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Sweet start at packed MSG in preseason home opener has sour ending

The Knicks' RJ Barrett drives to the basket

The Knicks' RJ Barrett drives to the basket defended by Washington Wizards center Thomas Bryant during the first quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For one night, in a preseason game before the losses begin to pile up, it was a case of hope springs eternal. Madison Square Garden was sold out Friday night, and with the introduction of nine new players — including seven free agents who opted to take the Knicks’ money — it might have seemed like a cool place to be.

For eight minutes anyway, which was the time limit on the highlights before the Knicks saw it fall apart. An early 15-point lead disappeared under an avalanche of points from the no-names mostly populating the Wizards’ roster. The Knicks fell, 115-99, and the remnants of the crowd booed loudly as the clock ticked down.

“First off, it was a really humbling situation,” Taj Gibson said. “Sometimes humbling situations are good for a team. We felt good after the first game. We had a lot of time in between. They punched us in the mouth and we didn’t recover. Now we get to beat each other up for a few days, lock in on defense, make our corrections and just bounce back.”

Said coach David Fizdale, “All I’m stressing to these guys, I’ve said it from the beginning, from the first letter I sent them: You keep your head down, you play hard, you compete for each other, you share the game, and when the dust settles, let’s see where we are. And don’t get caught up in everything that’s been said about you or said about our team. You focus on each other, you focus on the job at hand. Have an open mind to growth and development and let’s see where we are when the chips fall.”

It’s a low bar to be better than the 17-65 team last season that matched the worst record in franchise history. The fans, worn down by the two-decade- long run as the worst team in the NBA, still got up and cheered when the Knicks scored in the midst of a 36-6 run by Washington that turned a 15-point Knicks lead into a 15-point deficit in the second quarter. But the players have bought into the notion that the front office and coach have pushed that they are short on superstars but a hard-working group of solid players.

“It was great,” Julius Randle said of the introductions and start to the game. “It was fun, man. We went in playing the right way. It was great.”

And then?

“After eight minutes we just kind of relaxed, let our guard down and they started hitting a bunch of threes, in transition, everything, and they just got comfortable, started feeling good about themselves,” he said. “It’s the NBA. You start feeling good about yourself and go on a run, it can be tough to slow a team down. And we didn’t respond the way we did the game before when they went on runs. They went on a run and we didn’t respond.”

Notes & quotes: Marcus Morris led the Knicks with 21 points . . . Kevin Knox (strained right calf) and Dennis Smith Jr. (strained lower back) were held out Friday.

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