Progress has been made as Knicks near last season’s win total

THE KNICKS are just a little better than mediocre with one-third of their schedule completed, which under the circumstances would make this the golden era of Phil Jackson’s reign.

Look at it this way: If the Knicks can get a win on Thursday against the Orlando Magic, they’ll head into their Christmas matinee against Boston with an opportunity to match their entire win total from the 2014-15 season. No matter how you cut it, that’s progress.

At 15-13, the Knicks are in the mix with handful of teams for the final six spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear-cut favorites, with the Toronto Raptors firmly established as the second best team in the East.

Everyone else – the Knicks, Hornets, Celtics, Bucks, Pistons, Hawks, Bulls, Wizards and Magic – are all separated by five games. Parity (some may call it parody) is alive and well in the NBA.

The Knicks’ 118-111 victory against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday was important because Derrick Rose was back in the lineup and Jeff Hornacek’s team, trying to snap a three-game losing streak, trailed by 15 in the second half. They were slowly returning to reality.

“We were kind of playing like we did those last three games of the road trip,” Hornacek said.

The Knicks don't have much to offer so Phil Jackson will have to get creative if he wants to add another guard or perhaps a wing defender at the trade deadline.

The Knicks don’t have much to offer so Phil Jackson will have to get creative if he wants to add another guard or perhaps a wing defender at the trade deadline.

(Richard Harbus/for New York Daily News)

Indiana, however, on the second night of a back-to-back ran out of gas about the time that Carmelo Anthony couldn’t stop making shots. You give Carmelo two days off and this is what he is capable of doing.

“Once we made some shots, we got some stops defensively, you could feel that momentum changing,” Anthony said.

The Pacers, a team predicted to finish in the top half of the conference, are the very essence of mediocre at 15-15. Their best player, Paul George, has been so-so for most of the season. On Tuesday Paul looked downright lethargic while getting torched by Carmelo, who scored 35 points and made 7 of 11 three-pointers.

“It’s frustrating. We just can’t get the job done,” said George, who was 1 for 8 in the second half. “Inconsistent team. That’s all there is about this team. It’s just an inconsistent team.”

Carmelo should have called this game a “must-win” instead of making an empty promise prior to Saturday’s loss in Denver. At the very least, he should have waited for Rose to return to the lineup.

If the Knicks' three best players, including Derrick Rose, all appear in 70-plus games, the playoffs are well within their grasp.

If the Knicks’ three best players, including Derrick Rose, all appear in 70-plus games, the playoffs are well within their grasp.

(Julie Jacobson/AP)

Rose scored 24 points in 36 minutes, which is significant considering the point guard had missed the previous two games with a sore back. The Knicks are 1-3 without Rose in the lineup while Carmelo and Porzingis have each missed one game.

It’s really quite simple: If the Knicks’ three best players all appear in 70-plus games, the playoffs are well within their grasp. Against the Pacers, the trio combined for 80 points.

Again, there are still 54 games left to play, including two against the Cavs, Spurs and Clippers plus three against both the Raptors and Celtics. The schedule and the grind will challenge Carmelo, Porzingis and especially Rose.

It will also test Jackson, who has been a seller at the trade deadline but should be in a position to add a player for the stretch run. The Knicks don’t have much to offer so Jackson will have to get creative if he wants to add another guard or perhaps a wing defender. The Knicks are not very deep. At some point, Jackson will have to address that weakness to solidify the Knicks’ chances of being a playoff team.

That’s called progress. 

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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