On another historic night at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks insisted that they are happy with where they are.
The process was there in front of them in the form of the 76ers, a team with lottery picks Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons forming the nucleus of a club that has added Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in trades this season, with T.J. McConnell the lone connection to the 10-win squad that was the low point in their process.
But for the Knicks, the process is hazy. The present is their place in history — extending their franchise-record losing streak to 18 games and stretching the home streak to 17 — all on the negative side. With a 126-111 loss to the 76ers, the Knicks continued their march to futility — or, they hope, the top of the NBA Draft.
The 18-game slide also matched the mark for consecutive losses in a single season by any New York pro team, tying the Nets’ streak to start the 2009-10 season. It is now 26 losses in the last 27 games and 31 of 33.
"It [stinks], but I just go day to day,” coach David Fizdale said. “I stay in the moment. I don’t linger in the past too much. I don’t let myself drift into where we’re going to end up. I just try to stay in the moment every day, so that way I can lead these guys.”
The Knicks had their moments. After trailing by 26, they fought back to close within six in the fourth quarter. Kevin Knox excited the crowd by cutting down the lane to slam in a two-handed dunk over Simmons, and Mitchell Robinson repeatedly dunked and finished with 14 points. But this game, like almost every one in this 10-47 season, finished the same way, with the Knicks slumping off the floor with another loss.
“Nothing in this game is given,” said Allonzo Trier, who led the Knicks with 19 points. “Nothing in this game is guaranteed. You have to work your way up. That’s what [the 76ers] were able to do. They had a path that they set for themselves and they worked it and that’s gotten them to where they are now. We’re working on our path now.”
Earlier in the season, Fizdale insisted that the Knicks’ rebuild would not take as long as the one the 76ers had endured because the Knicks already had Kristaps Porzingis.
In November, Fizdale said: “We have Kristaps in the wings. That’s the one thing that’s a little different than what [the 76ers] went through. They were trying to figure out all these different young guys. And at some point they finally settled in on who those guys were going to be. But I feel like with Kristaps sitting in the wings, hopefully that can fast-track us a little bit more.”
But Porzingis has been dealt away, taking away the rehabilitating former All-Star and leaving Fizdale and the Knicks just wishes and hopes. There are no All-Stars, just the promise of salary-cap space and draft picks.
“I like where we are,” Fizdale said. “I really do. I like what we’re sitting on right now and I’m excited for our future.”
It’s difficult to predict what that future is. While Fizdale has maintained that the Knicks have stuck to their plan of building through the draft, the team seems poised to try to accelerate the rebuild with two max-salary slots in place for the postseason free-agent market.
“We don’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Lance Thomas said. “We’re not going to throw a pity party for ourselves. Your character really shows through tough times. We’re not hanging our heads. Bad things are coming our way, but we’re going to take it on the chin and keep moving.”