Knicks looking to rediscover ‘edge’ during first funk of season

Julius Randle Knicks
Julius Randle and the Knicks lost three of four entering Monday night’s game against the 76ers.
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are in their first funk of the 2021-22 season, which was only exacerbated against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday during the first leg of their back-to-back slate in a 126-109 loss.

Prior to their Monday-night matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers, it was the Knicks’ third loss in four games that has featured a significant regression in defensive play. 

The NBA’s top defense last year allowed 116.6 points per game in their previous three losses. Through their first 10 games this season, the Knicks are giving up an average of 110.7 points per game, which was sixth-worst in the league ahead of Monday’s action.

It’s a significant drop-off for a team that allowed just 104.7 points per game last season — and it’s leaving head coach Tom Thibodeau with some adjustments to make.

“It’s hard to judge,” Thibodeau admitted when assessing his defense. “I always say whatever your game plan is, there are two things you look at: 1. Are you executing this scheme correctly? And 2. Are you doing it hard enough? Sometimes the answer to that is ‘you aren’t,’ so that’s when you change.

“But if you’re lacking in execution of the scheme or the intensity, and it just takes one person to miss
and we’re all tied together, so we have to fix it, we have to look, we have to learn.”

Whatever good feeling that was present when the Knicks started the season 5-1 has taken a considerable hit, especially when it comes to their disturbing trend of playing flat at home. Through their first five games at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks are 2-3 — including Sunday’s stinker against Cleveland.

“I think that the big thing is we’re not going to win just because we’re home,” Thibodeau said. “We have
great fans and it’s a great place to play, but our opponents get up to play here too. We
have to have an edge about us, and right now, we have to fix some things. That’s what I
want our mindset to be.”

The Knicks will have to adjust on the fly to rediscover that edge. After their trip to Philadelphia on Monday to face the 76ers, the Knicks host a Milwaukee Bucks team that they just defeated on Friday before facing an up-and-coming Hornets team in Charlotte and a Pacers squad that defeated New York by 13 in Indiana last Wednesday.

“[We have to] just be ready to play. The games keep coming, they come fast,” Thibodeau said. “Everyone in the league is good. You’ve got to be ready, got to play with an edge.

“Our defense wasn’t very good. Our rebounding wasn’t very good. If we’re going to rely strictly on offense, we’re
going to pay a price for it.”