NEW YORK — To say there isn’t much to talk about with the New York Knicks is incorrect, it’s just that all the things worth talking about aren’t happening on the court. What I’m saying is that you probably can’t write a story about all the things that aren’t there, but this is an attempt to try it anyway.
A rebuild is a season-long project, something looked at from afar as a single entity. In the moment, it’s tough to even find something to say about Yet Another Loss. But these games, the individual parts of a full rebuild, have some fascinating quirks, and on Friday night at Madison Square Garden, two numbers in particular that stood out.
The Knicks — an 11-win team as the NBA returns from its All-Star break — lost their 18th straight home game. That’s nearly three months since the last win in front of the home fans at MSG, on Dec. 1 against the Bucks in overtime. It’s a remarkable number that’s a ghoulish franchise record. But by the end of the four-game home stand at MSG, it could very well be a new NBA record. The 1992-92 Dallas Mavericks hold the record at 19, and the Knicks team I saw from the Sky Bridge certainly don’t look ready to get a win together anytime soon. Maybe it was the distance, but the apathy from those watching below was pretty evident.
Not even a Minnesota Timberwolves team — they themselves generally wayward and without a player who hasn’t missed a game since middle school — could provide an opening for the Knicks on Friday night. Karl-Anthony Towns got into a car accident and was put into the concussion protocol hours before first tip and, somehow, Minnesota never felt endangered in this one. Derrick Rose forced beat writers to craft return to New York narratives for his 20 points off the bench in the 115-104 road win.
That aforementioned second number is much more indicative of just where the team is at right now. New York had 23 turnovers on Friday, which took away any chance to climb back into the game.
“That was the number I wrote on the board for the guys after the game,” Fizdale said. “Careless plays. You can’t give the ball away 23 times.”
Fizdale was exasperated in the moment, and so were the players doing all that turning over.
“We were just throwing the ball everywhere,” said Emmanuel Mudiay, who had four of those 23 turnovers.
But from afar it makes sense that a disjointed Knicks team just kept throwing the ball away. Dennis Smith Jr. and DeAndre Jordan, now both starting for the Knicks, joined the team in the Kristaps Porzingis trade a full two months into the home losing streak. While both have had their moments, everyone on the Knicks seems to be caught in the middle of things.
The offensive highlight for the Knicks was Smith throwing down a pretty big dunk when no one on the Timberwolves decided they had to guard him.
Damyean Dotson, another Knicks starter, had five threes in the first quarter on Friday night. His 18 points in the frame is the most a Knick has scored in a quarter all season … but then the hot hand went away. Dotson had just one bucket the rest of the way and was completely silent in the second half. He still finished tied with the team lead in points on the night.
Fizdale said the Timberwolves “put more focus” on Dotson in the other three quarters, so Fizdale took him out of the game as the lineup shuffled in an effort to get something going. Smith sat long stretches in favor of Mudiay in the fourth quarter, and Fizdale said it was about getting things going as much as anything.
“Mud started getting it going,” Fizdale said. “I just rolled with it.”
I’ve covered rebuilding teams in other sports and I can tell you that focusing on the little things like this are not all that worthwhile. Rebuilding, especially when it looks like a team is actively tanking, is something to endure, with the desired changes and subsequent progress coming in the offseason. Considering his age and the fact that he came back in the Porzingis trade, the Knicks clearly think they can have a player in Smith moving forward. But if the changes the Knicks are tanking for don’t play out, it’s not going to much matter whether he played 21 minutes or 26 in a late February home game.
No one goes to games to root for deft luxury tax moves and creating cap space, and if free agents don’t fill in the cap space the Kicks covet so badly, the team is set up for another middling season of Fizdale trying to weigh and measure the players he’s been given. Everyone seems to be waiting, more placidly than angrily at the moment, but you don’t have to assume it’s going to get better. Right now, in New York, the numbers just keep getting worse.