In Herb Williams’ second game as New York Knicks coach, his team has to meet Nash’s Suns in hopes of avoiding its worst skid in three years.
Nash scored a season-high 30 points as Phoenix beat New Jersey 113-105 on Sunday to stop a six-game slide, while New York’s losing streak reached six games with a 101-96 home loss to Milwaukee in Williams’ debut.
That came one day after Lenny Wilkens resigned as Knicks coach and Williams was handed the job for the rest of the season.
“I’m going to keep things a little more towards defense,” Williams said. “Lenny was really good at running offense, but I think you have to shut teams down in this league. We have to work a little bit more on defense.”
With that in mind, this is the last opponent Williams wants to see as the Knicks try to avoid their worst losing streak since dropping eight straight from Jan. 5-21, 2002.
Phoenix scores a league-leading 108.1 points per game and has averaged 118 in two outings since Nash returned after missing 3 1/2 games with injuries.
“I don’t think we fully have our confidence back,” said Nash, who went 10-of-15 from the field Sunday and is shooting 51.9 percent this season.
“But we’re just still trying to build our confidence again and get our rhythm again.”
His return benefitted Amare Stoudemire, who had 33 points Sunday after scoring 35 in Friday’s overtime loss to San Antonio. Stoudemire made 28-of-35 (80 percent) from the field in those two games after going 18-for-53 (34 percent) in the previous three.
While Phoenix looks to continue turning things around, New York could be headed deeper into a downward spiral despite the coaching change.
Besides possibly missing Allan Houston (knee) and Tim Thomas (calf) for a second consecutive game, the Knicks are beginning a tough stretch of the schedule. They host first-place teams Phoenix and Cleveland before a six-game road trip that starts Saturday in Detroit and includes visits to Sacramento and Phoenix. They return from that trip to face Shaquille O’Neal and Miami on Feb. 9.
“Right now the only thing that is going to get us out of this is better defense,” said Stephon Marbury, playing his second game against Phoenix since being traded to New York last year. “We have to play better defense to win ball games. Having these lapses at the end do not translate into winning. In order to win it has to start on defense.”