The coach steps to the lectern, and for the ninth time in a row, are asked to diagnose the reasons for a loss that everyone saw coming. The players shuffle into the locker room, and try to talk constructively about another setback in a lottery-bound parade of them — to point out the particular flaws that distinguished this one, the specific moments where it could have gone different.
Such is life for the Knicks, playing the role of perennially rebuilding, lottery-jockeying fodder, this time for the playoff-bound 76ers (in a bit of an NBA role reversal) in a 118-110 loss Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
The silver lining, if you’re so inclined: The Bulls won at Memphis, catapulting the Knicks (24-45) past Chicago (24-44) into eighth place in the lottery odds.
It was the Knicks’ 17th loss in their past 18 games. But the rhetoric was decidedly not déjà vu.
The Knicks actually led for large chunks of this one: by 68-60 at halftime, by 13 points partway through the third quarter and still by eight with seven minutes remaining.
So the Knicks drilled down on that fourth quarter, when the offense went catatonic (19 points in the period), the tough jump shots stopped falling and the Sixers took over.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek fixated on a charge the team failed to take on a late Joel Embiid drive. “Game-winning plays” he termed pivotal moments such as that one.
“I gotta find out who wants, who can finish games for us,” Hornacek said. “Moving forward, it might be different guys. We’re still trying to find that out for next year.”
Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter and Michael Beasley all touched on the Knicks’ transition defense — or lack thereof.
“I think in the fourth quarter we don’t know how to close the games,” said Kanter, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds and was one of six Knicks in double-figures, with Beasley (24, to go with 13 rebounds), Trey Burke (16), Courtney Lee (16), Kyle O’Quinn (15) and Emmanuel Mudiay (12).
Mudiay was left to regret getting a shot blocked by Embiid — who is his friend and text-message trash-talk buddy — on a potential go-ahead layup with 2:26 left. Mudiay fell down out of bounds and was slow to recover as J.J. Redick splashed a corner 3-pointer at the other end.
“It was a great play he made,” Mudiay said. “But the last quarter, especially the last four, five minutes, we played too non-confident in ourselves.”
Embiid paced the Sixers with 29 points, and Ben Simmons posted a triple-double of 13 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.
What are they supposed to say? We’re an inferior roster against a more motivated team and at least we covered the spread? This is the big leagues, so never.
“I’ve never lost this many games in a row,” Mudiay said. “It’s definitely frustrating. I know I’m not a loser.’’