As the Knicks were set to embark on their six-game Western Conference road trip — a stretch that could, if all goes wrong, kill any playoff aspirations — Jeff Hornacek warned that players should stop drinking their own Kool Aid.
“We talked about the beginning of the season with our guys is don’t look at what your goals are. What we’re trying to do is get the best out of them and improve all year long. If playoffs come about, fine,” Hornacek said.
“And I think that’s what happened to us. We got off and got a couple games over .500 there, and then all of a sudden everyone is talking about, ‘Oh we have a chance, if we win, we make playoffs.’ You don’t worry about that. You just go out there and try to be better each and every game. And then the wins will pile up and you’ll have a chance.”
So we have to get back to our basics that we talked about at the beginning of the year and how we’re going to approach this season and see where it lands.”
Deemphasizing goals and playoffs is convenient for Hornacek’s job evaluation, since it remains unlikely the Knicks (20-24) will climb into the top 8. He is in the unenviable position of being the last executive’s hire and the first fall guy if expectations aren’t met. As Hornacek fully understands, the roster just isn’t talented enough for a playoff run. But it’s also unrealistic to ask fans and players to lose all sight of everything outside of a long process.
Which is why, unlike the coach, the locker room Monday wasn’t downplaying a 10-day trip that includes winnable stops in Memphis, Utah, L.A. (Lakers), Denver and Phoenix. The only sure defeat is at Golden State.
“It’s going to be huge. It’s going to show us where we are right now,” Kristaps Porzingis said.
Jeff Hornacek says Knicks should focus on improving, not their record or the playoffs.
The Knicks, despite what they’re trying to push as the franchise directive, aren’t so young when considering Courtney Lee, Jarrett Jack, Lance Thomas and Michael Beasley are all heavy lifters in the rotation. They don’t care about improving New York’s chances in the upcoming lottery. They want to make the playoffs, and so does Porzingis, whose record since joining the Knicks is cringe-worthy (83-125).
But Hornacek has been exceedingly patient lately — and strangely optimistic — even as the team sunk from three games over .500 to five games under before Monday’s encouraging victory over the Nets.
“All year long we’ve been preaching we want to grow as a team. It’s a new group together. We got some young players in different positions, (Porzingis) being the No. 1 guy for the first time and Frank (Ntilikina) being out there,” the coach said.
Hornacek also has to understand that low preseason expectations don’t mean much if the team regresses, especially if a decline includes the play of Porzingis and Ntilikina. That’s also why this road trip is important.
After starting the season 17-14, falling out of the playoff race by February is not progress — it’s status quo for a franchise still trying to wipe off the stench of the Phil Jackson era.
“Long trips like this will make or break a team,” Beasley said.