When the NBA schedule came out, more than a few Knicks fans probably circled Jan. 10 on the calendar. It was going to be the only regular-season visit to the Garden by New Orleans rookie Zion Williamson, the 1 that got away when the Knicks didn’t win the draft lottery.
But a torn meniscus in his right knee has delayed Williamson’s NBA debut. Fans at the Garden on Friday night didn’t get to see Williamson on the same court as former Duke teammate RJ Barrett unless they arrived early and watched Williamson throw down a jarring between-the-legs windmill dunk during pregame warmups.
Fans also didn’t get to see Marcus Morris, Julius Randle or Dennis Smith Jr. as the Knicks were without the trio for the second straight game.
Morris and Randle are the Knicks’ leading scorers. Without them, the Knicks dropped their fifth in a row, 123-111.
Morris (sore neck) and Smith (left oblique strain) are out with injuries. Randle missed his second straight game for undisclosed personal reasons.
The Knicks fell to 10-29 (6-11 under interim coach Mike Miller.) They were forced to use the same starting lineup (Barrett, Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis and Reggie Bullock) as they did in Utah on Wednesday, when they lost by 24 points.
On Friday night, the Knicks trailed for most of the game but pulled to within one point twice in the third quarter. Gibson’s jumper with 9:54 left in the quarter made the score 69-68. Then the Pelicans went off and the Knicks wilted.
At nearly the same point in the fourth quarter (9:22 to go), Miller called a timeout. The Knicks were trailing by 13. They never recovered, and the Garden slowly emptied.
“This group keeps coming back, keeps coming back,” Miller said. “But what we’ve got to do is keep that game even where our runs now can put us ahead.”
All five Knicks starters scored in double digits and Mitchell Robinson added 12 points off the bench. Gibson (8-for-8) had 19 points and eight rebounds.
The Pelicans shot 18-for-38 from three-point range. The Knicks were 5-for-27.
Barrett, who had 16 points but shot 5-for-15, scored the game’s final points on a breakaway two-handed dunk. He didn’t see Williamson’s pregame dunk, but Williamson got to see Barrett’s garbage-time throwdown.
“I talked to him a couple of times today,” Barrett said. “It was great. It was great to see him. Gave him a big hug. He’s really happy. I really want him back, to see him back on the court real soon.”
The Knicks aren’t done at least trying to upgrade their talent before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. A report on The Athletic and Stadium web platforms said they are among the teams that have inquired about trading for Pistons big man Andre Drummond. Drummond, 26, went into Friday averaging 17.8 points and a league-leading 16.2 rebounds.
Payton, a possible trade chip in a deal for Drummond or anyone else, had 15 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals.
Brandon Ingram led New Orleans (14-25) with 28 points and nine assists. Jaxson Hayes had 18 points and 10 rebounds off the bench and Lonzo Ball added 15 points and 11 assists.
Gibson got off to a hot start, scoring 10 in the first quarter, but the Pelicans led 33-31 at quarter’s end. New Orleans expanded its lead to 11 in the second quarter and went into halftime with a 67-61 advantage.
Though the Knicks got close in the third quarter, they never got over the hump and trailed 95-86 going into the fourth, a quarter that was not competitive.