That’s the number David Fizdale wrote on the dry erase board in the locker room after the game. It represents the number of turnovers his team committed in this loss, their first game back from the All-Star break. And those 23 turnovers led to another number that needs to be written on the board before the team’s next game, Sunday against the Spurs.
That’s how many consecutive losses the Knicks now have at the Garden. It’s been a franchise record for a while already and now it’s on the verge of being an NBA record. The Dallas Mavericks lost 19 straight home games in 1993-94, which is the longest streak in NBA history. The Knicks are currently tied with the Philadelphia 76ers (2013-14) for the second-longest.
While the team went into the break with a win at Atlanta to end their overall losing streak, it’s been almost three months since Knicks fans have celebrated a win in the Garden. They come out of the break with four straight home games, which provides an opportunity. But will it come before dubious history is made?
This game seemed like it was setting up perfectly to end the streak at 17, with news of Timberwolves all-star Karl-Anthony Towns sitting out after a car accident and then Daymean Dotson igniting for 18 first quarter points to push the Knicks to an early 31-23 lead. But Minnesota’s veteran-laden bench took over from there as the trio of Derrick Rose (20 points), Anthony Tolliver (16 points, 4 threes) and Luol Deng (two blocks, steal, +23) frustrated the Knicks at both ends of the floor.
Minnesota had 13 steals, three by Rose, and forced 23 Knicks turnovers, which led to 20 points off turnovers. The Knicks have had myriad issues this season, but taking care of the ball wasn’t one of them. They are 12th in the league with fewest turnovers per game at 13.8.
“Some forced plays,” Fizdale said. “Some really careless plays.”
Dennis Smith Jr. had five turnovers and combined with Emmanuel Mudiay for nine from the point guard position. The offense lacked pace and flow, which could have to do with new players and combinations still getting to know each other and the first game back from the break. But no one wanted to hear any of that.
“Can’t use the break as an excuse” said Mudiay, who returned to the lineup after missing the final 12 games before the break with a shoulder injury.
Mudiay had started the previous 32 games before his injury, but with the arrival of Smith Jr., he was relegated to the backup role. But with Smith Jr. turning the ball over, Fizdale went with Mudiay for most of the second half.
“I just went for the gamble because ‘Mud’ started getting it going,” Fizdale explained. “I just rolled with it.”
Mudiay finished with 15 points and 6 rebounds with 3 steals in 26:20. He was 6 for 16 from the floor, however, with just one assist.
But in comparison, Smith Jr., aside from a powerful dunk on a drive down the middle early in the game, played with inconsistent energy in this one. He was having similar games before the break and Fizdale referenced a need for Smith to improve his conditioning. Keep in mind, the 21-year-old also went to All-Star Weekend and participated in the Slam Dunk contest and still hasn’t gotten himself entirely situated in New York yet since the trade. So there’s a lot happening in his world right now.
Smith did have a team-high 7 assists, but he only took six shots in 21:40, which was odd. Fizdale admitted he sat Smith Jr. late in the game due to Mudiay’s play but also because of Smith’s decision making. “Obviously a couple of turnovers,” he said, “hurt us a little bit.”
Smith is under contract for next season, while Mudiay is playing for his next one. This could be a very interesting battle for minutes and appreciation as the season winds down.
– Towns, who is from New Jersey, sat out the game after he entered the concussion protocol following a car accident on Thursday when he was driving to the airport to meet the team plane. Towns later caught a commercial flight to New York to join his team here. He did not suffer any injuries from the crash, nor were there any details revealed, but Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said he wasn’t sure if Towns would join the team for the next stop on the trip, Milwaukee. It was the first game Towns has missed in his career, which stopped a streak of 303 consecutive starts. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that was the longest streak to begin a career since the NBA began keeping track of starters in 1970-71.
– Here’s another interesting stat involving Towns that we mentioned in the pregame Knicks Fix segment on MSG Network: He’s the ONLY player of the top 5 picks in the 2015 NBA Draft to still be with his original team. After he was taken No. 1, the next four picks: D’Angelo Russel (Lakers to Nets), Jahlil Okafor (76ers to Nets to Pelicans), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks to Mavericks) and Mario Hezonja (Magic to Knicks) have each changed teams. If you go further into the top 10, Towns is one of only FOUR players still on their original teams. The lottery is hardly an exact science.
– Dotson scored the first 11 points of the game for the Knicks and hit 6 of his first 7 shots — including 5 threes — to put up 18 points in the first quarter. It was the highest-scoring quarter by a Knicks player since Carmelo Anthony’s team-record 25-point third quarter against the Wizards on Jan. 19, 2017. For Dotson, however, it didn’t turn into the career night it was shaping up to be, as he finished the game 7 for 16, which means he made only 1 of his last 9 shots to finish with 20 points.
– Frank Ntilikina had missed 10 games with a groin injury and there was thought he may be ready to play once the team came back from the break, but he sat out again. He was re-evaluated by the team’s medical staff on Friday, but Fizdale after the game said he did not yet have an update. It is likely to come on Saturday at practice. This is a tough injury to deal with during a season and one that does not heal quickly and impacts movement, especially on defense. For Ntilikina, these are important games for him to get minutes and develop.
– Derrick Rose, at 30, seems to be happy again playing basketball. He’s not the superstar he once was, but he’s proving to be a very useful scorer off the bench for the Timberwolves. This season he’s averaging 18.3 points and 4.7 assists in 28.4 minutes for Minnesota, which is very similar to the numbers he posted with the Knicks in his 64-game stint in 2016-17. Rose had a terrific start to that season, but then had some personal issues that led him to leave the team abruptly and consider retiring. He returned to finish the season but wasn’t the same player. The following year he joined Cleveland and then eventually wound up in Minnesota, where he has rejuvenated his career. He drew some cheers from the Garden crowd. Of his time with the Knicks, Rose said he “loved the stage” of New York.