GREENBURGH, N.Y. - With another decidedly imperfect season winding down, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni Saturday maintained that "we are trying as hard as we can try" and that the slog through a 28-51 record has not deterred the team from its longer-range plan.
"We developed young players and got a lot of cap room," he reminded. "That's what we wanted to do."
During a second-period stretch of their 118-103 loss to the Orlando Magic on Friday night, the Knicks used a lineup with three players - J.R. Giddens, Earl Barron and Bill Walker - who, a year ago, spent time in the NBA's Development League, plus rookie Toney Douglas.
That, against a team that played in last year's NBA Finals. Now, with only three games to go - against Miami Sunday and Washington Monday at the Garden and at Toronto on Wednesday - D'Antoni is down to "Can you go forward? Can you get these guys better?"
The season, he insisted, "has been worth it. It's always worth it. There's 30 [head coach] jobs in the NBA. You're working with the best athletes in the world. We don't have as many as some others do. I hate losing and I hate seasons like this, but as long as you're headed in the right direction . . ."
He cited the feeling of accomplishment in the progress of rookie Danilo Gallinari, who scored 28 points Friday night, David Lee's emergence as an All-Star and how Wilson Chandler "is starting to break out."
D'Antoni admitted that the cavalcade of losses has tested his own patience. "You get a little frustrated," he said. "But you just have to look at the overall picture. There's no way you're throwing your hands up. You just have to go forward. You get ticked off, rant and rave, but - and I hate to use the expression - but it is what it is."
Lee pointed to the Garden crowds - fifth highest in the league at 19,487 per game - that have provided an "atmosphere that feels like a playoff atmosphere."
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