By John Schmeelk
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Whenever analyzing an NBA team, it is important to look at its record and then compare it to other numbers to see if its level of success is sustainable. Sometimes teams that win an unsustainable number of close games might appear to be better than they actually are, or it could work the other way around.
The Knicks sit at .500 — 13-13 — with about a third of the season in the books after they play the Lakers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. As of now, the Knicks’ record is exactly what it should be. Here are some periphery numbers:
• Offensive rating (points per 100 possession): 105.0 – 15th in the NBA
• Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 105.3 – 15th in the NBA
• Per-game average plus/minus: +0.2 – 14th in the NBA.
Those numbers all rank in the middle of the league. Straight up mediocrity. Considering where the team was supposed to be at the start of the season, these numbers can’t be considered anything less than a huge success. If the playoffs started today, the Knicks would have the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
But there is bad news. On Tuesday, the Knicks will play their 18th game at Madison Square Garden, where they are 12-5. No other team has played that many home games. The Knicks have played just nine games on the road, where they are 1-8. The fewest road games any other team in the NBA has played is 11.
The Knicks play four of their next seven at home, including Christmas Day against the 76ers, before playing 14 of 17 on the road from Dec. 27 to Jan. 26. That includes four back-to-backs in which the second game is on the road. It is part of a larger stretch in which the Knicks play 24 of 33 away from the Garden before they return from their second and much shorter West Coast trip that ends March 9.
The Knicks are a completely different team at home than they are on the road. Their numbers completely crater away when they’re not playing at the Garden:
• Offensive rating (points per 100 possession): 97.0 – worst in the NBA
• Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 109.4 – 25th in the NBA
• Per-game average plus/minus: -11.8 — worst in the NBA.
Simply, their record on the road is exactly what it is supposed to be. They are playing like the worst road team in the NBA right now. It isn’t rare for a young team to play much better at home, but these splits are borderline unbelievable. The Knicks need to improve as a road team or they will play themselves out of any hope for a playoff spot. The situation will be even more dire if Tim Hardaway Jr.’s prognosis is bad when he is re-examined late next week and he has to sit out much of January.
It is better that the Knicks find out whether or not they are for real before the start of February, which is still prior to the NBA trade deadline. If he is still playing well, Courtney Lee would be highly sought after by more-veteran teams looking to make a playoff run. He could net a strong future asset. It would also be the time to consider giving Willy Hernangomez his rotation spot back by either trading or, if they can’t find a partner, benching Kyle O’Quinn. Enes Kanter could also be made available for the right price.
In the meantime, the Knicks need to get above .500 before Christmas to give themselves a bit of a cushion before their month from hell begins. The Knicks play only one team in their next seven games that is significantly over .500: the Boston Celtics. Everyone else is right around or below the .500 mark. There’s a chance to create a cushion in the standings before they hit the tough road ahead.
The Knicks still remain just four games in the loss column ahead of the third worst team in the conference, and just three games in the loss column behind the fourth seed. The season is at a crossroads. The Knicks lost to the worst team in the NBA in Chicago on Sunday. They can’t afford a loss to a 10-15 a Lakers team at home Tuesday, not if they want to remain what they are right now: average.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk