’Tis the season … to check the bottom of the standings.
The Knicks continued to slide into prime draft lottery position with an unsightly 114-107 loss to the Hawks on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks’ ninth loss in 10 games dropped their record to 9-25, tied with the league-worst Bulls and Cavaliers for the most losses in the NBA.
The Knicks currently have the fifth-best odds in the NBA draft lottery (10.5 percent) and are mere percentage points from the top three, which share the maximum 14 percent chance of securing the No. 1 pick under the revised system.
It was fitting that the prize of that lottery, Duke phenom Zion Williamson, graced the Garden floor Thursday night.
The Knicks’ recent skid has included losses to the Cavs, Suns and Hawks, all neighbors in the cellar. And the upcoming schedule offers no relief: a Christmas matinee against the Bucks, followed by a road trip to face the Bucks, Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Warriors. The Knicks could be 9-32 before the Christmas tree has been removed from the living room.
“I really feel like we got a group that can handle this right now,” coach David Fizdale said. “They just have the right approach to the season, how to attack losing, how to come back to work every day.”
The Knicks led the Hawks by as many as 15 in the first half and by nine at intermission. The cushion quickly disappeared in the third quarter, when the Hawks shredded the Knicks’ pick-and-roll defense, which Fizdale had admitted before the game is “terrible.”
“It’s frustrating to everybody in here,” said Emmanuel Mudiay, who scored a team-high 32 points. “We have to figure out how to do it for 48 minutes.”
The same goes for rookie Kevin Knox, who followed another blistering first half with a second-half disappearing act.
Knox had 19 points before the game was 13 minutes old: He had 17 in the first quarter on 7-of-8 shooting (3-of-4 from 3) — punctuated by an off-the-dribble rainbow 3 with 10 seconds left — and a fast-break dunk on the opening possession of the second quarter.
But Knox did not have a field goal in the second half, and missed his final eight shots. He finished with 24 points, two off his career high.
“That first half I was on fire,” said Knox, who is averaging 20.3 points in his past seven games. “I felt really good out there. … I’m not very happy with myself the way that I played in that second half. That’s just something I have to be able to improve.”
Fizdale was grasping for answers on behalf of his 19-year-old building block.
“I can’t put my thumb on it,” Fizdale said. “Maybe it’s just him understanding it’s a long game. Because I expect him to be a big-time scorer. There’s a real conditioning requirement to be a great scorer in this league.”
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