Yes, ask any NBA player on a team outside of the Bobcats and they’ll probably tell you the same thing: “I’m going out there like we’re gonna win the whole thing.” You have to. But for the Knicks, now that they’ve won six in a row, have the NBA’s newest sensation and all the momentum, a deep playoff run could be feasible once again. Renaldo Balkman hasn’t had as big of an impact on his return to New York as he would’ve liked, but he says he’s stayed ready to play regardless.
On the year, the former Knick, who was traded away and then brought back home again to the Big Apple, is averaging 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds for the 14-15 Knicks. But he’s used to this role: come in off the bench to give energy and defense.
I caught up with Balkman recently during the height of Linsanity to talk of course, Lin, but also his favorite spots to eat in NYC, what makes every player go harder in the Big Apple and also what’s in store for the Knicks the rest of the way.
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Dime: What was wrong with the Knicks to start the season?
Renaldo Balkman: It’s a lockout you know? Normally you start off the season preparing yourself to play basketball. But our time to prepare was short. Training camp was short. We had to mesh together quick. You started off slow, picked it up… But it’s all about meshing together. It took like eight, nine games to get all them kinks out.
When you start like that you never know what happens.
Dime: Is chemistry the only thing that’s gotta come together or are their specific things the team has to do a better job at?
RB: Not really. What I mean by that is it’s basketball. You never know what happens. A guy can go for 50 one night, 40 or 30, and then the next night get 20. You never know, on any given night.
We play so many games. If you go on a 15-game losing streak, but you win 10 more, you can be right back where you wanna be at. In the East, you can win 25, 26, 30 games and you’re in the playoffs. That’s what you’re playing for: The playoffs. When you get to the playoffs, it’s a different season.
Dime: Has your preparation/schedule been different with the condensed season?
RB: Our whole team is a little bit off, but I mean I’m going to gel, work hard, practice. I’m just waiting for that chance to get back on that court. Everybody knows I’m a hard worker, and I gotta stay ready. Every time they call my name, I gotta be ready. Yeah, that whole team is a little bit off though, but I’m working on it. It’s hard to come back… it’s hard to play one game and sit 20 and play another. But you gotta go in and give it your all you know what I mean?
Dime: Is there anything in particular you do to stay ready?
RB: We play almost every other day or every day. I still have to go to the gym, work out, life weights, do all the things I have to do because if I didn’t y’all would hear about it. I’d be getting fined or whatever. I still work hard. I still condition because you never know. I go back to what I said about scoring points: it’s the minutes. I don’t get no minutes. I don’t play. The one night he might throw me in the game for 30 minutes. I have to be ready. I’ve conditioned myself to stay in shape, stay fit so when he do call my name I can get it done to the best of my ability.
Dime: Are you surprised by Jeremy Lin?
RB: Ahhh. Man, I mean he’s a ballplayer. He’s a professional athlete. People aren’t surprised because you gotta think, we’re playing at the highest level of basketball. Yeah he didn’t get no minutes. He hasn’t been playing. But now he’s averaging 25 a game. That’s great. He’s doing well for the job. More power to him. But people gotta remember, we’re still pros. It’s like he comes off the bench and gives somebody 25 points, or play 25 minutes. That’s what we do. We get paid to be the best players in the world.
Dime: With Carmelo, he’s taken some criticism this year. How do you think he’s played? You’ve played with him for a while. Anything different about this year?
RB: Nah. Like I said, the only difference about this year is all of the games. It’s not just him. It’s a lot of other guys in the NBA too who are getting hurt, the little things that sit in the back. ‘Melo has a mind frame of winning. Every time he steps on the court, he wants to win. He likes to play hard. That’s the mentality with him and the team. He gets the team ready to go every night. I feel like he’s alright. But we’re in New York City. You’re going to get a lot of criticism about “Oh, we’re not winning no games. They gotta blame it on somebody.” But when we start winning games, everybody is gonna be on our back. It’s give and take. You gotta deal with it. But when we win, it’s gonna be all positive again.
Dime: Do you guys have different roles than when you were with the Nuggets?
RB: No. I feel like I just changed to a different name on my jersey. Same old. Play hard when your number is called or your name, go out there and play like it’s your last game.
Be the best athlete on the court. That’s what he is at times.