on Saturday night. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s surging squad stormed back from a 16-point deficit in the first half, however, and moved into a tie for fourth place in the playoff standings with a gritty 110-107 win over the Pacers at the Garden.

The Knicks improved to 17-17 and are deadlocked with the Raptors entering Sunday’s visit to conference-worst Detroit (9-24).

Imagine if the Knicks had an actual winning record after 35 games!

Very nice win, with RJ playing some phenomenal basketball during a stretch where he brought the Knicks back into the lead. Yes, he bricked two free throws that could have been brutal, but, whatever, the other stuff was more important than two missed free throws.

The Eastern Conference, man, it is high-larious that the Knicks would technically have home court in the first round at this point, with a .500 record! This Conference is such a mess. However, it is a mess that everyone else is involved with, as well, so it is not like the Knicks aren’t playing the same teams as everyone else. Best of a mess is still something to be proud of for this franchise.

Having a winning record after 35 games would be even sweeter!

NY Post: Immanuel Quickley puts on show for Knicks fans in win

From Marc Berman:

The “We Want Quickley’’ chant began late in the first quarter when Sacramento was putting together a rare run.

With 2:44 left in the quarter, Immanuel Quickley was inserted into the game and he didn’t disappoint the second giddy Garden gathering of the season.

In sparking the Knicks with 18 first-half points, Quickley led the offensive explosion in a 140-121 triumph over sagging Sacramento as the popular rookie point guard emerged from his recent slump.

Quickley finished with 25 points, hitting all 12 of his free throws.

Along with Julius Randle, Quickley even heard “M-V-P’’ chants on another joyous evening before 2,000 fans who seemed to be chanting “De-fense” or something else all evening.

The Knicks’ 140 points were a season high and only the second time they have mustered that number in a non-overtime game since 1988. Though it came against the NBA’s worst defensive team, it was a big boon for a club that has been the NBA’s least productive team offensively.

Boy, that was a whole lot of fun!

I loved seeing Frank play good minutes in Payton’s absence.

Burks really had a heck of a game!

Now the Knicks have a chance to beat the Pacers on Saturday and get to .500! They were also 17-17 during the Porzingis All Star season. The weird ass Aaron Afflalo Knicks were also 22-22 after 44 games, so that’s the mark the Knicks need to beat to have their best season since their last actual, you know, good season (the one where they actually won a playoff series!!!).

NY Post: Knicks clipped by Warriors in first game with fans back at MSG

From Marc Berman:

It was as if 11 months of enthusiastic fervor had been unleashed in one night at the Garden.

A lively, loud crowd of 2,000 cheered the Knicks, heckled the Warriors and booed the referees Tuesday night. But in the end, the season’s first Garden crowd — which a team spokesman called a sellout — only could do so much and the Warriors’ talent won out.

Golden State pounded the Knicks in the second half to post a 114-106 victory. Stephen Curry rained in 37 points and Draymond Green was all over the court in a defensive gem.

Green made newly minted All-Star Julius Randle struggle from the field while piling up 11 assists, two steals and one block. Randle finished with 25 points on 8 of 21 shooting and got ejected with 17.5 seconds remaining after picking up his second technical.

Indeed, the Knicks were frustrated afterward, with coach Tom Thibodeau and Derrick Rose each taking issue with the lack of calls going the Knicks’ way — perhaps causing them to shoot just 39 percent.

“Sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don’t,’’ Thibodeau said. “It just seemed like there was a lot of contact on our drives and we didn’t get the calls. We have to deal with that, yeah.’’

Look at Berman throwing the Knicks a bone! “Maybe the officiating led to them shooting poorly.” You go, Berman! Secure that access!

Anyhow, shitty loss against a pretty good Warriors team. Still, Julius Randle made the All-Star team, so that’s cool, at least!

NY Post: Knicks take down Timberwolves, get Ryan Saunders fired

From Peter Botte:

Fans finally will return to the Garden in limited numbers beginning Tuesday, two nights after the Knicks barely avoided a catastrophic loss against the league’s worst team in their final game in front of an empty arena.

The Knicks flushed a 21-point second-half lead, but they ultimately gave Tom Thibodeau the gift of a victory in his first game against the Timberwolves since he was fired by Minnesota in 2019, eking out a 103-99 win Sunday to open a four-game homestand.

“We’re striving to become a 48-minute team. We’ve got a long way to go, and hopefully we learn from this,” Thibodeau said. “They made up ground quickly on us, but I do like the fact that we kept fighting and we found a way to win the game.

“Ultimately, that’s what’s important is to find a way to win. Whatever we have to do down the stretch to win the game, that’s what we want to focus in on.”

A win is a win is a win is a win, but boy, that was an embarrassing win. The worst team in the NBA (who fired their coach after the game, although it sounds like that was going to happen no matter what. They’ve unusually decided to get a jump on the other teams by hiring one of the hottest coaching prospects, Chris Quinn of the Raptors, midseason and give him a multi-year deal. It’s a clever idea, really) and they blew a 20-point lead on them.

But what was more disconcerting is how Thibs also tightened up the rotation to an absurd degree for the Knicks to eke out a win over a terrible team. I mean, think about it, what is even the point of that? If you need to lean heavily on your starters to eke out a win over a bad team, then you clearly aren’t that great of a team yourself, right? So what is the point of getting that win? It’s the whole “Every game is Game 7 of the NBA Finals” deal we talk about with Thibs all of the time. By playing your starters big minutes, you can win the close games over bad teams, but once you hit the playoffs and all of the teams that don’t do that actually start doing the same thing, you’re stuck at the 10 on the dial. You can’t push it up to 11.

Quickley and Rose had terrible games once again, but Rose played 19 minutes while Quickley didn’t even crack double digits! Obi Toppin, as well, did not crack double digits either, even with Nerlens Noel fouling out. Thibs has his guys and he is going to ride them, even as they blow a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter.

On the good side of things, Randle and Barrett both made some big fourth quarter shots and, fair is fair, Taj Gibson made a big defensive play on Towns late in the fourth. It’s not even that I dislike Taj Gibson. I’ve liked the guy for years. But come on, what does it say about the future of this team that you need 19 minutes of Taj Gibson to avoid losing to a terrible team? That you need all five of your starters to play over minutes (well, Noel would have had he not fouled out)? That you need to play Randle almost 40 minutes?

How is this sustainable? And how it good for the team in the long run? There is so much to be happy about this Knick team for the future. Barrett’s playing pretty well (which is big for a second year player). Quickley has shown a lot of talent. Randle has played like an All-Star. There are a bunch of draft picks coming. The cap is pretty clean. The last thing you need to worry about is whether you can eke out a win over a terrible team at the end of February, and yet…here we are.

NY Post: Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley struggle as Knicks fall to Magic

From Marc Berman:

The Knicks’ magic ran out against the reeling Magic.

A third quarter from hell doomed the Knicks as their Fantasyland three-game winning streak got snapped by an injury-wracked Orlando squad, 107-89, before 4,000 fans at Amway Center on Wednesday night.

Looking like anything but a playoff contender, the Knicks (14-16) missed 15 straight shots in the second half to ruin their chance of moving to a .500 record. They scored just 33 points in the second half.

Derrick Rose and rookie Immanuel Quickley, the new electric point-guard/bench combo, were disastrous, combining to shoot 2-for-22.

Quickley, who was a minus-19, said it was just an off-shooting night, but other elements reeked.

“Our energy probably wasn’t up to where Orlando’s was,’’ Quickley said. “Things like energy, defense, togetherness, toughness, those are things that you can control on a night to night basis. That was a couple of the things that I feel we didn’t do as a group.’’

The 32-year-old Rose killed the Knicks with his second straight off-night (1-for-10, four points), without the spark and shotmaking of his earlier Knicks games. He was a minus-15 and Tom Thibodeau held him to 16 minutes.

Simply put, you’re never as good as you look in your best game and you’re never as bad as you look in your worst game. Coming into the game, the Knicks had the 8th best SRS in the Eastern Conference, but it was just barely positive and it’s possible that it will be back in the negative zone after this game. So far this year, they’ve played about as well as the 8th best team in the conference and that’s roughly where they are in the conference. Since the 7, 8, 9 and 10 seeds all get into the play-in tournament, that’s a good sign that the Knicks will be there come springtime. However, they are unlikely to be able to avoid the play-in tournament if they’re in the playoffs.

Or maybe they’ll get hot again. They luckily now avoid a back-to-back this weekend after Saturday’s game against the Spurs was postponed due to COVID restrictions, meaning they get the Timberwolves after a nice stretch of time off to practice. However, it is interesting to see how much better the Timberwolves played last night now that KAT is back. It is striking just how central star players are to their teams nowadays. The Wizards looked worse than a G-League team without Bradley Beal, but now with Beal back, they’ve won three straight! So who knows?

Speaking of “you’re never as good as you look in your best game and you’re never as bad as you look in your worst game,” that likely goes for Derrick Rose, as well. As Early Bird pointed out in the comments, a lot of Rose’s numbers this year are scary (he’s no longer going to the basket and when he does, he can’t convert at all) and there’s a good argument that his hot hand from the midrange as a Knick has now led to his worst impulses (taking stupid shots and missing a lot of them), but at the same time, it’s evident that he’s still better than Austin freakin’ Rivers, ya know? So he definitely has value out there (enough for it to be worth trading for him? Perhaps, perhaps not). That said, we should likely try to avoid, like, mythologizing the guy after a week here, like some of the newspaper articles talking about him like an assistant coach or whatever. Back in his last stint with the Knicks, his agent noted that Rose was not the mentoring type, explaining, “You’re a mentor when you no longer can play. This league you get paid to perform. You don’t get paid to be a mentor.” Obviously, years later, Rose is more willing to be a mentor, but we might not want to confuse Rose’s “better than Austin Rivers” skills (and his willingness to at least consider passing the pall to Obi Toppin) as some preternatural “coaching” he’s doing out there. At the same time, his goddawful game shouldn’t be evidence that he’s trash, either. You’re never as good as you look in your best game and you’re never as bad as you look in your worst game.

But for the Knicks, for a change, not being as good as their best game is still pretty darn decent, which is pretty freakin’ awesome to root for this season.