Phil Jackson sat in his usual seat about 10 rows off the court, watching as the Knicks put the finishing touches on another lost season.
Seven games remain, but the Knicks were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for the fourth straight year with their 105-88 loss to the Heat Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Jackson became president three years ago, and has made numerous changes to the roster and coaches. But he hasn’t been able to assemble a team that can reach the postseason.
Another busy offseason awaits, and the possibility of trading Carmelo Anthony looms large. Jackson tried to move Anthony before the trade deadline. Anthony, who seems to be playing out the string, gave some cryptic responses after the loss, including that he doesn’t know his role now.
“I don’t know my role to be honest,” Anthony said. “I’m just here to help those guys and keep those guys positive and motivated and I’ll get in where I fit in.”
Anthony sounds conflicted. He said he’s helping mentor the younger guys and not looking to score 30 or 40 points. He took just two shots in the first half, and 12 in Wednesday night’s game. Anthony scored nine points. It was only the third time he was held under double-figures this season and first time since Dec. 31.
“I see the writing on the wall,” Anthony said. “I see what it is. I see what they’re trying to do and it’s just me accepting that. That’s what puts me at peace. Just knowing and understanding how things work. I’m at peace with that.”
Anthony also said he’s at peace with the Knicks (28-47) not making the playoffs again. Anthony has a no-trade clause so he has to approve any deal. But he has sounded more and more like a player with one foot out the door.
When he was asked about taking only two shots, he said, “It doesn’t do me any good. It doesn’t do the team any good. I don’t think that was by design.”
Anthony was excited to begin the season, believing Jackson put together a team that would end their postseason drought. Instead the Knicks need to go 5-2 to avoid losing at least 50 games in all three full seasons under Jackson.
But the Knicks should have at least a high draft pick at this point. They’re tied for the league’s fifth-worst record, and could continue to drop since the young guys will continue to get more playing time. It wouldn’t be surprising if Anthony sat out Friday’s game in Miami. Derrick Rose didn’t play Wednesday night because of a sore left knee.
“I think today was mathematically [eliminated] but I think the writing was on the wall prior to this,” Hornacek said. “So the other guys have played a little bit more. Maybe they’ll continue to play a little bit more.”
Miami, which was once 11-30, is now tied for seventh in the East, just two games out of fifth. Miami (37-38) played like a team hungry to make the playoffs. Goran Dragic scored 20 to lead the Heat, who led by 23 and shot 12-for-25 from three-point range.
Kristaps Porzingis’ 20 points paced the Knicks.
Hornacek kept hoping the Knicks could pull off a run like Miami. But it never happened. After starting 14-10 and 16-13, the Knicks dropped below .500 on New Year’s Eve, and never reached it again.
The focus has been on the Knicks’ offense and their emphasis on the triangle system. But the main reason they underachieved this season was because of their defensive flaws.
Rose harped on defense even before the swoon started. After many games, even wins, Rose said the coaches should just push defense and stress defense more than anything.
But Wednesday night Rose said the players have to shoulder much of the blame for not giving enough effort.
“I wouldn’t say it had something to do with the coaches,” Rose said. “The players had something to do with it too as far as us coming together no matter what’s going on, giving that second or third effort, just competing.
“Like certain nights when we messed up the game plan on certain plays we kind of just stopped playing. It was a continuous thing where it continued the entire year.”