Tanks for nothing.
The Knicks are picking the worst possible time to go on a winning streak. With valuable Ping-Pong balls hanging in the balance, they won for the second straight game Monday night, beating the Bulls, 110-92, at Madison Square Garden.
This game had huge implications for NBA Draft Lottery position, and the Bulls treated it as such. They made the trip to New York without starters Zach LaVine (knee tendinitis), Lauri Markkanen (back spasms) and Kris Dunn (sprained toe). Robin Lopez was in the building, but he was a healthy scratch.
“We knew they left some guys behind,” Trey Burke said. “We didn’t let that alter the way we viewed the game.”
The Knicks (26-45) weren’t fooling around. They went for the victory and earned their first two-game winning streak since Jan. 26-30. Before that, they had lost 17 of 18 games.
The Bulls (24-46) opened a 1 1⁄2-game lead on the Knicks for the eighth-worst record in the NBA. Had the Knicks lost, they would have been alone, a half-game up on the Bulls.
The Knicks have 11 games left and could move down, but they’re not trying to lose. “I think it’s just something that is unacceptable in my eyes as a player,” Burke said. “That’s not having any type of respect for the game, just going out there and trying to lose.”
Despite the victory, they were eliminated from playoff contention for the fifth straight season when the Heat won.
The Heat’s game ended after the Knicks’ locker room closed, so it’s unclear whether that will change how Jeff Hornacek approaches the remaining games. He has been playing the younger players more but also has been stressing improving and winning. “Our guys are trying to play and do the right things,” he said. “We’re going to keep working them until the end of the year and trying to get better.”
Tim Hardaway Jr., who didn’t play in the fourth quarter, scored 22 points for the Knicks. Michael Beasley added 17 and Enes Kanter had 10 points and 13 rebounds in 18 minutes.
Cristiano Felicio had 17 points and Bobby Portis and Antonio Blakeney each scored 16 for the Bulls.
One thing was obvious: Both teams need a high draft pick who can make an impact.
The Knicks have made it clear with their words and actions lately that they are not tanking, but winning games at the end of the season has cost them the last few years.
In 2014-15, they lost a franchise-record 65 games, but they won two of their last three and finished one game behind Minnesota for worst record in the league. Minnesota won the lottery and the Knicks dropped to fourth. They were lucky to get Kristaps Porzingis but could have had Karl-Anthony Towns.
Last year, the Knicks won their season finale and finished in a tie with Minnesota for the sixth-worst record. After the Timberwolves won a coin-flip tiebreaker, the Knicks picked eighth and took Frank Ntilikina.
The irony is that earlier in the season, when the Knicks were playing for something, their games against the Bulls had a different kind of significance.
The Knicks acquired Chicago’s second-round pick from the Thunder in the Carmelo Anthony trade. They viewed it as getting a second first-round pick, especially if the Bulls wound up being as bad as everyone projected.
The Knicks had chances to help themselves in the standings and on draft night when they met Chicago in December and January, but they lost their first three meetings with Chicago — twice when they had a .500 record or better.
At the time, those games were considered ones that could come back to haunt the Knicks if they narrowly missed out on the playoffs. Now, Monday’s game could come back to bite them for different reasons. But they don’t care.
“It don’t feel good to lose,” Burke said. “It don’t feel good to go home after a loss, racking up losses after losses. Every win feels great. Let’s get some more.”