Intimidating road trip comes at troubling time for embattled Knicks coach – The Mercury News

Intimidating road trip comes at troubling time for embattled Knicks coach – The Mercury News
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There are rarely good times for a Western Conference road trip. But now it looks like the timing couldn’t be worse for Tom Thibodeau.

The beleaguered coach, whose defense on Sunday allowed more points in regulation than any Knicks team since the Jimmy Carter administration, will find it harder to calm down with a daunting five road games in seven days.

Tuesday’s opener in Utah was supposed to be the easiest of the trip, but the Jazz (10-5) exceeded expectations and are undefeated at home with an assist in high altitude conditions.

The Knicks (6-7) left a day early to acclimate their lungs to the finer oxygen of Salt Lake City, which sits about 4,300 feet above sea level. The first trip served a dual purpose since acclimatization can also help for Wednesday’s game in Denver, the NBA’s highest city.

But better-fitting lungs don’t negate the formidable challenge. Evan Fournier, who played two seasons for the Nuggets, called New York’s next two games “the hardest in a row in the league.”

The Nuggets (9-4) are also unbeaten at home.

“It’s the most difficult because of the altitude and the matches are consecutive. When we land [in Denver]it’s like an hour drive [to the hotel]. Then you have the elevation. It’s extremely difficult to play back-to-back there,” Fournier said. “My first year, my first year with the Nuggets [in 2012-13], we had the best record in the league at home. We won 39 games and we lost two that year, and we just watched the teams come back to back like, ‘They’re tired. We have this.

It’s no coincidence the Knicks haven’t won in Denver since 2006, when Jamal Crawford scored 35 points and Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” topped the Billboard charts.

After the Nuggets, the Knicks face the last two Western Conference champions – the Warriors and the Suns – before ending their trip against an OKC Thunder team that lost 145 points at MSG on Sunday.

The backdrop is Thibodeau, the 2021 NBA Coach of the Year, facing heightened scrutiny for the team’s shoddy defense and absent identity. This is on the heels of last season’s disappointing fall in the draft lottery. According to a league source, team president Leon Rose was given permission last season by owner James Dolan to fire the coach.

Rose resisted but Thibodeau had long had detractors in the front office. It’s unclear where Rose stands on her coach with the Knicks now stumbling, but not exactly falling, out of the gate. Perhaps the five-game road trip will answer that question.

“I know if we’re going to try to outplay people, it’s not going to work,” Thibodeau said after Sunday’s loss to the Thunder. “Our margin of error is small, we have to play with great intensity on every possession. When we do that, we do very well. We can’t get sucked into a fluid game where we don’t contain the ball or we let’s not challenge the shots.


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