NEW YORK -- The results say it started on Dec. 1, when the Knicks handed the Phoenix Suns a stunning 27-point loss at Madison Square Garden. But the genesis of this small ray of light actually began on Thanksgiving.
In Denver for the holiday, the Knicks’ players gathered in a restaurant at the Ritz Carlton. It wasn’t meant to be a team powwow, just a chance to get some decent food.
“The Thanksgiving meal they made for us wasn’t that good,’’ Chris Duhon said. “So we had to go somewhere else.’’
But the quest for food turned into an exercise in chemistry building, as the players watched football, talked trash, played cards, and rapped about having fun on the basketball court. No coaches were present. The Knicks lost their next two games, but gained confidence after playing well against contenders Denver and Orlando.
Then they won four of their next five games, including Monday’s 93-84 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers that pushed their season-long win streak to three.
“It really started in Denver,’’ said Duhon, who had a game-high nine assists against Portland. “We sat down as a team, by ourselves, and got a lot of things off our chests. We talked about what we need to do to win, about being more relaxed. It was the first time in my two years here that we did something as a team where all the players were together.’’
Call it a corny “kumbaya’’ moment if you like, but among the Knicks’ four victims are three likely playoff teams -- Phoenix, Atlanta and Portland. And while the Knicks are far from a defensive juggernaut, they are actually playing decent defense, having held three of their four victims under 100 points.
“We can be really good now that we’re thinking defense,’’ Duhon said.
Al Harrington and double-double machine David Lee have led the way, but the Knicks have also gotten a huge boost from Larry Hughes. After scoring 20 or more points just twice in his first 18 games, Hughes has averaged 20.6 points over the three-game win streak.
“I’ve been working hard,’’ Hughes said. “After coming here [from Chicago] last year, I wasn’t really into the offense. Then I didn’t play much in the preseason or at the start of this season. So I’m still getting used to the system and how we play.’’
How they’ve played lately is strong, and they have a Thanksgiving sitdown to thank for that.