Knicks don't use fatigue as excuse for loss to Hornets, prepare for West Coast trip

Mar 7, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) and guard Quentin Grimes (6) walk off the court after the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden.
Mar 7, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) and guard Quentin Grimes (6) walk off the court after the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night’s 112-105 loss to the Charlotte Hornets was a disappointing one for the Knicks.

Not only did it snap their nine-game winning streak, but it came at the hands of the now 21-46 Hornets.

It was a perplexing loss, but one that many saw as a “trap” game going in. With the Knicks coming off a grueling weekend slate of games on the road against the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, which New York needed two overtimes to win, and a West Coast road trip on the horizon it’s easy to overlook a sub-.500 team like the Hornets at home.

Even without Jalen Brunson (foot) playing it seemed like an easy win for the Knicks to pick up, but it was clear the team was spent.

All the minutes logged over the weekend finally caught up to Julius Randle and the others. Shots were consistently short, they were outrebounded -- including 16-3 in a crucial third quarter -- and their defense suffered.

Whether it was fatigue or something else, the Knicks didn’t want to use it as an excuse.

“Just ran out of gas,” said Randle, who scored just 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting. “We have to be better. We still have to take care of business regardless.”

“Tonight we came out strong, at the end of the game they were just the hungrier team,” added RJ Barrett, who scored a team-high 27 points. “A team like that coming in, figured it had to be that way. They fought, they just got us at the end.”

The Hornets were down 16 at halftime, but dropped 37 points on the Knicks in that third quarter. And while New York regained the lead at the end of the quarter, that spark gave Charlotte confidence, which they would use to complete the comeback and put an end to the Knicks' second-longest winning streak this decade.

“You have to play with an edge, you have to play for 48 minutes,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You see it every night, big leads that dissipate very quickly. That’s why you can never let your guard down. You certainly can never feel too good about yourself because you know what’s looming around the corner.”

“That's an excuse just to blame it on [fatigue],” Immanuel Quickley said. “Obviously, we had the double overtime game, but we just got to play better. I got to play better. I know that, but we'll learn from it. I know I will get better and just have to move on to the next one.”

Quickley, who started for the injured Brunson, scored 38 points in 55 minutes of that double overtime game at Boston but only mustered 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting Tuesday night. It's unclear if Brunson will return for the start of the team’s road trip, which begins Thursday at the Sacramento Kings, but Quickley is a big reason why the Knicks are playing as well as they are.

Entering Tuesday, Quickley is averaging 13.4 points and 3.1 assists mostly off the bench. He's been a spark for the team and they'll need him on this road trip -- especially against the high-powered Kings.

The Kings (38-26) sit as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference thanks to a 121.1 points per game average, the highest in the NBA.

“We’re heading out to Sacramento, they are an unbelievable offensive team and we’re going to have to be at our best,” Thibodeau said. “Learn from tonight and tomorrow it’s all about preparing for Sacramento.”

After the Kings, the Knicks travel to Los Angeles on Saturday for a back-to-back against the Clippers (34-33), Lakers (31-34) ,and finally at Portland to battle the Trail Blazers (31-34) next Tuesday.

It's a tough stretch of games, but nothing the Knicks haven’t experienced already. New York is tied for the best road record this season at 20-12, so they are used to going into hostile territory, and they are confident they have the personnel to continue that trend on this trip.

“We have a lot of mentally tough guys, guys that have a chip on their shoulder,” Quickley said of why the Knicks are so good on the road. “It takes character to win on the road, takes toughness. And I think we have that. So whether we're up or down, we know how to handle that."