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Knicks fall to playoff-hungry Pacers

The New York Knicks look on late in

The New York Knicks look on late in a game against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, March 7, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Knicks had just won 54 games and captured a playoff series for the first time in 13 years when they met the Pacers in the conference semifinals. Win or lose, it appeared they had turned the corner.

That, remarkably, was only two seasons ago -- and now the only player remaining from that team, Carmelo Anthony, is on crutches.

Anthony believed the Knicks had built something despite their six-game loss to the Pacers in 2013. But they have been in a freefall since then and are well on their way to the worst season in franchise history.

The Knicks wilted down the stretch Saturday night and fell to Indiana, 92-86, at the Garden to drop to an NBA-worst 12-49. They need to go 12-9 to avoid tying the mark for the worst 82-game record in club history (23-59).

They led 71-62 with just under 10 minutes left, but the Knicks -- who lost by 23 in Indiana on Thursday night -- made only one field goal and scored four points in the last 4:49.

"I saw grit," Derek Fisher said. "I saw effort. We came up short. They finished a little stronger than we did."

Andrea Bargnani scored 21 to lead the Knicks before fouling out with 3:22 left. The Knicks were outscored 10-4 after he left the game. Tim Hardaway Jr., whose back tightened up on him in the first half, finished 0-for-9 with one point.

The Pacers, meanwhile, are in the thick of the playoff race despite being without Paul George all season, having George Hill and David West miss significant time and losing Lance Stephenson to free agency. Indiana is 11-2 since the start of February and currently is seventh in the East.

"It's a great time to be a basketball player for guys that have been in the postseason and want to get there," Fisher said. "So with April fast approaching, I'm sure they are highly motivated to get back into the postseason."

The Knicks want to be in that position when April of next year approaches. They have overhauled their roster, coaching staff and front office since their last playoff game, and many more changes are ahead.

You can criticize and question many of their moves -- and rightfully so -- but the Knicks are hoping for a quick rebuild. They likely will have a top-five pick and at least $30 million to spend in free agency in July and will try to maintain flexibility and cap room for the summer of 2016.

With a healthy Anthony, who had season-ending knee surgery last month, and a little luck in the draft, and if team president Phil Jackson can put all that money to good use, the Knicks could be in the playoff picture next season.

"I think our business has really changed a lot in that regard," Fisher said. "Even while in transition or in rebuilding or last year it doesn't look like you have a chance, it takes one move or one player or one really good season to kind of springboard everything else into existence."

Jackson and Fisher are evaluating whether players on this team can be a part of the Knicks' future. Anthony could be the only one left if this management group is able to put the Knicks back on the winning track.

It's been a major change for Fisher, a first-time coach and the NBA's all-time leader in playoff games. But Pacers coach Frank Vogel believes it can turn out to be a positive experience for him.

"I think if everybody has the right perspective on it, it's not that tough a situation," Vogel said. "It's a situation where he's getting his feet wet as a new coach, as a young coach. And there's an understanding that they're building toward the future.

"I've heard that he keeps perspective on that -- it is a rebuilding job -- then it's a good situation for him to kind of cut his teeth in this profession as a coach. He's got a great boss, one of the legends of the game, that he's going to get a chance to work for. I think it's a good situation for him. He's got a long-term contract and a chance to rebuild it the right way."

Notes & quotes: Fisher made it sound as if the Knicks aren't close to filling the 15th roster spot. He spoke highly of Thanasis Antetokounmpo, but Fisher also gave no indication that they will sign him from the D-League -- which would impact the Knicks' cap space this summer. "Thanasis' name has come up in different discussions," Fisher said. "But until it's put on my desk in a way to strongly consider it in terms of how I feel about it, I'll stay focused on what I need to do. I don't know if any decision like that is going to heavily change the direction that we're going at this point." . . . Back spasms sidelined Lou Amundson.

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