Knicks hoping to fix sloppy first quarters after recent slow starts

CHICAGO — The magic OG Anunoby dust didn’t work against the Bulls

Now the Knicks are facing a five-game homestretch with the standings in a pretzel and one glaring problem to correct: their lousy starts. 

Generally a strong first-quarter team, the Knicks have been pummeled in the opening 12 minutes in four of the past five games.

They only recovered in Thursday’s victory over the Kings.

Chicago Bulls guard Javonte Green (24) defends New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) during the second half at United Center. David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Otherwise, their recent sad starts have translated to defeats against two losing teams — the Spurs and Bulls — plus the rival Heat. 

It’s uncharacteristic of a Tom Thibodeau operation, which pushes for maximum preparedness and focus from the opening tip.

Last season, the Knicks were only behind the Bucks and Celtics in the East in positive first-quarter point differential. 

But injuries have taken a toll on the rotation, and the Knicks are sputtering out of the gate.

Against the Spurs, they trailed by 13 in the first quarter.

Against the Heat? Trailed by 12.

Against the Bulls? Down by 12 in less than eight minutes. 

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau gestures to his team against the Chicago Bulls during the first quarter at United Center. David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

In each of those defeats, the Knicks had the deficit to within four in the fourth quarter but ran out of gas.

Even if you count the loss to the Thunder on March 31 — when the Knicks won the first quarter — they’ve been outscored by an average of nine points in the opening quarters of the past five games.

That was the worst in the East heading into Saturday’s games. 

It’s harder to run uphill. 

“We got to play tougher. Play for the lead,” Thibodeau said. “We expend a lot of energy getting out of the hole.” 

The issue has been multilayered. In the Heat and Spurs defeats, the Knicks were doing OK until they started making subs.

Their small deficit ballooned when Bojan Bogdanovic, in particular, entered the game.

Bogdanovic’s net rating in the first quarters of the past five games is quite an eyesore — minus-89. 

In the Bulls and Kings games, the Knicks were basically just blasted out of the gate.

Anunoby returned and looked pretty smooth considering his long layoff, but the team’s offense was anemic and got no boost from the mid-quarter subs — Miles McBride and Mitchell Robinson. 

The Knicks were already trailing by 10 when Josh Hart was ejected for a karate kick — albeit tough to discern if intentional — at the end of the first quarter. 

Bojan Bogdanovic has struggled with the Knicks. Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

“They played with more energy, more pace than we did,” Brunson said. 

How do they correct the early struggles? 

“Wake up,” Brunson said. 

If it’s as easy as an extra cup of coffee, the Knicks better fire up the Keurigs. With five games left, they could finish anywhere from second to eighth in the East.

Their next stop is a third game this season in Milwaukee — a glitch in the schedule because of the In-Season Tournament — and they’re trying to avoid losing three times in the same city and in the same regular season. 

It may be a good time to catch the Bucks (47-30), who are losing grip on their second seed.

New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) controls the ball against Portland Trail Blazers forward Toumani Camara (33) in the fourth quarter at Moda Center. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Like the Knicks, they’ve dropped four of their past five and are coming off three straight defeats to some of the worst teams in the NBA — the Wizards, Raptors and Grizzlies. 

Doc Rivers may have made a mistake by leaving broadcasting. 

But the Knicks don’t want to fall in a ditch again versus Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dame Lillard.

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