Even after a run to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference last season, not many are expecting the New York Knicks to replicate such a surprising output in 2021-22 — potentially even head coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Knicks lost their second straight game following a 5-1 start on Wednesday night to the Indiana Pacers, one of the teams they finished above last season but should have a bit more trouble with this season. The same goes with the Toronto Raptors, who took down the Knicks on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
“We weren’t fooling ourselves. Just looking at the players on each team,” Thibodeau admitted. “The East is loaded. Every night you have to bring it. It’s an important part of winning is playing with an edge.”
He’s not wrong. Just look at the Knicks’ next six games.
They head to Milwaukee to meet the defending-champion Bucks on Thursday night before a reprieve against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is slated to finish near the bottom of the East again. But then comes Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, a rematch with the Bucks at MSG, a trip to Charlotte to play the up-and-coming Hornets, and finally, a home meeting with the very same Pacers who came away with a wire-to-wire win in Indiana on Wednesday night.
The Bucks and Sixers are slated to finish within the East’s top three, but the Hornets and Pacers should very well be in the conversation for a mid-to-lower tier playoff spot, which is where New York should be this season.
As should the likes of the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and Boston Celtics — all of whom finished below the Knicks last year.
“Sometimes you can feel good about yourselves and then you get knocked down,” Thibodeau said. “Feel too good in this league, players are too good. We have to pick ourselves up and have a determination about us. You have to be mentally tough when facing adversity and that’s where we are right now.”