The New York Knicks have suffered a number of devastating losses in recent weeks, but there’s a realistically positive spin to put on those results.
From a mental and emotional perspective, there’s nothing more painful in the world of professional sports than a close loss. To compete vigorously, have victory within reach, and still come up on the wrong end of the result is gutting.
Unfortunately, the 2016-17 New York Knicks have turned losing close games into an art form.
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Just 44 games into the 2016-17 NBA regular season, the Knicks have already lost nine different games by five points or less. Since opening the season at 14-10, the Knicks have lost two games in overtime and four games by just one possession.
If one were to turn those six losses into wins, the Knicks would currently be 25-19.
Though you can’t go back and change results, you can find reasons for optimism in that bleak reality. It’s not as though New York is being blown out every time it plays, even if there have been a number of lackluster showings.
The truth of the matter is: New York’s close losses are a sign that it’s dangerously close to finding stability and emerging as a postseason-caliber team.
Of the Knicks’ nine losses by five points or less, six were against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. A seventh was against the 20-21 Milwaukee Bucks, which are a rounded up .0006 win percentage points back of the No. 8 seed.
That loss to Milwaukee was sustained on a buzzer-beater by 2017 All-Star Game starter Giannis Antetokounmpo.
One of the other two losses was sustained when T.J. McConnel hit a buzzer-beater for the resurgent Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia is quietly 7-2 over its past nine games, and had won three of four at the time its victory over the Knicks.
The only other loss against a non-playoff team was a 113-110 overtime defeat at the Phoenix Suns.
The necessary context is that Derrick Rose played just 10 minutes before suffering a back injury and Kristaps Porzingis fouled out in overtime.
The circumstances don’t make the losses any easier to accept or process. What they do, however, is provide context that displays just how close the Knicks were to being a team with a record that would rank amongst the Eastern Conference’s elite.
The question is: what do the Knicks need to do better in order to turn this season around?
The obvious answer is that New York needs to play at a higher level on defense. It ranks No. 25 in the NBA in points allowed per game 108.3, and ranks the same in points allowed per 100 possessions at 108.1.
The other answer is that New York needs to learn how to play with a lead and stop abandoning what works in favor of what would look good on SportsCenter.