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Knicks playoff chase hampered by Garden struggles


The Knicks’ home is becoming The World’s Most Infamous Arena.

Madison Square Garden, the most prestigious venue in the NBA, has transformed into the Knicks’ house of horrors. Their latest home defeat, an overtime loss Monday to the Raptors, dropped them to 11-12 at the Garden this season.

Of the 20 teams in position entering Tuesday for the NBA play-in tournament or postseason, the Knicks were the lone club that was below .500 at home.

“It’s frustrating. Obviously we want to win at home,” Jalen Brunson said after his 26 points were wasted Monday. “We have one of the best fan bases in the world, but this is obviously a historic place to play, so everybody’s coming here with their best foot forward.”

Such has been the usual explanation: Opposing teams don’t need a second cup of coffee to get up for games in the Garden. Stars don’t want to sit when New York is watching. The same rationale was expressed last season, when the Knicks went 17-24 at the Garden and missed the postseason.

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle reacts along side New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (L) and New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson
There are plenty of reasons the Knicks have trouble winning at Madison Square Garden.
Jason Szenes for the New York Post

But last season was a lost season all around. The 2022-23 Knicks have been excellent on the road, where they are 14-8, and they can fight for home-court advantage in the first round. Since the 1976-77 merger, only seven teams have qualified for the postseason with a losing mark at home, including the 2021-22 Nets, who were the seventh seed and probably require an asterisk because Kyrie Irving was barred from playing at Barclays Center for most of the season.

When the Knicks host the Wizards on Wednesday, they begin the game as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and flirting with a bizarre historical anomaly. No team since the NBA-ABA merger has had a losing record at home and finished in the top six in its conference.

“I think for us, we just got to focus on the little things,” Brunson said before addressing the problems as a whole. “A lot of these losses come with one or two possessions, marginal losses. We have to be 1 percent, 2 percent better.”

He’s right. The Knicks have outscored their opponents at home by an average margin of 115.5-112.5. The rims have been friendlier at the Garden, where they’re shooting 40.3 percent versus 39.4 percent on the road, but the extra bucket or two has not been the difference in enough games.

Eleven of the Knicks’ games at the Garden have been decided by seven or fewer points. The Knicks have lost eight of those games.

Included are crushing losses to the Bucks, Bulls, Hawks and Trail Blazers in games in which the Knicks held huge or late leads. Entering Tuesday, the Knicks were the third-worst team in the NBA in the second halves of home games, having been outscored by 72 points. Only the pitiful Rockets and Spurs, with a combined 23 wins, were worse on their own home courts in the third and fourth quarters.

Close games continue going the wrong way, which likely has influenced coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotations. On Monday, Brunson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, on the back end of a back-to-back, played a combined 134 minutes. Thibodeau’s extra reliance on his best players did not swing the game, and the coach appeared suspicious the officiating might have.

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts in the second half
Tom Thibodeau is still trying to figure out the right rotation to help the Knicks at home.
Jason Szenes for the New York Post

“It was hard to tell what a foul was,” Thibodeau said after the Raptors took 41 free throws, six more than the Knicks.

When even the officiating is not going your way, the home cooking has gone stale.

After the Knicks face off with the below-average Wizards, there will not be many opportunities to fatten up their home record. Of the ensuing 10 games at the Garden, only one will be against a team that entered Tuesday outside of the playoffs: LeBron James’ Lakers. The Cavaliers, Heat, Clippers, 76ers, Jazz, Nets (twice), Pelicans and Celtics will not be intimidated when they enter the locale so many call “the mecca.”

“I’m concerned about everything, so I look at everything,” Thibodeau said last month, when asked if he was concerned about his team’s struggles at home.

There is plenty to look at.


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