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Rockets rout Knicks, who lose team-record 14th in a row

The New York Knicks bench looks on late

The New York Knicks bench looks on late in a game against the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Phil Jackson was back in his usual seat at Madison Square Garden and Carmelo Anthony was in what's become his usual spot: in a suit behind the bench.

On the other end of the court, five fans sat in the front row with brown paper bags over their heads, adding insult to another embarrassing night for the Knicks.

The Jackson-Anthony-Derek Fisher triangle was supposed to help put the Knicks on the path to becoming a contender. Instead, Anthony remains sidelined with a left knee issue that may need surgery and the Knicks continue to endure the worst season in team history.

The Knicks lost to the Rockets, 120-96, Thursday night, extending their single-season franchise record to 14 consecutive losses, their home skid to 11 straight and defeats by double digits to seven in a row. They dropped to 5-34 with their 24th loss in 25 games.

Jackson attended a home game for the first time since Christmas and the first time since he began tearing down the roster. He traded J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland on Monday in a three-team deal that brought the Knicks three players whom they waived.

The Knicks president has yet to talk to the media about the trade that signaled the Knicks are looking to next season. They created salary-cap room for this summer, when they hope they can really begin the path to becoming a contender.

This summer's free-agent class includes Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo, but the Knicks could strike out on all of them.

Pistons big man Greg Monroe and Suns guard Goran Dragic might be more attainable. The Knicks also might be able to lure restricted free agents Reggie Jackson and Jimmy Butler with some creative contract work that would make it difficult for their current teams to match.

But the Knicks also want to maintain flexibility for the summer of 2016, when Kevin Durant hits the open market.

"It's not easy to build a team," Fisher said before the game. "So I think going forward, there's always that balance you're trying to find between talent and character, mental toughness, physical toughness, experience, coachability, all of the different factors. And there's no guarantee it all works out even after you do all that assessment.

"So it's not easy to do it, but our coaching staff as well as the people we have in the front office, we're confident as we go forward that we'll be able to find the right guys to build."

Anthony might be the only Knick assured of being back. Only four of the 13 players on the roster have guaranteed deals for next season. This is the time for the Knicks to see if any of these young, mostly unproven players should be part of the future.

With Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire (right knee soreness) and Andrea Bargnani (strained right calf) still sidelined, Fisher has been forced to use some interesting lineups. One featured three rookies -- Cleanthony Early and two undrafted ones, Travis Wear and Langston Galloway -- a second-year player (Shane Larkin) and Cole Aldrich, a fifth-year center.

Wear scored 21 points, Galloway had 19 and Early added 16. Seven Rockets scored in double figures, led by James Harden's 25 points.

The Knicks will have to fill out their roster and won't want to overspend with Durant's free agency looming. They'll be banking on Jackson's championship resume in the recruiting process.

"We're having to create belief that actually you can organize and run this system . . . in a way that will allow you to win and be one of the best teams in the league,'' Fisher said.

"When I played, there was obviously a credibility that Phil and his staff walked in the door with," Fisher said. "We were all intrigued and wanted to figure out: 'OK, they won championships doing this. We want to figure out how to win championships doing this within this format.'

"In recent years, Phil wasn't coaching, there weren't any other teams running this system. So these current players don't necessarily have something to say: This team won the championship last year or two years ago doing this; let's try to do it that way.

" . . . We're having to create belief that actually you can organize and run this system along with being able to just play basketball in a way that will allow you to win and be one of the best teams in the league."

Becoming a contender certainly seems a long way away.

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