As the saying goes, you can’t coach effort.
Except now Jeff Hornacek feels like he has to at least try with a group that is coasting toward the lottery.
“Maybe it’s putting them out of their comfort zone in practice, really pushing them, really telling them to get up, they may foul each other, but they have to get that mentality of how hard they can go, Hornacek said. “Breaking through that ceiling of what they think that is, and what their level can be, is what us as coaches need to do.”
“They have a comfort level with how hard they work,” he added later. “And it’s up to us as coaches to try to make them go harder.”
Hornacek isn’t a rah-rah kind of coach and it’s a sad indictment that the veterans should need such motivation. But Hornacek’s messages have clearly been ignored because they’ve been repeated throughout a dire losing stretch that’s lasted nearly two months. If Hornacek lost the team, it will become clearer as the team nears the All-Star break teetering on the brink of a full-scale collapse. Not that the owner nor the team president have made things easier lately, but it’s evident Hornacek has discovered he’s not going to be saved by veteran leaders who push their teammates to play harder. He feels it’s his job now.
It reached the point Friday of Hornacek ripping his starting lineup for their effort in a loss to the Nuggets, with the steamed coach bolting out of the arena faster than ever.
If it wasn’t for the Dolan, Phil and Carmelo chaos engulfing the franchise, there’d be more attention on the fact that Hornacek’s record is worse than Derek Fisher’s when he was fired last season.
“There wasn’t much to say in the locker room,” Hornacek said about his quick exit Friday.
Hornacek was back to congenial following Saturday’s extended practice — one that lasted three hours — armed with the hope that finally there was a breakthrough while dissecting film of the embarrassing loss to the Nuggets.
The Knicks are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, and they gave up 131 points at home.
“I think they know (how upset I was). I hope they’re as mad about it, too. It’s not about us scoring. We got to get these stops and there’s a difference between playing defense and just playing defense and really getting after it like your life depends on it,” he said.
If there was some sort of breakthrough during Saturday’s practice, the players who were ripped by Hornacek a day earlier weren’t so eager to talk about it. By the time Knicks PR allowed the media inside the gym, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose were already gone. Kristaps Porzingis quickly left through a door away from reporters.
The reality for the Knicks (22-33) is that it’s all too late. They’re about as close to the second-worst record in the NBA as they are to a playoff spot. Their record since Christmas is 5-20.
Next on their schedule are the Spurs on Sunday, with Joakim Noah still out because of a hamstring strain and Lance Thomas returning from an orbital bone fracture.
Through all of Hornacek’s lineup adjustments, nothing seems to work because none of them result in good defense. In Friday’s loss, Hornacek started Porzingis at center for the first time, and the 21-year-old was roasted by Denver’s Nikola Jokic.
A day later in practice, Hornacek hoped he jarred something loose.
“They weren’t four feet off of guys. They were right on each other,” he said. “So, again, we got to continue to do that every day we practice. …There might be a correlation between how hard they practice and how hard they play in the game. Some teams could probably practice easy and turn it on during games; maybe we’re not that type of team.”