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Momentum is fickle, and over the course of an 82-game schedule, there are enough twists and turns to make sustained excellence difficult for most teams.

As recently as Dec. 20, the New York Knicks were riding high. On that date, the Knicks extended their winning streak to a season-best eight consecutive games with a 132-94 dismantling of the Golden State Warriors that seemed to confirm that all of their pieces were meshing perfectly.

The Knicks have not tasted victory since. On Thursday, they suffered their fifth consecutive defeat, a 122-115 road loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the second stop of the “Texas Triangle” that will end on Saturday against the host Houston Rockets.

The Knicks were again without guard Jalen Brunson (hip) and forward RJ Barrett (finger), and their absences have played a role in the team’s ineffective play of late. However, much of the blame can be linked to the Knicks’ defense, which has the worst defensive rating in the league — 125.6 points per possession allowed — during their losing skid.

The Knicks are 11th overall in defensive rating on the season, according to

“We’ve got to get back to our defensive ways,” said Knicks forward Julius Randle, who had 41 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in the loss to the Spurs.

“We were too spread out from the start. We were too spread out defensively and not tied together.”

Getting back on the same page will be a challenge down two starters, but the Knicks need to find a way to excel regardless. Injuries are part of every NBA season, and the teams that figure out how to succeed in spite of them are the teams that thrive.

“Defensively we’re not where we’ve got to be to win games,” Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley said. “Offensively we’ve scored enough points but defensively is where we’ve got to hang our hats and try to win.

“We don’t make any excuses. We’ve just got to be better. We’ve just got to be better overall.”

The Rockets had no excuses following their 129-114 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, their seventh setback in eight games and second to the Mavericks in seven days.

Among their most glaring deficiencies against the Mavericks was a lack of transition defense. Dallas, which ranks 29th in pace, posted a whopping 25 fast-break points in the victory.

The Rockets, who lead the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage at 34.5 percent, have been vulnerable in transition because of their relentless pounding of the offensive glass. However, what transpired in Dallas was different, a performance that requires correcting.

“We are an offensive rebounding team that goes after the offensive glass,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “You either have to be on the glass or back. We’re finding ourselves in between, and we can’t be in between. We have to be on the glass or sprinting back to not allow a team to get 25 fast-break points.

“And you also can’t stay in the backcourt trying to get steals. You’ve got to run back.”

–Field Level Media