GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When the Knicks opened the season in San Antonio, Knicks coach David Fizdale spoke admirably about the stability of the Spurs franchise, a model of consistency in the NBA for the last 22 years. Under Gregg Popovich, who has coached them through that entire run, they have made the playoffs every season, never won fewer than 47 games and won five NBA titles.
The Spurs beat the Knicks in that opener, giving a hint that it would be just like it always is for the Spurs. But after starting the season 3-0 and winning four of their first five games, the Spurs have cratered. Before facing the Sixers on Friday night, they had lost seven straight games and nine of 10, setting the stage for a back-to-back set in in Philadelphia and New York.
“It’s crazy. Thinking about it, hearing it,” Dennis Smith Jr. said. “It’s actually hard to believe. But you know, it happens. It happens to the best of them. We’re just worried about getting our win versus them tomorrow and that’s what’s important.”
“Wounded animal and those are the most dangerous,” Fizdale said. “They’re still the Spurs to us. I don’t think we have that luxury to look at any team any other way but with respect.”
Even through their struggles, the Spurs still entered Friday with five wins. That's one more than the 4-11 Knicks. With their own struggles, the Knicks can’t take anyone for granted and haven’t watched closely what’s gone on with the Spurs. But the seven-game losing streak is already the longest for the franchise since the 1996-97 season when Popovich took over early in the year and the team was without injured David Robinson and a few months away from drafting Tim Duncan No. 1 overall.
“I haven’t followed it enough obviously, I’m so locked into us,” Fizdale said. “I just know cultures. Their culture will not panic. Their culture is just going to dig in, keep working at it and keep getting better.
“At some point, you’ll see them get rolling again. I remember last year, we played them, and we got them at home and they had lost like five or six in a row. But after that game, they ran off like 10 straight wins. So, that’s what culture looks like and that’s the things we’re striving for, you just stay with it until you have your breakthrough.”
Fizdale is still waiting for the breakthrough to come for the Knicks, who entered the season with high hopes after stocking the roster with seven free-agent acquisitions and landing RJ Barrett as the No. 3 pick in the draft. But after a miserable start that has the front office executives speaking after 10 games about their disappointment, the Knicks have played more competitively in the last four games, beating Cleveland and Dallas while blowing 15- and 17-point leads in the second-half of losses to Charlotte and Philadelphia.
“It’s helped a lot and just guys getting to know each other,” Fizdale said. “Again, we’ve talked about it ad nauseam, how many new guys we have. But now guys are starting to get to know each other, strengths, tendencies, things like that. All of that stuff helps in playing better.
“We’re getting better. We’re improving. But we still have a lot of room to grow, obviously, and we still got to do a lot more things constantly. The trust factor is a big thing I think going down the stretch we have got to do and defensively we got to continue to work with our connections and get to that three-point line a little bit better.”