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76ers 115, Knicks 106: “Why do NBA teams play Montel Jordan so much at games?”

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Gaze long into the abyss & the abyss will gaze back at you.

NBA: New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It is February 27, 2020. The New York Knicks lose 115-106 to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks are without Taj Gibson (back spasms), Frank Ntilikina (groin), and Kadeem Allen (concussion). They lose Dennis Smith Jr. during the game to concussion-like symptoms. Philadelphia is without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Sixers have won all four match-ups this year and 12 in a row vs. New York. This is Philadelphia’s 14th consecutive home win. It is their second 14-game home winning streak of the season. The Knicks have won 17 games total.

It is February 25, 2017. The Knicks have beaten the 76ers 110-109. Those Sixers near the end of The Process. Embiid, then a rookie, is out that night. The draft that brings Simmons is months away. In 2013 they select #11 and trade for #6. The next year they select at #3 and trade #10 for #12. The next year they are again #3. They will pick first again the year after Simmons. The Knicks start Carmelo Anthony, Lance Thomas, Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee and Willy Hernangómez. New York has no process. They win 31 games. Two of the prior three drafts, they’re without a 1st-round pick. Even if they clear half the roster — waive three non-guaranteed contracts and renounce free agents Rose, Ron Baker and Justin Hloliday — there isn’t enough cap space to sign a star. Nine Knicks play in the win. The only one under 25 is Hernangómez.

It is February 27, 2020. The Sixers are a contender, albeit a dark horse. Embiid and Simmons are the only draft picks who remain. Michael Carter-Williams? Traded for the 2018 first that became Mikal Bridges, who became Zhaire Smith. Nerlens Noel? Traded as and for spare parts. Elfrid Payton? Traded on draft night for Dario Šarić, who’s later packaged for Jimmy Butler, who’s later signed-and-traded in the deal that nets Josh Richardson; Butler’s cap space is essentially filled by Al Horford. Jahlil Okafor? Traded as a mea culpa. Markelle Fultz? Traded for Oklahoma City’s top-20 protected first this year.

It is February 27, 2020. The Knicks are processing. They’ve had their own first-rounders the past three drafts and will have up to seven in the next four drafts. Picks owed from Charlotte and Detroit could all be high second-rounders. They have enough cap space and flexibility to sign anybody. Maybe a few anybodys. 11 Knicks play in the loss. Eight are 25 or younger.

It is February 25, 2017. The Knicks have no interior presence rim and the Sixers know it. Philadelphia gets to the line 27 times and owns the offensive glass.

It is February 27, 2020. The Knicks have no interior presence with Bobby Portis starting at center and the Sixers look continually comfortable repeatedly getting it into the paint, going right to the rim. This time around, the Knicks have an answer.

When Mitchell Robinson checks in midway through the first quarter, the Knicks are down 19-9. In three minutes they’re down two.

Philadelphia starts widening the gap again; they led end-to-end on the night, thanks to their 2020 version of 2017 Carmelo.

Their Melo also passes.

A Tobias Harris 3 puts the Sixers up 14. A Shake Milton 3 makes it 15. A Horford trey does the same. Another Milton triple, his third of the half, makes it 16. Harris’ 23rd point of the first half sees the Sixers up 20.

It is February 26, 2020. The Knicks lose a close game in Charlotte. Fans complain: why is Gibson starting instead of Robinson?

It is tip-off on February 27. Fans complain: why is Portis starting instead of Robinson?

It is February 27, now the second half. Robinson is starting. On the first Sixer possession, he blocks a shot.

Then he contests Horford, forcing a miss. Then he gets a steal.

It is 2010. Long Island’s Harris is named Mr. New York Basketball. The same year, NYC’s Moe Harkless is named Queens High School Player of the Year. Someday at Forest Hills High School, sitting in class or during practice, he dreams of being a Knick.

It is 2011. Harkless is Big East Rookie of the Year at St. John’s. Someday, sitting in class or during practice, he dreams of being a Knick.

It is February 27, 2020. Harkless hits five 3s in five tries in about half a quarter, pulling New York within four. Knick fans watching think they’re dreaming.

It is February 26, 2020, in Charlotte. Portis shoots 8-of-11, scores 17 points in 23 minutes and finishes +9.

It is February 27, 2020. Portis shoots 3-of-8 for seven points. In 22 minutes he’s a -18. He misses consecutive wiiiide-open threes in the third that would pull the Knicks within five, then bites on a Tobias pump-fake and commits a shooting foul.

It is February 26, 2020, in Charlotte. Julius Randle puts up 18, 9 and 3 assists (1 turnover). In 25 minutes he finishes -15.

It is February 27, 2020. Randle puts up 30, 10 and 5 (1 turnover). In 38 minutes he finishes +10. In the 10 minutes he sits, the Knicks are outscored by 19. This may be the closest he will ever get to feeling like LeBron James.

It is the end of the third quarter. Richardson hits a 3 at the buzzer but it’s waved off after replay shows the ball was still in his hands when the clock expired.

It is the end of the third quarter. Dennis Smith Jr. is seeing this happen, but not learning anything from it.

It is the fourth quarter. Back-to-back 3s from Horford clear our ears, turn what we hoped was a “Maybe?” down nine into a firm “No” down 15.

It is the fourth quarter. An 8-0 Knick run cuts the lead to eight. Hope never dies. But Harkless and Barrett each coming up empty in transition and Moe missing both free throws after yet another breakaway leaves New York on life support. Yet another Harris 3 from the top of the arc, with Mitch late to switch and contest, is the plug being pulled.

It is February 28, 2020. The Knicks are a few months away from a draft that will add another young player to the mix. The Sixers are good enough to win without Embiid and Simmons. Maybe in February 2023, we’ll enjoy the Knicks being good enough to win with Barrett and Cade Cunningham or LaMelo Ball or Jalen Green out for the night.

Notes:

  • New York opened 3 of 9 from the line and finished just 14 of 24 (58%). If they were just mediocre from the line they’d have five more wins this year. Does that mean free throws are the Knicks’ secret tank?
  • Barrett had five assists. That’s the most he’s had in a game since David Fizdale was fired. The Knicks were Team Kumbaya, with 24 assists on their first 33 baskets and 28 for 42 on the night.
  • 16-4. 10-4. 15-8. Those are the three-point differentials between the Knicks and their last three opponents. They’ve been outscored from deep by an average of 25 per game. You can’t do that and be the league’s worst at the line and win anything. Except the lottery. Except they won’t.
  • The Knicks currently have more point guards out with concussion symptoms than they do healthy point guards.
  • A couple real nice passes in the paint early on from Mitch. This one to Payton, plus another to Kevin Knox.
  • Every time Kenny Albert says “Thybulle” (Matisse) it sounds like “Fievel.” They both have dimples.
  • Albert mentioned that Wilt Chamberlain holds the NBA record by hitting 35 straight shots over four games. If you could reincarnate and re-live any pro athlete’s life, ever, who would you pick? Wilt is tough to beat.

Quoth felinequickness: “Why do NBA teams play Montel Jordan so much at games?“ These and other riddles may be answered during the Knicks’ next game Saturday when they host Chicago, a 5:00 p.m. tip-off. See you then.