Knicks have chance to turn season around, re-enter playoff conversation over next three weeks

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Atlanta Hawks
    Atlanta Hawks
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • New York Knicks
    New York Knicks
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Kemba Walker
    Kemba Walker
    American basketball player
  • Julius Randle
    Julius Randle
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
Kemba Walker and Julius Randle hand slap in Black Christmas Day uniforms
Kemba Walker and Julius Randle hand slap in Black Christmas Day uniforms

The Knicks’ next 13 games are against teams under .500 entering play on Dec. 25. So, over the next three weeks, they have a prime opportunity to turn their season around.

If it happens – if the Knicks reel off wins and climb up the Eastern Conference standings – maybe we’ll look back at their Christmas Day win over Atlanta as a turning point.

Obviously, the Knicks didn’t beat a top team on Christmas Day. Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and six other Hawks weren’t available due to health and safety protocols.

But, the Christmas Day win felt significant because Kemba Walker and Julius Randle played well off of each other. Walker had a triple-double and Randle had 25 points and 12 rebounds in the win.

“I think we’re just honestly feeding off of each other and we realize that the team will go as we go,” Randle said of himself and Walker.

If Randle and Walker continue to feed off each other – and the Knicks defend adequately – maybe they can reel off some wins over the next three weeks.

WALKER RESURGENCE

A couple of hours before the Knicks-Bulls game at MSG on Dec. 2, Walker’s jersey was being removed from a prominent display space in an arena team store. It was the first Knick home game since Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau removed Walker from the rotation.

Who knows if it was a coincidence or an arena-wide directive, but it became clear over the next three weeks that Thibodeau was committed to benching Walker.

The Knicks were short-handed in the backcourt for several games in the weeks following Walker’s benching. But, Walker never saw the floor. He didn’t return to the rotation until Dec. 18 against Boston, when the club only had two lead guards available.

Credit Walker, though, for staying ready during the benching and producing when Thibodeau called his name again.

Here are Walker’s numbers since returning to the rotation:

Did Thibodeau make a mistake in benching Walker? That’s a matter of opinion.

For some context, the Knicks haven’t played elite teams since Walker’s return and Mitchell Robinson has been playing at a different level, particularly on defense, over the past few games.

So, whether you think Thibodeau was right to bench Walker, again, is a matter of opinion. But, it’s worth noting that some players felt the decision to bench Walker showed an inconsistency because all players weren’t being held to the same standard.

Now, players disagree with coaching decisions all the time in the NBA. If the team is winning, it’s usually inconsequential. It only becomes relevant if a coach loses the locker room or a team fails to meet expectations.

Walker said on Saturday that he’s “over” the benching. And if he and Randle continue to play well together and the Knicks string together some wins, the Walker benching will just be a footnote in the season.

Meanwhile, Randle noted on Saturday that he and Walker were deferring a bit too much earlier in the season.

“(We were) trying to figure out how to play with each other and those things take time. And we kind of got like a second shot at it,” Randle said.

He added: “I’m happy for (Walker)... He’s able to come out and be who he is. I’m sure when he signed to come here, this is kind of what he envisioned. Playing the type of basketball that he’s playing right now. I think we’re just honestly feeding off of each other and we realize that the team will go as we go.”