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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Knicks' 'misfits' almost keep momentum going

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina had six assists and

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina had six assists and set the defensive tone in a near victory over Charlotte on Saturday night, Nov. 16, 2019, at Madison Square Garden.   Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Ouch. This one really hurts.

The Knicks were so close to pulling it off. They were so close to putting together back-to-back wins for the first time this season. They were so close to giving fans hope that their ugly free fall had ended, so close to giving coach David Fizdale maybe a little bit of breathing room.

After leading the Charlotte Hornets for the majority of the night, the Knicks trailed them when it mattered most. Devonte’ Graham buried a three-pointer with 2.8 seconds left to give the Hornets a 103-102 victory at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

The loss was a devastating one, given that the Knicks had led by as many as 15 points and had gotten some really gutty individual performances from Frank Ntilikina, RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.

“You don’t want to lose any game, especially when you have a solid lead going,” said Fizdale, whose team fell to 3-10. “I don’t want to take any moral victories out of any of this stuff.”

For the majority of the game, the Knicks played like a team that was hoping they had turned a corner. For just under 48 hours, there had been a feel-good aura around the team as it basked in the afterglow of its big win over Dallas and former teammate Kristaps Porzingis.

Yet lost in that afterglow were some interesting comments by Fizdale in his pregame news conference.

The Knicks headed into that game with the worst record in the NBA, and management basically had put Fizdale on notice with that we-should-be-better-than-this news conference after an ugly loss to the Cavs.

Considering all the pressure that was being put on the team, Fizdale was asked what he thought was keeping the locker room together.

“It’s actually been one of the connected teams I’ve been around,” he said. “I don’t know, but I just feel they see themselves as a bunch of misfits and bandits and guys that’s been discarded. And they’ve rallied around that.”

Misfits, bandits and guys that’s been discarded? When the Knicks went into free agency this past summer with room to sign two stars to max contracts, that is not what their fans thought they would be getting.

Make no mistake about it. Fizdale was firing back at the management team who had blindsided him with their get-it-together news conference. After coaching what was an equivalent of a G League team last season, Fizdale thought he would get something better than a bunch of power forwards on one-year contracts to mesh with the young players.

Some of those young players had huge games Saturday night. Ntilikina, starting his sixth straight game, had six assists and set the defensive tone, though he couldn’t quite get to Graham at the end of the game.

“Good play. Tough shot from Graham,” Ntilikina said. “I think I can do a better job with that defense. So I mean, look what I can do better and just improve.”

Robinson also had a big night, pairing 17 points with 12 rebounds and a blocked shot. He even made a one-legged dunk after twisting his ankle in the fourth quarter.

Barrett led the Knicks with 22 points and made some big buckets down the stretch.

Still, this is not the roster Fizdale thought he would be rewarded with after slogging through a difficult season. You can bet that Knicks fans aren’t the only ones who dreamed of having Kyrie Irving at point guard this season. Instead of superstars, Fizdale finds himself coaching “a bunch of misfits and bandits and guys that’s been discarded.’’

And he still has to make it work.

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