Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek is downplaying Tuesday night's return to Phoenix, where he served as head coach for a year and a half before getting fired midway through last season.
"I've never really been that way even when I was traded to different cities to go back," Hornacek said, according to Al Iannazzone of Newsday . "To me, it's another game probably. You get to go back to Phoenix to see a lot of people you know. You try not to make it a distraction where you're talking to everybody and seeing everybody."
Hornacek added that the focus is on the game, but Knicks PG Brandon Jennings mentioned the Phoenix connection.
"We want to win one for Jeff in Phoenix," he said.
As Hornacek returns to Phoenix, it's easy to look back at the success he did have there. The Suns rolled out uniquely structured small ball lineups and were favorably known for their run and gun style.
When Hornacek was hired to coach the Knicks, his arrival obviously came as a surprise to many because he isn't a triangle offense disciple. Moreover, New York's free agent acquisitions (headlined by Joakim Noah) were not specifically catered to Hornacek's respective style or preferences.
But as the Knicks sit pretty with a 14-10 record, they've done more of what Hornacek is known for than initially thought. While a more traditional lineup featuring Noah is often what the team starts out with, Hornacek has been quick to utilize smaller lineups, especially during crunch time.
Carmelo Anthony has once again found success at power forward, spotting up as one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the NBA this season. When he's not cashing in on fluent passes in transition, Anthony's been able to post up smaller defenders down low.
Noah's arrival was supposed to take pressure off Kristaps Porzingis underneath the basket. With the young gun averaging 9.3 rebounds and three blocks this month, he's clearly been able to hold his own while manning the middle. He's done so late in games against formidable opposing big men.
Conversely, Noah's role is diminishing, with 20.4 minutes per contest this month. He's been depended on less, but not much has been made of it due to how well this team is doing. When the situation calls for it, however, Hornacek isn't afraid to go a bit bigger. Kyle O'Quinn has gained more favor with this new coaching staff. He's in great shape, allowing him to be a better fit than Noah in certain instances.
Truly pushing the tempo, Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings complement each other well in the backcourt. The Knicks are built thinly at point guard, but playing these two together keeps opposing defenses on their toes. Their ability to penetrate and find teammates closer to the basket helps New York get up and down the court quicker. In turn, they have more opportunities to score early and often.
At first glance, the Knicks might not look like the kind of team built for success under Hornacek. Nevertheless, he's done a great job of making things work with the pieces available to him. He's plugging the right guys in at all the appropriate times. In the meantime, New York is amping things up much quicker than many expected.