The losses had begun to pile up, and given his lineup changes to accelerate the youth movement, it may not have seemed as if Knicks coach David Fizdale was promoting the culture of winning as a habit.
That, he insisted, was not true. “Oh, man, we’re fighting for our lives, for one,” Fizdale said before the Knicks faced the Nets on Monday night. “I really want these guys to feel a victory because we’ve been right there in the battle for a few games. So obviously I’m trying to do everything I can to get these guys a win. I don’t want to go out of the plan to try to get that done.”
When the Knicks quickly fell behind, Fizdale called a timeout 2:23 into the game, taking a seat in front of his starting unit and staring at them in disbelief for a moment. Then the Knicks turned the game around, building leads of as many as 25 points to capture a much-needed 115-96 win at Madison Square Garden.
The win took the stress off a five-game losing streak that had the potential to get even longer, with Indiana coming to the Garden on Wednesday and the Knicks then heading out on the road. Instead — for a night at least — they got to exhale.
“We needed it,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who suffered a cut to his lip when he took an elbow to the mouth in the second quarter. “We talked earlier today in shootaround and we all made it an emphasis: To get back on track, we need to start with tonight. We got these stretch of games where we can go out there and try to do our best to win all of them and get ourselves back in contention. We were focused today and we got the job done for today. Time to move on.”
The Knicks could get more positive news. They are expected to have Kevin Knox back for practice Tuesday and possibly even for Wednesday’s game.
It may not mean much in a season that promises to have a lot more losses than wins, but it relieved a bit of mounting pressure. It not only was the losses but the clear displeasure of Enes Kanter to be pulled from the starting lineup in favor of the youth movement.
Kanter is a free agent at season’s end, and his resumé was heading down a dark path with a lottery-bound team and a bench role. While he repeatedly mouthed “I’m going to lead the second unit,” he did it while rolling his eyes.
He made his case after the Knicks started slowly, finishing with 15 points and 15 rebounds off the bench.
While Mitchell Robinson played less than six minutes in the half as the starting center and Kanter played nearly 17 minutes, Robinson did help spur a third-quarter explosion that opened the lead to 85-67 entering the fourth quarter. The 7-1 rookie got the crowd on its feet as he stole a pass and dribbled the length of the court, taking off far from the rim and dunking to finish the fast break.
Robinson had 11 points, shot 5-for-5 and had three rebounds, a block and a steal. Frank Ntilikina had his second straight solid outing as the starting point guard, piling up 16 points, five rebounds and four assists. Hardaway led seven Knicks in double figures with 25 points and a career-best eight assists. Spencer Dinwiddie had 17 points for the Nets.
“You want to just keep your guys encouraged that what they’re doing, there’s some fruits to that labor,” Fizdale said. “You want them to feel that joy of victory. For me, it’s just relief. But you want them to see that all the hard work they’re putting in is turning into something for them. We understand that this league is going to be unforgiving to us, but we want to try to get every win we can.”