Dec 16, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) shoots against New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) during the first half at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
In one of the most grueling parts of the schedule this season, the Knicks went 2-4 over a six-game stretch, which ended by being blown out 144-122 by the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday night. On the second night of a back-to-back, New York’s defense once again struggled to stay consistent when they needed it most.
In the past six games, the Knicks have faced some of the best competition they will have all year. Their defense has seemingly been the first thing to slip, allowing an average of 132 points per game. While the Knickerbockers offense may be their strong suit, it is nowhere near strong enough to keep up with that pace.
Even in Friday night’s win against a talented Phoenix Suns team, it took Jalen Brunson going nuclear and dropping 50 points to pull out the victory. While it was a great win against a Phoenix team who are title contenders, relying on a player to score 50 a game and carry you to victory is not a sustainable model for success.
The saying “offense wins games, defense wins championships” comes to mind when thinking about the potential of this Knicks team which holds aspirations of making it beyond the second round of the playoffs. Last year against the Miami Heat, it was proven how valuable defense is when postseason play comes around as the Knicks were held to 100.5 points per game in the six-game series.
So while the Knicks should enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime performance from one of their franchise players, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind and where the aspirations of this team lie. The defensive trend is a glaring issue that must be addressed if New York wants to get itself out of the six-seed it currently sits in.
Against the top six teams currently in the East and West, the Knicks have a 2-7 record with their only two wins coming when they hold teams to less than 100 points. On average, the Knicks let up 118.5 PPG to these top-tier opponents. The New York offense is clearly elite and capable of hanging with the best of the best, the defense remains their Achilles heel.
Considering the Knicks are 12-4 against teams outside of the top six in each conference, the potential of this team is clear. They have elite wing scoring in Brunson, RJ Barrett, Josh Hart, and Immanuel Quickley. Their interior presence is well known with Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson when healthy, and Isaiah Hartenstein. The only question that remains is whether they can compete with the best of the best in the conference and break through the glass ceiling of the second round.
As it stands, the Knicks must address their defensive shortcomings against these elite teams and cannot rely on superhero performances from their stars. It is not a sustainable way to win games, especially in the postseason. With Mitchell Robinson undergoing ankle surgery and being sidelined for the next 7-to-9 weeks, the focus on the defensive end must become that much greater. Considering the Knicks are less than a third-of-the-way into the season, they have plenty of time to make the adjustment and address these issues.
Fixing the glaring mistakes in December will only pay dividends in May and June.
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