Pull up a chair, young Knicks fans, for a story about what it used to mean when the Chicago Bulls came to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks.
There were stars, the brightest in the game, Patrick Ewing trying to live up to Michael Jordan. There was bad blood between the teams, and often real blood being cleaned up after a nasty blow was delivered. Back then, Phil Jackson was dubbed the Zen Master by Jeff Van Gundy and really seemed worthy of the title, hard to imagine as that may be for a fan who knows Jackson just from his tenure running the Knicks.
And on Monday, there was something different, including a rare win by the Knicks, who ended a six-game losing streak with a 113-105 victory over the Bulls. Luke Kornet scored 24 points, Kevin Knox added 19 and Mitchell Robinson had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Knicks. Robin Lopez scored 29 points and JaKarr Sampson added 22 for the Bulls.
The Bulls came into the Garden, fittingly on April Fools’ Day, with a record that was 6 1⁄2 games better than the Knicks but still down in the depths of the NBA standings, and with only one of their regular starters in place, Lopez.
While the others sat out with an assortment of injuries, in their place were Shaquille Harrison, Walt Lemon Jr., Wayne Selden Jr. and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Not exactly Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and not even Otto Porter Jr. and Kris Dunn.
Then the Knicks countered with news just before the game that Dennis Smith Jr. was out with a sore lower back, joining Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier and Noah Vonleh among their injured. DeAndre Jordan, the most established player on the roster, likely was sitting just because, well, why not?
The Knicks (15-62) have not clinched the worst record in the NBA (Phoenix is 18-60), but they have assured themselves of finishing with one of the three worst records, all of which will have equal odds for the top pick in the NBA Draft lottery. The Bulls (21-57) have the fourth-worst record and still could slip into the bottom three if they work really hard at it.
Knicks coach David Fizdale again was left to explain why the team should and would continue to play hard.
“I just think for both of these teams, you’ve got a lot of young players,” he said. “You’ve got some guys that are free agents. These are important minutes for either their growth or for their future. Like I told our guys, don’t take any of it light. So we really stressed to the guys to play the game the right way.”
The Knicks long since gave up playing their best players. They traded most of the veterans, waived Enes Kanter and Wes Matthews, and went with an assortment of players in a rotation that has little chance on most nights.
Jordan is an odd case. He’s a player who could have helped a contender, but after he joined the Knicks in the Kristaps Porzingis trade Jan. 31, he opted not to ask out even though he is a free agent at season’s end. He still started most nights and even played 34 minutes last week against his former team, the Clippers.
But when Fizdale put Robinson in the starting lineup Saturday, he opted not to play Jordan at all.
“It was as needed,” Fizdale said of his decision not only to remove Jordan from the starting lineup for the final seven games but also to not play him. “I’m not going to throw him in a bad situation. That’s just out of respect. I’m not going to throw him out there. It has to be something where we really need his body.”
Notes & quotes: Fizdale was asked about stories that the Knicks were aware of the sexual assault allegations against Kristaps Porzingis, but he had little to say. “Obviously, you never want to see anybody go through anything like that,” he said. “But other than that, I don’t have no comment.”