The New York Knicks have lost three big games in a row to kick off their final long road trip of the season, and they've done it all with aching bodies, slow legs and a group of tired, old basketball players.
With huge losses to the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets, followed by a closer, yet still decisive, loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, J.R. Smith began to question the team's conviction, challenging them to play harder (Via Newsday):
We got to check out our heart right now. We either got to compete or pack up and go home. It's just that simple.
I don't mind losing. But if we just go out there and get demolished, that's a problem, especially when you're supposed to be considered one of the best teams in your division and your conference. It's just not a good look for us.
Smith seems concerned that the team doesn't have the drive to win, and on the surface, that seems to be a big portion of the problem. Losing three games by a combined 67 points will give you that vibe.
However, it seems to be more of a late-season drop-off in production thanks to the veteran nature of their roster.
In other words, they've got a bunch of old dudes who are getting tired.
Aside from Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Chris Copeland, Steve Novak and Raymond Felton, every member of the Knicks is over 30, and Shumpert is the only one under 27.
Cobble that together with injuries to Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, and it's not surprising that the Knicks have lost the past three games.
You can easily run down the list of Knicks 30 and younger and say they're the most important players to the team, but the fact that they don't have consistent relief coming off the bench in the form of young legs is a killer.
Compare their roster to the last three teams the Knicks have played.
Combined, Golden State, Portland and Denver have three players (Richard Jefferson, Andre Miller and Jared Jeffries) who are over 30, and they wouldn't come close to rivaling New York's core old three of Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas.
There should be no surprise that these teams merely had to outrun the Knicks, and they would win.
New York's tragic decline since the beginning of the season has been attributed mostly to Mike Woodson's departure from spreading the ball around and insistence upon an isolation-based offense, but it can just as easily be chalked up to injured knees and old bodies.
While the Knicks may be able to make a bit of noise in the playoffs, they're still not set up to win a championship with their current roster.
Plus, it's hard to ignore the fact that they're set up to fail in the future as well, with no cap space to add anybody of impact as the summer hurtles closer.
Sure, maybe there was a lack of effort against the Trail Blazers, but it's hard to figure out what the maximum effort would be from a team who has a 10-man rotation, five of whom are at least 35 years old.