Knicks forward Kevin Knox is down on the court with...

Knicks forward Kevin Knox is down on the court with an injury as play continues during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, March 24, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

David Fizdale consistently has insisted that he isn’t thinking about this summer's free-agent pursuit and that he isn’t peeking at the top draft prospects on display in the NCAA Tournament. But it would be hard to blame him for seeking some sort of distraction.

What he has in his command right now is a Knicks roster that is stumbling to the finish line with eight games remaining and a good shot at the worst record in franchise history. But what he might not have — and why he might want to start thinking about the potential lottery picks — is the two most recent lottery picks.

All that is left for Fizdale is to try to coax a little more development out of the young players who are under contract beyond this season. The two most intriguing remain Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in 2017, and Kevin Knox, the No. 9 overall pick in 2018.

Knox, whom Fizdale had praised for his growth through a difficult season just a day earlier, suffered a sprained right ankle Sunday. After injuring the ankle late in the first half against the Clippers, he headed straight to the locker room and did not return.

Ntilikina had just returned to the lineup Friday after missing 24 straight games with a groin strain. He played 25 minutes Friday, and in just seven minutes Sunday, he again felt soreness and was shut down.

“I know it got really sore on him the last time he went out there,” Fizdale said of Ntilikina after the game. “So we’re just going to wait to hear from the doctors here. We just wanted to be cautious because that’s such a delicate injury that we don’t want to push it to a point where it can get worse. So we’ll find out.”

With an NBA-worst 14-60 record, the Knicks should be using these final games to provide opportunities for the young players under contract. Fans seeking reasons for optimism and  players in need of a highlight  could benefit from that.

Frank Ntilikina #11 of the Knicks looks on from the bench...

Frank Ntilikina #11 of the Knicks looks on from the bench against the Sacramento Kings at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Instead the Knicks, if they are without the two lottery picks, are left with games like Sunday. Emmanuel Mudiay, a long shot to return after this season, was their leading scorer with 26 points, taking a team-high 19 shots in 35 minutes as the Knicks lost their fourth straight and 12th in the last 13 games.

The rookie whom the team is  calling a success story, second-round pick Mitchell Robinson, played only 13 minutes. Fizdale kept DeAndre Jordan on the floor for 34 minutes against his former team, the Clippers.

“Two reasons. He was playing really well and that’s his old team,” Fizdale said. “And all of our guys understand that. If you’re playing and you’re battling against your old squad, you’re going to play. It’s like [Mudiay] against Denver. Out of respect, I wanted to give him that opportunity to do that, but he was making it easy for me. He was everywhere. Blocking shots, he was on that rim, he was making post moves. He was doing a little bit of everything.

“You’re around this thing long enough, you know guys when they see their old squad, they’ve put some time and some years in, they want to go at them. I know where that’s at. And he made it easy on me. He went out and he played his butt off.”

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