As Enes Kanter was telling a reporter the Knicks are not “tanking,” Trey Burke interrupted and said he doesn’t even know how to do that.
This came after a rare win by the Knicks on Saturday night. They plan to go for another one Monday night at the Garden against the Bulls, which might not make their fans happy.
The Knicks have the NBA’s ninth-worst record and are a half-game behind Chicago in the lottery standings. The Bulls reportedly are leaving three rotation players behind in Chicago. Hoping to see the Knicks leapfrog Chicago and improve their draft position, many of their fans are considering the game a must-lose.
“It bothers me, but I understand,” Burke said. “From a fan’s standpoint, I understand. But from a player’s standpoint, they have to understand as well. That’s all I ask of them. I ask the fans to understand our standpoint, too. Do you all want us to go out there and to look bad, to look like bums? They might say we already look like bums. Whatever they say.”
The Knicks snapped a nine-game losing streak with their 23-point victory over Charlotte on Saturday night and won for only the second time in 19 games. There was a light and celebratory feeling in the locker room that the players want to experience again.
They don’t care where the team picks in the draft. Many of them are playing for contracts — including Burke — so they certainly are not thinking that it helps the club if they play poorly.
“That’s not in my DNA to go out there and lose,” Burke said. “I don’t know how to play like that. I’ve never been taught how to play like that. We go out there, we got families. We’re not only playing for the organization, playing for the city, we’re playing for our families as well. I just don’t know how to do that.”
Kanter feels the same.
“We’re going to go out and try to win,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and do the same thing we did [Saturday] — offensively, defensively, make each other better and go out and fight every possession. The Knicks pay me to win games and I’m going to try to go out there and win every game.”
The Knicks can be officially eliminated from playoff contention for the fifth consecutive year Monday with a loss or wins by the 76ers and Bucks. They’re also headed for a fourth straight season of at least 50 losses.
Their reward will be a high draft pick, and another young player to try to develop.
The draft is very top-heavy with more big players than wings. But the Knicks, who are short on talent, probably need to go for the best player available.
Arizona center DeAndre Ayton, Duke power forward Marvin Bagley III, Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr., Slovenian swingman Luka Doncic, Texas center Mo Bamba and maybe even Missouri forward Michael Porter are generally considered the top six picks.
If the Knicks stay around the lower half of the top 10, they could be in a position to grab Villanova small forward Mikal Bridges, Michigan State forward Miles Bridges or Alabama point guard Collin Sexton.
It all depends on where the Knicks finish the season and in the lottery, and Monday’s game could go a long way toward determining that. But don’t tell them that. “We’re trying to win every night,” Kanter said. “We got Chicago coming up. We’re going to go out there and try to win that game too.”
Ntilikina’s big night. Frank Ntilikina, who still is adjusting to playing off the ball more, had his highest-scoring game as a pro Saturday. The rookie from France scored 15 points, bouncing back from a scoreless game Thursday against the 76ers.
“Yeah, it means something to me,” Ntilikina said. “It shows improvement. Now I feel more comfortable than I did in the beginning of the season. So it gives me a lot of motivation to not stop here, to get more.”
Ntilikina played only 13 minutes against Philadelphia because Jeff Hornacek didn’t like the matchup against 6-10 Ben Simmons. Despite not having Courtney Lee on Saturday, Hornacek didn’t start the 6-5 Ntilikina against Charlotte because he wanted more size and strength against 6-8 Nic Batum. But Ntilikina believed he could have handled himself.
“As a competitor, I won’t agree with that because, I don’t know how to say it in English, but I just want to take every challenge,” Ntilikina said. “That’s the coach’s job and coach’s decision to put whoever he thinks is the better matchup on the court, but as a player, we all got to be ready when he calls you. And I was ready when he called me, and that will be the thing every night.”