The New York Knicks’ future officially rests in the hands of Phil Jackson, who won two championships as a player with the team before winning 11 more titles as a coach.
Though Jackson may not be inheriting a championship contender, the current Knicks certainly are making a solid first impression.
New York seeks a seventh straight victory Wednesday night as it hosts the Indiana Pacers, who haven’t been playing their best despite a four-game winning streak.
Jackson was introduced Tuesday as team president, and he’s tasked with helping guide the Knicks to their first NBA title since the Hall of Fame coach was a reserve on their last championship team in 1973.
Changes certainly are on the way for New York (27-40), which trails Atlanta for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference after it won 54 games last season.
Despite rumors surrounding the future of coach Mike Woodson and the pending free agency of Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks have remained focused on the court. They’ve won six straight by double digits for the first time since November 1969 after beating Milwaukee 115-94 on Saturday.
Anthony finished with 23 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 20 off the bench.
”I think our focus is solely on what we have to accomplish to make the playoffs, to be honest,” said center Tyson Chandler, who was back in the starting lineup after missing two games due to family reasons. ”I know it’s a lot going on, but as an athlete, you don’t pay too much attention to it, because it’s out of your control anyway.”
Though the Knicks face an uphill battle to make the postseason, they insist they’re not counting this as a lost season quite yet.
”The easiest thing to do is to start talking about next year at this point in time right now, but the guys on the team seem pretty confident about just staying focused and trying to make this push for the playoffs,” Anthony said. ”We’ve got to really focus in on what’s the task at hand."
The reward for making the postseason could be a first-round matchup with Indiana, which holds a relatively comfortable edge on Miami for the top seed in the East.
The Pacers (50-17) won the first two meetings with the Knicks this season. Paul George hit three free throws to send the game into overtime and finished with 35 points in Indiana’s 106-96 victory Nov. 20, overcoming Anthony’s 30 points and 18 boards.
Lance Stephenson scored a season-high 28 in the Pacers’ 117-89 win Jan. 16. He netted 25 points Monday as Indiana seemed sluggish in a 99-90 victory over reeling Philadelphia.
After easily beating Boston last Tuesday, the Pacers defeated the 76ers by seven points three days later before having to overcome a 25-point deficit to knock off Detroit in overtime Saturday.
"We’ve got to get motivated,” George said. ”All these games are huge for us because every game counts.”
Stephenson continues to show promise while averaging 14.1 points on the season, but he has 18 turnovers over his last five.
"I’m just being aggressive, taking the open shots," said Stephenson, who had five giveaways Monday. "I had a good field-goal percentage, but I forced a lot of turnovers that I had. I got to take care of the ball better."
The Pacers, winners of four of five regular-season meetings with the Knicks, would need to win 12 of their final 15 to set a team record for victories in a season.