Carmelo Anthony called the Knicks’ previous game a must-win, but last night’s truly was one they couldn’t possibly lose.
The 76ers, a team mired in turmoil and futility, visited the Garden and their struggles made the Knicks’ four-game losing streak seem like a little blip. The Sixers lose frequently and sometimes at a record clip, and the Knicks didn’t want to be one of the few teams Philadelphia beats this season.
Mission accomplished. The Knicks led by 23 and downed the Sixers, 99-87, to end their four-game skid.
“It was important for us because we weren’t playing very good basketball the past few games,” Jose Calderon said. “It was really important to get the feeling back to win a game.”
Philadelphia, which suspended rookie Jahlil Okafor for two games two hours before tipoff, proved to be the perfect remedy for the Knicks (9-10) after their most disappointing loss of the season. They blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead to Houston Sunday and lost in overtime.
Anthony returned after missing Sunday’s game with an illness. He didn’t have a strong game, but it wasn’t needed against the now 1-19 Sixers, who could challenge for the NBA’s worst record ever.
Rookie Kristaps Porzingis had his ninth double-double of the season, as he finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots was feted by some “POR-ZING-IS” chants. Arron Afflallo added 13 and Anthony 12, but he shot 5-for-16.
Whatever luster this game had was gone long before it started.
The Sixers’ record-tying start for ineptitude ended at 0-18 Tuesday against the Lakers in Kobe Bryant’s final game in Philadelphia. They had lost 28 in a row dating to last season. Then came the Okafor suspension for repeated off-court transgressions. It prevented the first meeting between Okafor and Porzingis, who were selected third and fourth in the draft, respectively.
Okafor reportedly was involved in two separate fights on the same night in Boston last week, and recently was pulled over for speeding, and was clocked at 108 miles per hour.
The Sixers are a young team that lacks leadership. No one on the active roster is older than 24 years old. Porzingis is very committed to his game, but also benefits from having veterans in the locker room, including Anthony, Afflalo and Calderon to help him.
“We hope it’s helping him to understand how committed you are daily to be able to play five years, eight years, 12 years, 13 years in the league like Carmelo has,” Derek Fisher said. “And just to observe the way that guys that have been in the league and been successful, how do they do things and what can you take from them and what can you even improve from what they do well and don’t do well.
“The great part about him is that he, despite who is or isn’t in the locker room, he just seems to have an approach about himself and the game that I think very quickly he’s going to be in a position where he’s an example for other guys pretty quickly.”