TORONTO — For much of Wednesday night’s game in Toronto, the Knicks looked exactly as you would expect in a matchup between the worst team in the Eastern Conference and the defending NBA champion. They were humiliated, 126-98.
As the score turned more and more lopsided, the Knicks hoped that even if a win was impossible, at least a lesson could be learned.
“Let’s hope,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “We’ll see as we move forward. That’s definitely a team you want to learn a lot from because when it comes to effort, energy, that team is one of the hardest-playing teams and one of the most selfless teams in the league.”
The schedule will not get easier for the reeling Knicks (4-14). They are in the midst of a brutal stretch — the 76ers at Madison Square Garden on Friday night before they host Boston and head to Milwaukee. Denver and Indiana arrive, and then it’s off on a four-game West Coast trip.
After a 17-65 season in 2018-19, the Knicks again are in free fall. The makeover in the summer didn’t bring stars, and for their $70 million free-agency layout, they have an odd assortment of ill-fitting pieces that can’t seem to play together.
What they could see in the Raptors was that if they can’t compete with the talent, they can at least play that hard and that smart.
“We’ve just got to really trust each other, trust the game and play that way consistently for 48 minutes,” Julius Randle said. “We do it in spurts but not for a full game. That hurts us.”
Fizdale points to the Knicks’ close losses and even a brief burst Wednesday, an early run that had them leading the Raptors 32-21 in the opening minute of the second quarter. But they were overrun quickly, falling behind by 18 in the opening minute of the third quarter. They fell behind by 34 with 70 seconds left in the game.
Toronto not only had the talent to overwhelm them but played harder on both ends. The Raptors matched a franchise record with 21 three-point field goals.
“The message to the team is trust,” Fizdale said. “Right now we’re still fighting that fight to trust each other offensively and defensively. You saw the ball moved in that first quarter without hesitation. We got to the second quarter, guys were holding the ball too long. And they’ve just got to trust the easy play and trust the pass.
“Same thing defensively. If you get beat, you’ve got to trust that you know that this guy is going to be there for you to protect you and the next guy is going to protect the next guy. That’s just something we haven’t done consistently throughout a full game. Constantly we’re fighting for that. We’ve got to trust for 48 minutes.”
Notes & quotes: When the Knicks emptied the bench in the fourth quarter Wednesday, it gave Allonzo Trier an opportunity to get on the court for the first time since Nov. 12. “Any opportunity you get, especially in a blowout game like that, that’s an opportunity for him to find a rhythm, for a guy like Iggy [Brazdeikis] to get out there and play in front of his hometown,” Fizdale said. “Those minutes were good minutes for [Damyean Dotson] and Kevin [Knox] to get out there. So you know, there’s no perfect formula for that stuff. But if you get an opportunity to give a chance to find some rhythm and play some ball, you take it.”