CHICAGO — The Knicks were put on notice Sunday, with a wake-up call coming that in this organization usually means shivs are being sharpened. So now, after that just elicited another humbling performance, what’s the alarm sound like right now?
With the pressure amped up after Garden Chairman James Dolan sent his front office executives out to speak Sunday night after a humiliating loss, the team took the court at the United Center and if they insisted the pressure would not effect them, it didn’t. They played exactly the way they have all year.
They did little on this night to change the narrative or ease the tension, playing a struggling Bulls squad to a draw much of the night before putting a defensively-challenged unit on the floor to start the fourth quarter and watched as the Bulls embarked on a 22-0 run, making a folk hero out of Bulls rookie Coby White, who had 23 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. The calls for urgency and consistency fell on deaf ears as the Knicks fell, 120-102, to the Bulls.
Zach LaVine added 25 points for Chicago (4-7). Marcus Morris led the Knicks with 22 points and nine rebounds and RJ Barrett had 21 points with nine assists.
The Knicks (2-9) were on the road for a brief respite from the bizarre scene at Madison Square Garden Sunday when they were humiliated by the Cleveland Cavaliers and then team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry emerged in the news conference room after looking like a scene from a hostage tape, pushed out to express the franchise’s dissatisfaction with the struggles. And next on the schedule is the return of Kristaps Porzingis to the Garden Thursday, which could stand as a reminder of the direction the team has taken.
Turnovers, isolation ball and dreadful defense turned this game into a one-sided loss. Barrett played well with nine assists, but the highlight for the crowd came when he missed a pair of fourth-quarter free throws, earning ticketed customers a free Chicago sale hot dog.
“We’ve got 10 guys that have not played together at all, me who hasn’t even been in the league yet,” Barrett said. “We have some challenges. We’ve got to keep pushing, keep pushing through everything. That’s all I can really say. You just got to stay together."
“When you get down, you’re trying to fight back, you start to see guys press,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “We had a couple of moments where we went back into hero ball. I thought tonight we nipped it pretty fast, but by the time we nipped it, it didn’t matter. They had already busted that thing open and we were playing catch up.”
The chaos now heads back to Madison Square Garden with the Knicks insisting it won’t bother them.
“That’s our job,” Julius Randle said. “We’re here to play basketball for a living. You’ve got to keep it simple. You’ve got to keep everything in perspective. Playing in New York, I was in L.A. for four years so I’m used to this. I know how to handle this. I’ve been in chaos. A lot of my career has been chaos and outside noise. It is what it is but we’re focused on us. That’s all we can do.”
While winning a game would certainly help, it might not change things. ESPN reported Tuesday that Mills was already laying the groundwork to fire Fizdale and one NBA source said that in all corners of the organization people were trying to shift the blame in other directions — including toward Mills. And despite Mills public claim Sunday night that, “We have patience. We believe in coach and we believe in the group that we put together,” the source said that candidates were already being lined up if the coach does take the blame. Former Knick and Golden State coach Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd (currently under contract as an assistant with the Lakers) and Chauncey Billups were names mentioned by the source.
“I don’t get into what’s fair and what’s not fair,” Fizdale said of being judged on a small sample size with this team. “All I care about is day to day. Am I helping these guys get better?”