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Knicks waste big fourth-quarter lead, lose to Cavaliers

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson looks on during the

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson looks on during the second half against the Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Early in the game, the Knicks’ “highlights” included a brick thrown up by Kevin Knox, an air ball on a drive into the lane by Henry Ellenson and a jumper by Lance Thomas that caromed off the side of the backboard.

And they were winning.

That may tell you all you need to know about the battle of who couldn’t care less at the Garden between the Knicks and Cavaliers.

The Knicks led by 14 in the fourth quarter before they lost — or won, depending on whether you’re looking at the score or the ping-pong balls for the NBA Draft Lottery.

With a 125-118 loss, the Knicks (13-49) solidified their hold on the second-worst record in the league, with the Cavs (15-47) in third and the Suns (12-50) at the bottom.

While all three of the worst teams have the same 14-percent shot at the top pick, there is the danger of dropping further back. The Knicks insist they aren’t counting, but they had won three of four before this loss.

“Totally let our foot off of the gas,” coach David Fizdale said. “We got casual. We get up 10 and decided we weren’t going to get back on defense. I thought we got a little cool, got a little full of ourselves thinking that we had the game. There was a whole lot of time left in that game. They made us pay for it.”

If that’s the way he wants to take it, sure, but the fans who chanted “We want Zion” as the Knicks were outscored 40-21 in the fourth seemed to disagree.

The Knicks still led until Jordan Clarkson converted two free throws with 1:29 remaining, and the Cavs kept possession because it was called a clear-path foul. Clarkson hit an open three-pointer with 1:21 left to push Cleveland up by four.

The Knicks put on another odd display after Ellenson elbowed Ante Zizic while fighting for a rebound. With Zizic on the floor, the Knicks had a five-on-four advantage, but they misfired twice on quick shots. That was a fitting ending; they didn’t make a field goal in the final 3:50 as the Cavs scored 12 straight points to turn a 115-109 deficit into a 121-115 lead.

Player development has been the mantra for the Knicks since the preseason, and they have given extensive playing time to all three of their rookies — Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier. That has come at the expense of players who certainly could have provided a more consistent win-now formula, but the Knicks took their playing time and then waived or traded as many as they could, leaving them with the current group.

“The growth, if we could say what we’ve seen up to this point, if we would have known that at the beginning of the year, I think we would have taken it,” Fizdale said. “With what Zo has done, what Kevin has done and what Mitchell has done — all three guys have shown great promise.”

The results have been mixed, and maybe that’s expected with a young group getting so much playing time. Robinson has emerged as the most consistent of the trio — posting back-to-back double-doubles heading into this game, each with at least five blocked shots. He had 12 points Thursday. Trier, after a long stretch of struggles, led the Knicks with 22 points off the bench against the Cavs.

Knox has been an enigma, the lottery pick who shows great potential. But at 19 years old, he has been prone to ups and downs, and after shooting 3-for-16 Tuesday, he had eight points and shot 3-for-12 Thursday.

“I want him to stay aggressive,” Fizdale said. “I like that shot total. As long as he’s staying aggressive, I’m OK with it.”

New York Sports