PHILADELPHIA — The Knicks have lost nearly as much as the 76ers in recent years, but Philadelphia trusted the process and it has paid off.
The Knicks can only hope their process, whatever it is, pays off as well.
The 76ers lost at least 54 games the past four seasons, including 72 two years ago. This season, they’re headed to the playoffs and have a shot at 50 wins. The 76ers won their 44th game and eighth in a row Wednesday night, beating the Knicks, 118-101, at Wells Fargo Center.
Their next loss will give the Knicks 50 for the fourth consecutive year. Next year could be another losing season for the Knicks (27-49) with Kristaps Porzingis’ return from a torn ACL undetermined and the team not wanting to add much payroll so they can spend in 2019.
The Knicks need to get lucky on lottery night or make a great pick wherever they draft. But they’re not that close to finding the success the 76ers have had after four brutal seasons of losing, injuries and holding players out of games in hopes of getting the best draft pick possible. It’s better known as tanking.
But after an injury-riddled start to his career, Joel Embiid has blossomed into one of the NBA’s best players. Rookie Ben Simmons, who missed all of last year, already is one of the most versatile. And excitement in Philadelphia is growing with No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz finally healthy.
Coach Brett Brown said the rest of the Eastern Conference should be on alert.
“I feel that we can really surprise people,” Brown said. “There’s not one team in our Eastern Conference that I’m intimidated by. We’ve beaten them. Things feel good right now. There’s momentum. We think that the future is bright.
“We recognize it’s more promising than we might have thought a month ago as far as how far we can go. But our mindset with our guys is we can do what we want for the most part. Nothing should surprise. We have enough firepower in this room to really cause some disturbances in the ecosystem of the East.”
It might be some time before a Knicks coach can say something similar about his team.
The Knicks will have a lottery pick for the third time in four years. They took Porzingis fourth three years ago and Frank Ntilikina eighth last year. Two years ago, their pick belonged to Denver as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade.
The Knicks currently have the ninth-worst record in the league. So unless they get lucky in the lottery, they won’t pick as high as the 76ers have.
Philadelphia got Embiid with the No. 3 pick in 2014, Simmons with the first choice in 2016 and Fultz with the No. 1 selection after making a deal with the Celtics. Fultz played in just his second game after returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out five months.
Fultz ended up injuring Embiid Wednesday. In the second quarter, Fultz ran into Embiid and hit him in the face. Embiid suffered a facial contusion and didn’t return. But Philadelphia still had more than enough to beat the Knicks.
Dario Saric had 26 points and 13 rebounds for the 76ers. J.J. Redick scored 21. Simmons added 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Enes Kanter landed awkwardly on his back in the first half, but he finished the game. He had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he got X-rays on his back and wrist. Both were negative. The Knicks say he has a bruised back. “It was really painful,” Kanter said. “I just didn’t want to quit on my teammates and my coaches.”
Michael Beasley and Emmanuel Mudiay each scored 22 and Trey Burke chipped in 18 for the Knicks, who have just six games left. Their process continues. But should you trust it?
Notes & quotes: Kyle O’Quinn (strained left hip) missed his third straight game. Courtney Lee (sprained left mid-foot) also sat out.