NEW YORK — Kyle O’Quinn and Maurice Ndour passed reporters head-down, like disguised bank robbers headed for the getaway van. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek took nearly twice the usual time to appear for his post-game press conference.
Carmelo Anthony was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, reporters combed through the locker room like bloodhounds.
That’s because after Hornacek announced pregame only Mindaugas Kuzminskas (stomach flu) would sit out, starting point guard Derrick Rose was a no-show for New York’s 110-96 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans (15-24) on Monday — the team’s eighth loss in their last nine games.
Brandon Jennings is starting tonight versus @PelicansNBA - Derrick Rose is not with the team.— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) January 10, 2017
“Right now we don’t have enough information to really give you anything, so that’s just gonna have to wait until we hear something from Derrick himself,” Hornacek said after the game, addressing reporters before questions were asked. “I’m sure you guys will find out when Derrick comes back. If he’s got some comments, he’ll comment on that, but we’re not gonna talk about it.”
The last time Courtney Lee had spoken to Rose, it was during shootaround Monday morning. Everything was normal, he said — there was no indication Rose wouldn’t be with the team for their matchup against the Pelicans.
But just 40 minutes ahead of tip-off time, Brandon Jennings found out he would start. Rose wasn’t going to be with the team, and no one had an explanation why.
“[We’re] definitely concerned. Definitely a situation I’ve never been in,” Jennings said. “He’s a big part of this team. Our starting point guard. So I just hope everything is [ok].”
“All we can do is hope that he’s alright,” Lee added. “It’s probably something that’s very serious. And so as a teammate, I’m just praying that everything is alright for him.”
Joakim Noah later said he’d spoken to Rose after the game and that “he’s OK.” ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne tweeted Rose’s absence was due to a family-related matter and reported he returned back to Chicago.
According to sources Rose told the team he had a family situation.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) January 10, 2017
Hornacek had benched Rose for two consecutive fourth quarters in a win over Milwaukee and a loss to Indiana. When asked if there was an argument over the benching, the Knicks coach said “no.”
According to source, Rose had conversation tonight with Knicks GM Steve Mills.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) January 10, 2017
Without Rose, the Knicks got blasted by a New Orleans team entering Monday night 10 games below .500. Jennings scored 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting, but the team was visibly unsettled by the absence of their starting guard.
“[His absence] was definitely a dagger to the team, you can’t replace what he does for us,” Lee said. “Other than that you got guys that are ready to step up and play. Brandon stepped up and played well today. So it’s not Derrick’s fault. It’s the guys that suited up today. It’s our fault.”
Like Rose, New York’s defense was not with the team.
The Pelicans made 12 of their 27 three-point attempts, good for 44.4 percent as a team. They shot nearly 50 percent from the field. The Knicks entered the fourth quarter down 91-66, the game already decided in New Orleans’ favor.
Anthony Davis exploited the Knicks in every way, scoring 40 points on 14-for-22 shooting, snatching 18 rebounds and swatting away three shot attempts. New Orleans outscored New York by 26 with their All-Star big man on the floor.
When asked what went wrong against the Pelicans, Kristaps Porzingis said, “Everything. There wasn’t really anything we were doing right.”
Anthony was ejected in the third quarter after officials assessed him a double-technical foul for having words with a referee. Kyle O’Quinn was later ejected after he was assessed a flagrant foul two for swiping down on Davis’ arm during a layup — an exchange that sent the Pelicans’ All-Star to the locker room with a bruised hip.
Weeks after the Knicks stood third in the Eastern Conference with a 14-10 record, the team has fallen into a tailspin. New York has lost 11 of its last 14 games. Defense has been the central issue for a team ranking 26th in defensive efficiency.
It’s an issue Knicks’ linchpin Kristaps Porzingis feels, if corrected, can shift the team’s direction as a whole.
“I feel like this year, once we get the defense right, that can fix a lot of problems for us. That can win games for us,” said Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with nine points on 3-for-13 shooting. “The defensive ends can give us some sort of positive energy on the offense end. Offensively we are struggling s well, but that is not the problem”