SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Knicks have shown resilience after dreadful losses before, and they’ve been among the best road teams in the NBA all season.
Those traits will be tested and drawn upon over the next week, as a four-game western swing begins Thursday night against the vastly improved Kings, who are tied with the Grizzlies for the second-best record in the Western Conference.
With subsequent games at the Clippers and the Lakers and another in Portland, the Knicks vowed to regroup quickly after their nine-game winning streak ended with Tuesday night’s giveaway loss at home to the Hornets.
“It’s extremely important,” said Josh Hart, who was acquired from the Blazers on Feb. 8. “Obviously we have Sac, who I think is third or fourth or whatever they are in the West. A tough Clipper team. A Laker team that’s been playing well and desperate to try and get in the play-in and the playoffs, and Portland the same thing. They’re playing well and they’re really fighters.”
“It’s important. I think if we go out there and we continue to grow and to play good basketball, I think we’ll be happy at the end of the road trip. But we have to take it a game at a time and learn and continue to play together and unselfish.”
Hart was among several Knicks who refused to use fatigue as an excuse for Tuesday’s loss, two days after a spirited double-overtime win in Boston.
With starting point guard Jalen Brunson missing his second straight game with a sore left foot, the Knicks (39-28) flushed a 16-point halftime lead and missed 21 of 26 shots in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a reality, but the reality also is our job is to play basketball,” Hart said. “You got people getting up at 6 a.m. doing 12-hour shifts. Those guys are tired. For us, we’re playing a game and obviously are fortunate enough to play a game.”
“We gotta keep that in perspective. … We gotta make sure we’re full of energy and lively every time we step on the court. I think that was the biggest thing. I don’t think we can blame this on fatigue.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau acknowledged there’s “a lot” he wants to learn about his team during the week out west, beginning with Thursday’s game.
The Kings (38-27) boast two All-Stars — point guard De’Aaron Fox and big man Domantas Sabonis — for the first time since 2004 (Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller).
“As we go through the season, I don’t want us to change our approach, and that’s what I really like about this team is just concentrate on exactly what’s in front of you,” Thibodeau said. “So, learn from [the loss to the Hornets], then it’s all about getting ready for Sacramento.”
“Don’t look ahead. Just think about the improvements we have to make. Get ready for that game and then when that game is gone, get ready for the next one. Just keep going step by step. Don’t jump ahead.”
The Knicks’ first loss since Feb. 10 dropped them two games behind Cleveland for the No. 4 playoff position in the East through Tuesday’s action.
They were just one game ahead of the sixth-place Nets and 3 ¹/₂ clear of the 7-10 play-in scenario entering the No. 7 Heat’s home game Wednesday night against the Cavaliers.
Still, the Knicks’ 20-12 record away from Madison Square Garden this season is tied with the Celtics and the Bucks for the best road mark in the league.
“We know we’re playing really good teams [on this trip],” Thibodeau said. “I think this time of the season, you also realize the intensity is going to be there, whether it’s a play-in or playoffs or seeding or whatever it might be.”
“Even [Tuesday], you’re playing a team that there’s guys that are playing that are fighting for roster spots, for playing time. There’s always motivation in this league. So, you can never shortcut the preparation that goes into playing each night and what goes into winning each night.”