CLEVELAND — As the Knicks set up for a potential game-tying shot in the final seconds Monday at Quicken Loans Arena there was John Jenkins, signed to a 10-day contract earlier in the day, inbounding to Dennis Smith Jr., less than two weeks with the team, and then Jenkins circled to the corner where he took a pass and attempted a shot that rimmed out.
And that’s a pretty fair description of how you get to a franchise-record 17 consecutive losses and hold firmly onto the worst record in the NBA after a 107-104 loss to the just-slightly-better-than-them Cavaliers.
While the Knicks (10-46) debate vociferously that they are not tanking, they have presented the perfect method to do just that. Dump veterans and talented players, plant others on the bench, and go into the final play of the game with not just those two in the mix, but Luke Kornet, who had not long ago teamed with Jenkins in the G League, and rookies Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. No matter how talented a shooter Jenkins may be or how explosive Smith is, it was a team that had played together for nine minutes — all coming in this game.
“Tonight was my first time seeing John live,” Smith said afterward. “I watched a couple of tapes on him. We know he’s an incredible shotmaker and he’s going to make shots when he’s open.”
This is what life is like for the Knicks as they work their way through the rest of this schedule — a back-to-back set coming against the 76ers at home Wednesday and then Thursday in Atlanta bringing them to the All-Star Weekend, a much-needed respite from the constant losing.
The Knicks have not won a game since Jan. 4 and haven’t won at home since Dec. 1.
But playing an assortment of players who are happy to be here, such as Kadeem Allen, who got the call up from Westchester and made his debut with the Knicks less than two weeks ago and put up a career-high 25 points Monday, opportunities may not equal victories.
“It’s just confidence,” Allen said. “I believe in myself and my teammates and my coaches believe in me. Just feeding off of them, out there playing basketball. It [means] a lot, the opportunities. I’ve got to make the best of it. J.J.’s got to make the best of it. Whatever comes of it we’ve just got to be prepared and ready to go.”
Opportunities will come for the assortment of players who have fans checking the scorecard for identification and even teammates wondering just who they are. The opportunities are for minutes, for shots, to prove themselves worthy of NBA jobs. Opportunities to win are far more fleeting.
But Knicks coach David Fizdale, who has remained optimistic for nearly all of these mounting losses, maintains that it is not disheartening.
“The next game. Get to the next game,” Fizdale said. “A loss is a loss is a loss. Right now all we’re focused on is getting better for the next game and trying to win the next game. Again, the beauty of our team, they’re not caught up in all that. They’re going to keep trying to find a way back into games, back into a way to compete to win and at some point we’ll break and get our win.”