The Knicks finished off the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, picking up their fourth straight win, their longest streak of the season. And you might wonder, with good reason, why?

Most NBA teams in their position, bound for the NBA Draft Lottery, have shifted their established players to the injured list, some declaring them out for the rest of the season with a variety of hard-to-see injuries. The losses mount and the number of ping-pong balls in the lottery rise, an easy-to-understand path for these struggling franchises.

But the Knicks, as they wind down a disappointing season, have been playing some of their best basketball since the All-Star break, with nine wins in their last 13 games. This came after a stretch in which they lost 11 of 12 games, effectively ending their postseason hopes. And while fans may be dreaming about the chances of one of the top players in the draft providing the Knicks a much-needed star, the players soldier on and insist they will play to win until they are eliminated.

The Knicks are 34-42, leaving them 4 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference with six games remaining. Any combination of Hawks wins or Knicks losses totaling three ends the hope.

“Well, I think the big thing is we’re playing all these young guys and they’re getting valuable experience,” coach Tom Thibodeau said on Monday night. “You’re never eliminated until you’re eliminated. So I don’t want a quitting spirit on our team. I want to keep fighting. And so until we’re eliminated, we’re going to keep playing. We’ve got a number of guys that are growing and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Thibodeau has utilized his younger players more and more, with rookies Jericho Sims and Miles McBride now regularly in the rotation (the third rookie, Quentin Grimes, was in the rotation before suffering a knee injury that has sidelined him for the last two games and 11 of the last 16). And much of the other playing time goes to RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Mitchell Robinson. But veterans Julius Randle, Evan Fournier and Alec Burks still start and play big minutes down the stretch.

“First of all, we fight,” Barrett said when asked why the team isn’t going through the motions like most teams out of the playoff picture. “So that’s not an option for us. We fight no matter what. We’re a really good team and we were disappointed with how we started, but we’re a very good team and we’re scratching out these wins and clawing,  and when you have something like that, you try to build off it.”

“We’re fighters,” Robinson added. “We want to fight. We’re not going to just stop trying to play hard. It’s not going to be like that.”

The Knicks are still alive, if barely breathing, in the play-in picture, and it’s hard to argue that they wouldn’t be better served by a lottery pick than a chance to try to play their way into a playoff scenario in which they would be a decided underdog. Randle, in particular, has looked off much of the season and even more so now  while coming back from a quadriceps injury that sidelined him for three games. But he insisted this week that he wants to be out there.

“Look, a lot of guys probably wouldn’t be playing,” Thibodeau said. “He wants to play. I’ve got great respect for that. Give us what you can. If you can’t play, I still want you to give us what you can.''


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