NEW YORK — The defending Atlantic Division champions aren’t defending much — nor are they rebounding or scoring well this season.
Each of those deficiencies came to light for the New York Knicks (8-18) during their 95-87 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies (11-15), who snapped a five-game losing streak and won for just the second time in nine games while handing the Knicks as many home losses as New York had all of last season.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, the first day of winter went no better than the fall had gone for New York at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, sustaining a disturbing trend for head coach Mike Woodson.
The Knicks won their first 10 games at the Garden en route to a 31-10 home mark a year ago, but they’ve already matched that number of MSG defeats in just 14 home games this year.
“I take pride in trying to win games at home,” Woodson said. “We established something here in the Garden [last year], and it’s been so slow in that area this season, and it’s really put us in a hole.”
Not even a 10 p.m. curfew and staying together in a hotel the night before the game for New York’s third noon start of the season could wake the Knicks from their doldrums, as the Grizzlies jumped out to leads of 8-2 and 17-8.
New York’s two worst losses of the season occurred during noon starts at home, when they trailed San Antonio 10-0, and 21-4, before losing by 31 points on November 10, prior to falling behind Boston, 18-1, and 25-3, while losing by 41 points on December 8.
This time, the Knicks battled back, to within 19-18, after head coach Mike Woodson opted for a smaller lineup and forced Memphis to adjust to his team, rather than the way he started the game, going with a bigger lineup as he’s stubbornly done in the past.
But going bigger again, Woodson’s squad eventually fell behind by as many as 19 points midway through the fourth quarter.
“The whole idea was to start with that [big] lineup, to try to contain them [and] keep them off the boards,” said star forward Carmelo Anthony, who led all scorers with 30 points, on 11-for-22 shooting.
But as Anthony added, “We just couldn’t get [that] done… you can’t be [anybody] being outrebounded [56-29]… you just can’t do it.”
Woodson concurred, saying, “You look at the rebounding, that’s embarrassing, especially when you start a big lineup.”
Reserve guard J.R. Smith (16 points, seven assists) blamed that issue on his team lacking effort. To some extent, he was right, since no Knick had more than Anthony’s seven rebounds, while part of Woodson’s big starting lineup — seven-foot-one center Tyson Chandler (eight points, six rebounds) and seven-foot forward Andrea Bargnani (three points two rebounds) — grabbed no more rebounds combined than Memphis starting shooting guard, Tony Allen (19 points on 8-of-13 shooting), who at 6-foot-4, grabbed eight boards (all in the opening half).
Due in part to their sizable rebounding edge, the Grizzlies scored 63 percent of their points in the paint, compared to the 32 percent for the Knicks. Memphis also held a 13-6 advantage on the offensive glass while outscoring New York, 19-5, on second-chance points.
“We gave so much up at the rim… we couldn’t keep them out of the paint and that was the problem,” admitted Woodson, whose job security has come into question for most of the season.
Former Knick, forward Zach Randolph, was the player the Knicks struggled with the most in that area. Randolph enjoyed a happy homecoming with a team-high 25 points (on 9-of-18 shooting) and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Backup point guard Jerryd Bayless added 11 points in just 13:41, reserve center Kosta Koufos had 10 points and nine rebounds in 15:33, and starting point guard Mike Conley scored nine points while dishing out a game-high eight assists, to offset the scoring of Smith and reserve guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., who matched Smith’s 16 points.
Neither team had more than a three-point lead over most of the second quarter until the Grizzlies closed the first half on a 14-7 run that sent New York to the locker room under a chorus of boos, down 50-40.
That margin was cut to as little at seven points on three different occasions in the third quarter, but a 12-5 spurt pushed Memphis’ lead to 72-58, when the Grizzlies passed up two open perimeter shots, before rookie guard Jamaal Franklin scored his only points (where else?) in the paint, after missing inside and simply outworking the Knicks for the bucket.
A Hardaway 3-pointer brought New York to within 72-61 entering the final quarter, which the Grizzlies began on a 13-5 run, to lead, 85-66, with 6:12 remaining.
Chandler made only the second of two free throws, to cap a 21-6 run that cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 91-87, with 25.6 seconds left, but the Knicks could get no closer, as the game ended after a missed 3-pointer by Smith and quite fittingly, one last rebound for Memphis.
“I don’t think it’s [anything] that [has] to do with basketball at this point,” Anthony said of New York’s problems at home. “I think it’s in our heads… [we’ve got] to just start having fun once again and playing basketball, and not worry about too many other things.”
Regardless of where the Knicks play, they know they need to start winning soon, especially when they likely never envisioned having the same record after 26 games as their next opponent — the Orlando Magic — which New York will face on Monday night, in Florida.
“Some of these home games that we’ve lost, we’ve got to somehow go get ‘em back on the road, and [also] start trying to put a string of games here at home,” Woodson said. “That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this hole.”
To do that, finding any sort of consistency is key, according to Anthony. “We have spurts where we’re playing great basketball, then we just have spurts where we’re just dead out there,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to get better that. We’ve got to try to put together a full game and start becoming more of a consistent basketball team.“