Perhaps the Knicks were enjoying an emotional hangover Monday in getting blown out by the Toronto Raptors on the road by 128-92 after electrifying Madison Square Garden on Sunday in engineering a 124-123 victory over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s the most logical explanation for such divergent performances.
“I think every guy that was out there owned it,” said Knicks head coach David Fizdale of his players in losing to a Raptors team that was without Kawhi Leonard (rest) and Serge Ibaka (NBA imposed suspension for fighting). It was another challenging day in the franchise’s painful season, one that was indisputably a rebuilding year from the start but has been even more laborious than anticipated.
The Knicks began a six-game, 13-day home stand last night (Wednesday) at MSG against the Utah Jazz. They were 14-57 and had lost nine of their previous games. The lone win was against the Lakers, a performance in which the Knicks were down by 11 points with a little over 3 minutes remaining and went on 13-1 to end the game.
Forward Mario Herzonja, who has been used inconsistently by Fizdale, had the key play of the game blocking James’ game-winning shot as time expired. Overall, the Knicks’ ramped-up defense harassed James into shooting 4 for 15 in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, he finished with typical James numbers: 33 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds.
“He just missed shots,” said Hezonja. “If you are saying that you are the reason that he is missing shots, you are an idiot.” The Lakers had much higher expectations for this season than the Knicks when James signed with them last summer. The assumption was James would do what he has always done: elevate the players.
Although the Lakers weren’t widely viewed as being ready to compete for a Western Conference title, a plethora of fans and media projected them to be a playoff team. But their loss to the Knicks illuminated their deficiencies on both ends of the court. They host the Brooklyn Nets tomorrow night with a record of 31-40, 11th in the West.
Like the Lakers, the Knicks will be major players in the free-agent market this summer. Along with potentially the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, which will almost certainly be Duke’s Zion Williamson, the Knicks can drastically improve their roster. Both teams should be in much better places in the standings when they meet again next season.