NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, November 30, 2015, 10:51 PM
Kristaps Porzingis will get to match up against fellow lottery pick Jahlil Okafor as the Knicks try to end their losing streak against the much-maligned 76ers.
The Knicks are in a rut and immersed in a season-high four-game losing streak, but the perfect cure to NBA ills is coming to town: those historically awful, tank-commanding 76ers.
The Sixers (0-18), who represent New York’s next opponent at the Garden on Wednesday, are off to the worst start in league history, having steered GM Sam Hinkie’s project into a third year of miserable rebuilding. There’s a chance Philadelphia earns its first victory before it travels to New York, with a ping-pong-ball special Tuesday against the 2-14 Lakers that will be celebrated as Kobe Bryant’s final Philly homecoming.
But the question has been raised for beyond this terrible start, and will probably persist: Can this Sixers team finish worse than the 1972-73 version that set the record for 82-game futility with a 9-73 mark? The former coach of the old Philly squad, Kevin Loughery, hopes that doesn’t happen.
“I wouldn’t wish that on the coaching staff. It’s tough on the coaching staff, it really is,” said Loughery, who was a player-coach during Philly’s 72-73 season, replacing Roy Rubin at the All-Star break. “It’s no fun. The worst part of it is to play your best game, play as well as your team can play, and don’t win.”
Loughery, who later coached the New York Nets to a pair of ABA titles, pointed out in the telephone interview Monday that the team with the worst record was assured a top-2 pick in the 70s, whereas today the Sixers can tank to the bottom and wind up with the fourth pick — and with only a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery.
The Sixers and their numbers-crunching GM have accumulated assets while sacrificing substance on the current roster, which has translated to a traded Rookie of the Year (Michael Carter-Williams), a lottery choice perpetually injured (Joel Embiid), a top young talent with reported off-the-court issues (Jahlil Okafor) and a 37-145 record since the 2013-14 season. The Knicks (8-10) haven’t been much better record-wise during that same 2-plus season stretch, though, and have their own problems heading into Wednesday.
“There are a lot of dangers. They’re professionals,” Arron Afflalo said. “They’re in this league for a reason. We’re going through our own semi-mini-losing-streak. So we don’t intend to have any letdown on our homecourt Wednesday. We need to get back to our winning ways despite their circumstances.”
Since winning back-to-back games in OKC and Houston less than two weeks ago, the Knicks had been so lackluster that they trumpeted Sunday’s fourth-quarter collapse as progress. Derek Fisher’s rotations have lacked continuity and are deeper than most, meaning minutes are spread out but also very small for certain reserves. Two players acquired in multi-years deals during the offseason – Kyle O’Quinn and Derrick Williams – have been in-and-out of the rotation.
Okafor’s incidents off the court have only made matters worse for the 0-18 Sixers.
Afflalo said there was a team meeting ahead of Sunday’s 116-111 OT loss to the Rockets, addressing “a lot of frustrations.”
“We met as a group and let a lot of frustrations go about what it takes to win in this league, what it takes to stay out of each other’s way so we can all excel,” said the shooting guard after the Knicks fell to 3-6 at home. “And every guy in here (Sunday night) did a great job to contribute in the best way that they can. And it worked well for most of us. Obviously, we didn’t get the win. But for most part, if people can stay in our roles and allow each other to do what we do best, we’ll have more success.”
Fisher, whose team has the benefit of playing Philly four times this season, understands that all his players want more time on the floor.
“I don’t think any player is comfortable in his role. If (Carmelo Anthony’s) playing 34 minutes, he wants to play 38 minutes. If a guy is playing 15 minutes, he wants to play 20 minutes. It’s just the psychology of this game,” the coach said. “We don’t expect guys to be comfortable or like their roles even. They’re going to want more shots. They’re going to want more chances to show what they can do. That’ll always be there. The big challenge is how you do balance and fight against your own ego to do what’s best for the team.”
The Sixers have been playing better lately, falling in down-the-wire fashion in four of their previous five games. It has Loughery believing the first victory is on the horizon.
“They just don’t have a go-to guy down the stretch,” Loughery said. “They’ll win some games, unless they’ve totally lost their confidence.”