GREENBURGH, N.Y. — In the wake of franchise-record losing streaks, overall and at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks have actually put together a week of solid play, winning three of their last four games.
And that is a bit of a cause for panic among the fan base.
The Knicks have ascended from the worst record in the NBA to the second-worst mark, 1 1⁄2 games ahead of Phoenix after Tuesday’s win over Orlando. They are a game behind Cleveland, which arrives at Madison Square Garden Thursday night for a game with possible ramifications on the Ping-Pong ball chase in the NBA Draft Lottery.
While all three of the worst teams in the league will have an equal 14-percent chance of getting the top overall pick, there is a difference depending on where you land in the standings. The worst team can only drop as far as No. 5 in the draft while the second-worst team can fall to No 6 and so on.
But if wins mean little in a season that has the Knicks at 13-48 and a roster stocked with all but a handful of players who are likely gone this summer, the Knicks insist that they are only playing to win.
“To me, my focus is always culture,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “I’m not wired to lose on purpose. I can’t even get my body to function that way or my mind to function that way. I’m lucky because Steve [Mills] and Scott [Perry] and Mr. [James] Dolan have all said to me, you play every game to win and you don’t worry about where we land in the draft and all of that stuff.
“We didn’t know how this year was going to turn out, if we were going to get off to a great start or a slow start or whatever. We just were going to try to get better every day and try to win every game. However this thing works out, where the waves go, we’re going to just ride them out and where we end up at the end of the year, that’s where we end up.”
“I don’t care how they feel about us winning,” Emmanuel Mudiay said. “We don’t play to lose. Every time we come out here we want to win games. I don’t think nobody in this locker room has a losing mentality, I don’t think none of the coaching staff has a losing mentality. We just want to go out there and compete.”
While Fizdale has played to win, the Knicks haven’t exactly put together a roster with a playoff chase in mind. They have traded away the team’s leading scorer, Tim Hardaway Jr., as well as the centerpiece of the franchise, Kristaps Porzingis. They released Enes Kanter and Wes Matthews and have handed key minutes and roles to players like Henry Ellenson, who logged more minutes in his second game with the team (36) than he had played all season combined to that point (29).
Still, Fizdale insists that he doesn’t listen to the calls for Zion Williamson or read the stories or social media.
“I don’t even know if they’re saying that,” he said. “You all are telling me this. This is new to me. I don’t listen. There’s a lot of stuff that happens and I don’t even know what’s happening out there in the world. The only thing I’m focused on is what’s happening in this gym.”
He was part of an Atlanta Hawks staff that won 13 games in 2004-05 and couldn’t recall any calls for the losing to continue to get a better draft pick, but he’s not surprised it’s happening now.
“No, no, because New York’s a different beast,” Fizdale said. “This is a different monster. Our fans are totally vested in the future of what we’re going to do. You definitely hear more voices and more opinions here. That’s fine. That just makes me feel good that we’ve got a heck of a fan base.”