How the Knicks became the NBA’s best road team


Isaiah Hartenstein and Josh Hart weren’t with the Knicks for this season, so the fact that the franchise has only one winning road record in the last 25 years didn’t really stand out with two aptly named players that give the team a heartbeat off the bench.

“Oh sh-t. Hopefully we can keep playing well along the way and make it two,” Hart joked after Tuesday’s home loss to the Hornets, his first loss in 10 games with the Knicks since joining last month.

Indeed, the Knicks’ 20-12 road record this season is tied with the Celtics and the Bucks for most wins and best winning percentage (.625) in the league.

They’ve won five out of six against MSG since early February, including important wins in Miami and Boston over the weekend. The double win over the Celtics was their second OT win this season over TD Garden.

Immanuel Quickley celebrates his 39-point night against the Celtics on Sunday, giving the Knicks their second overtime win in Boston this season.
NBAE via Getty Images

The next four games, starting Thursday night in Sacramento against the up-and-coming Kings, should be a stern test. Tom Thibodeau’s team will also play two games this weekend in Los Angeles on consecutive days and visit Portland on Tuesday to take on Hart’s former team, the Trail Blazers.

“I think on the road it’s all about the guys. I think that’s the most important thing,” Hart told Sports+. “You don’t have as many distractions as you do at home, and I think that’s an advantage on the road.

“I think we’ve shown we’re selfless and playing together, and that’s a big part of it. Obviously we know every road race is always difficult, so we’re locked in. And that’s probably the most important thing.

After their loss to the 76ers on February 10, the Knicks had the program’s second hardest remaining strength, according to Tankathon. Ten games and nine wins later, they begin this westward trek with a .495 remaining win percentage over their opponents, the 18th hardest in the league going into Wednesday night.

Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat takes on Josh Hart #3 of the New York Knicks during the first half at the Miami-Dade Arena on March 3, 2023 in Miami, Florida.
The Knicks have won nine of the ten games in which Josh Hart was on the roster, including four on the road.
Getty Images

Nine of their remaining 15 games will be underway, with additional away games in Miami, Orlando, Cleveland, Indiana and New Orleans.

“I think overall we are well prepared, just coming into every game and trying to be the better prepared team,” said Hartenstein. “I think we have a good relationship so far, everyone wants everyone to succeed. That goes a long way, especially if you’re in a more difficult situation on the road.

“We had a lot of tough games, especially the two times in Boston when we had to fight it out together. Miami, same thing. So I think getting those close games out on the road against good teams will help us just from the point where we can trust each other.

“There really aren’t many egos just trying to win. Especially in a long season, those long road trips bring guys together. … I think Thibs has done a good job of making sure everyone is always focused and dialed in on what we need to do.

That success may also bode well if the Knicks fail to secure home field advantage in the playoffs — in a potential 4-5 matchup with the Cavaliers, who lead the Knicks by 2.5 games, or fall to the number 6 position.

Isaiah Hartenstein #55, Immanuel Quickley #5 and RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks pose for a photo in the closing seconds of their 122-101 fourth quarter victory over the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on February 15, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Knicks have used their road trips this season to focus not only on basketball, but also on building chemistry.
Getty Images

“Certainly,” said Hart, who has never appeared in a postseason game in six NBA seasons. “We want to make sure everything is an opportunity to learn and grow, and road games obviously provide that. If we are lucky enough to be in the play-offs at the end of the year, I think only those wins will help us.”

A few other Knicks felt the team’s success away from home revealed something of what makes this particular group tick.

“[W]We have a lot of mentally strong guys, guys with a chip on their shoulder,” Immanuel Quickley said after the loss to Charlotte. “And then we just have great individual people. It takes character to win on the road, it takes toughness to win on the road. And I think we have that. So whether we are up or down, we know how to deal with that. And I think that shows when we’re on the road.”

RJ Barrett added: “I think what makes us successful is when we go out on the road we don’t really change too much [in terms of our] preparation and stuff like that. Guys are really locked in, and we have a team of guys that are ready every day and put in the work and are really focused on basketball, trying to win these games.

The last Knicks team – and the only one in the past quarter century to post a road winning record – was Mike Woodson’s 54-win team from 2012-2013, which trailed MSG 23-18. That ended a 15-year streak of losing seasons on the road since the Knicks went 26-15 in 1996-97, the last of a six-year span in which they compiled a 142-104 (.577) road record.

Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks wins the game by three points against the Miami Heat on March 3, 2023 at the Miami-Dade Arena in Miami, Florida.
With a roster of guys who have “a chip on their shoulder,” the Knicks have worked their way to a 20-12 record on the road this season, including last week’s victory in Miami.
NBAE via Getty Images

The franchise record for road wins (including games at neutral venues) in a single season was 30–11 points off MSG during the Knicks’ 1969–70 championship season.

The balancing act of Tom Thibodeau

A holdover from my interview with former Knicks coach and longtime ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy last week was this thought about Thibodeau’s decision earlier this season to bench high-paid veterans Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose and the professional manner in which both of them handled the situation.

“I give those guys a lot of credit. Fournier really could have been a poison pill, but he wasn’t. And he had that game when he went back in and hit seven threes or whatever it was,” Van Gundy said, referring to Fournier’s 17-point effort with five 3-pointers in a Feb. 5 victory over the Sixers.

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, left, deploys guard Derrick Rose after fans called him out during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Saturday, February 25, 2023, at New York's Madison Square Garden.  York.
While still a favorite of Tom Thibodeau, Derrick Rose has registered less than three minutes of playing time since 2023 on the calendar.

“And I know Tom loves Derrick Rose, and going down to nine men and taking him out of rotation, I think, was clearly painful for Rose, but excruciating for Tom.

“But it also shows that he understands the burdens and responsibilities of a head coach. And that’s making decisions in the best interest of the team. You have to put the team above everything else. And that’s Tom.”

Can the Knicks blaze a new trail west?

Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks drives to the basket against the Portland Trail Blazers on December 12, 2015 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon.
The Knicks needed 37 points from Carmelo Anthony to beat the Trail Blazers in Portland more than seven years ago, where New York has not won since.
NBAE via Getty Images

The West Coast has been anything but a welcome haven for the Knicks for the past two decades. Just look at their records since the start of the 2001-2002 season:

at Clippers: 4-16 (DNP in LA in ’11-12 for lockout)
in Kings: 8-13
at Lakers: 6-15
at Sonics: 3-4 (franchise moved to Oklahoma City in 2008)
at Trail Blazers: 3-17
at Warriors: 5-16 (DNP in ’19-20 due to COVID)

Portland is the worst stop of the bunch, and the Knicks have been particularly sad there in recent years.

In their past 10 visits to Rose City, the Knicks have won a total of once.

On December 12, 2015, Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 37 points in a 112–110 win.

It’s a great box score to revisit – Arron Afflalo! Robin Lopez! Kyle O’Quinn!:

Box score of the December 2015 Knicks-Trail Blazers game.
New York Post

Since then, the Knicks have lost six straight games in Portland by a 15-point average.

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