And so the streak has reached the Bittersweet 16.
The Knicks have tied the longest losing streak in franchise history with the loss to the Raptors and extended another franchise mark of futility at home to 16 straight, as well.
Last season, with 18 games left on the schedule, I wrote the Knicks may be 100 games away from being competitive again. There are 27 games away from finishing those 100 games and this season.
“We understand what this year is,” David Fizdale said. “Whatever happens to us this year will not make us crack or waver.”
It’s what happens as a result of the losing that could determine if all this losing results in one of the biggest wins in franchise history: the draft lottery. May 14, when the drawing is held, is the next most important date on the calendar.
And as Duke’s Zion Williamson continues to dominate the college game, continues to draw comparisons to past greats, and continues to defy gravity with his spectacular plays, all this losing has to pay off, doesn’t it?
“Oh I can’t answer that, my man,” Fizdale replied when a reporter asked him specifically about Williamson.
The Knicks coach, who by NBA rules isn’t allowed to comment on college players, sidestepped the question about the projected top prize in the draft this year by saying, “I’m just focused on who we have right now. I don’t let myself get into the hypothetical world. I live in the now.”
And in the now, the Knicks again offered a little glimpse into what things could be like in the future with moments throughout the game where the packed Garden roared with delight at highlight-film plays. Teenage rookie Kevin Knox had 20 points and made 4 of 9 from three-point range while DeAndre Jordan had 10 points and 18 rebounds.
Jordan and the Knicks, despite it being the second game of a back-to-back, showed great early energy and scored 14 straight points early in the game to take a 14-3 lead. Several of the scores were alley-oops and dunks. Dennis Smith Jr. had the building jumping after he tossed a pass off the backboard on the break that Jordan caught and slammed home.
Remember when Kevin Durant compared the Garden to “a playground with walls” and that it “feels like you’re playing at Rucker Park indoors”? That stretch — perhaps the most fun segment of basketball at the Garden in about two months — is what he meant.
But the veteran Raptors endured the early frenzy, which saw the Knicks build a 17-5 lead, and took a two point lead after one. They were up 46-42 at the half and led by as many as 13 points in the third. Fizdale’s group, as they’ve done for most of the season, made a scrappy effort to get back into the game. They tied it early in the fourth, held an 86-85 lead with 7:20 to go and were within one with five minutes left.
But Long Island’s Danny Green (14 points) shut the door with a couple of dagger threes and Kyle Lowry (22 points) used all the veteran savvy he collected over his career to make the winning plays late.
It sent the Knicks to yet another loss, it sent them closer to the end of the season. It sent them towards May 14 and that 14% chance at turning all this losing into what could be the most critical win of the century.
– Mitchell Robinson continues to emerge as an impact-player off the bench. He had a career-high 15 points and seven rebounds with three blocks in 22:29 against Toronto and he seems like a different player since DeAndre Jordan arrived and started mentoring him. Since the trade, Robinson is averaging 11.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 19.8 minutes per game, while keeping his fouls (2.5 per game) under control. In six games before the trade, Robinson was averaging 7.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in 18.1 minutes and 3.0 fouls per game. There is a lot of evidence of the 20-year-old starting to find himself as an NBA player and his confidence is growing, along with his “voice” on defense, which is something Jordan has been teaching him.
– Smith Jr. struggled throughout this game against Lowry, who is a very physical, crafty old school guard who made the 21-year-old work on defense, got him into early foul trouble and made him pay for going under the screen. A night after he scored a career-high 31 points, Smith had 13 points on 4 of 17 shooting. Fizdale said Smith looked tired from carrying the load the night before — this is typical for most young players — and so the coach tried to stress with him throughout the game to not show his fatigue or his frustration in his body language. Always a teaching moment.
– Down the stretch, as the Knicks were trying to go toe-to-toe with the best team in the division, there was G-League callup Kadeem Allen, now on a two-way contract, playing critical minutes and making big shots and big pays. Allen finished with a career-high 14 points and had 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in 27:46 off the bench. “He’s a tough little runt,” Fizdale said with a proud smile of Allen, a 26 year old in his second NBA stint. “I love him. I really do. He fits my personality.”
– The Knicks still have a few roster spots open after releasing Enes Kanter and Wes Matthews. According to the New York Post, the team will sign veteran John Jenkins to a 10-day contract. The 27 year old guard has played five season in the NBA for the Hawks, Mavericks and Suns and had just finished a 10-day stint with the Wizards. Jenkins spent most of the season with the Knicks G-League team in Westchester, where he averaged 25 points per game and, more importantly, shot 43.2% from three-point range.
– Kawhi Leonard, one of the big names in the Generation K free agency this summer, made his first appearance of the season at the Garden and it came and went with far less media coverage than Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Leonard, who missed Thursday’s game with knee soreness, had a quiet game, with 11 points on four of 15 shooting. When asked about his future, Leonard said, “I want to focus on this season. We’re going to get there. We can talk about the game.” He did offer some interesting insight to his future by saying, “I’ll just talk to people to see what I want to do.” The Knicks do expect to at least get the chance to meet with Leonard in July. As for the Garden crowd, which had pockets of Raptors fans who took advantage of the secondary ticket market for a Saturday night game in New York, Leonard sounded like he appreciated the support of the New York crowd despite the team’s struggles. “They still come out and support the team, even with a losing record,” he said. “That’s what you want from an organization that you’re playing for.”