PHOENIX - Phil Jackson joked about destroying the Knicks, but in all seriousness, Derek Fisher is concerned about how all of these lopsided and demoralizing defeats are affecting the players.
The Knicks have some healthy veterans, but many of their players are young, unproven guys who experienced success in college. Now, in nearly every game, the Knicks are being blown off the floor.
The Suns pulled away late Sunday night and handed the Knicks a 102-89 loss to end their five-game western road trip at 1-4. One night earlier, the Knicks lost by 31 at Golden State and were outscored 81-36 during a 23-minute stretch.
The only saving grace is that the Knicks (13-53) have only 16 games left in a season that in all likelihood will go down as the worst in franchise history.
"My concerns are always about them," Fisher said. "I've seen it all, done it all, experienced it all. So there isn't anything that will rattle me. But my concerns are about them and how are they going to respond to things and the impact it'll have on them as players and as people."
Andrea Bargnani and Alexey Shved each had 18 for the Knicks. Eric Bledsoe had 21 points and 11 assists for the Suns (35-33).
The Knicks were getting beaten badly even before Carmelo Anthony had season-ending left knee surgery, Amar'e Stoudemire was bought out and Jose Calderon injured his Achilles.
Now Fisher is consistently starting three players whom the Knicks originally signed to 10-day contracts -- Langston Galloway, Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas -- along with Shved, who is playing for his third team this season.
The Knicks are 3-10 since the All-Star break. Seven of the losses were by at least 18 points, six by at least 21 and two by at least 31. In two of the games, the Knicks trailed by at least 40 points. "They're not talented enough to win a 48-minute game," Jackson said last week. "We understand that. But they can be competitive. That's what we want to see."
The fact that Jackson readily admits their lack of talent is an indictment of his performance as Knicks president. But he also has taken full responsibility. Jackson called this season "a project gone awry." But that doesn't help the players who take the constant beatings home with them, or Fisher, for that matter.
"It's tough," Galloway said. "But at the same time, you're just trying to continue to battle because you know this is going to continue to make us better."
Jackson and Fisher are secure. Each signed a five-year contract and between them will be paid $85 million. But many of the Knicks are playing for their next contracts. Of their healthy bodies, only Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cleanthony Early have guaranteed deals for next season. Galloway has a partial guarantee.
Fisher continues to be positive. One way he's tried to keep the players engaged is by telling them they are auditioning for their next jobs.
"This is tough for these guys, to have the losses that we have and to have these experiences," Fisher said. "We just keep encouraging them to keep going and make sure that they realize that people are still watching you perform. So you still need to do yourself a favor and play the game the way a professional should play."
Jackson said several players will be back next season because he doesn't believe that adding eight new players would help chemistry. But no Knick feels safe, and they're trying to take Fisher's message to heart.
"We can't let everything come crumbling down right now," said Jason Smith, who will be a free agent. "We just got to keep fighting to stay together, finish this season out on a strong note."
Notes & quotes: Hardaway sprained his right wrist in the first quarter and didn't return. Early exited in the third with a sprained left ankle . . . The Knicks concluded their road schedule against the Western Conference with a 1-14 record.
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