The New York Knicks made things difficult on fans for 79 games with what was then tied for the worst record in the NBA.
They’re continuing to make things stressful now by stringing together wins that are hurting their shot at the top overall pick in June’s draft.
A third straight victory in Wednesday night’s finale against the visiting Detroit Pistons would match the Knicks’ longest winning streak this season, and it would also clinch top lottery odds for Minnesota (7:30 p.m. pregame, 8 p.m. tip-off on FOX Sports Detroit).
"I’m sure people are upset with us," said coach Derek Fisher, whose team won three straight from Jan. 19-23. "But I don’t think you can ever go out there and basically try and not play your best."
It’s a surprise even their best was enough for their latest victory. New York (17-64) won 112-108 Monday in Atlanta behind a personal-best 26 points from Langston Galloway. The rookie was 6 of 6 from 3-point range against the Eastern Conference’s top team and is averaging 18.5 points while connecting on 10 of 18 from beyond the arc in his last four games.
Fellow guard Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 points, and Jason Smith scored 20.
The Knicks are a game ahead of Minnesota, and the Timberwolves host desperate Oklahoma City on Wednesday, so even with a New York loss, matching Minnesota at the top of the lottery seems unlikely. Philadelphia has one more win than the Knicks and can match them for second with a home loss to Miami and a New York win.
None of that, however, is being taken into account by the current New York roster.
"As players, we’re trying to go out there and win the last games that we have," said Smith, who has started the last two games and averaged 16.5 points while shooting 57.1 percent.
The Pistons (31-50) have won two of three in the season series, including a 97-81 victory on Jan. 2 in New York, but the Knicks won the previous eight meetings at Madison Square Garden.
The last matchup ended with a 121-115 New York win in Detroit on Feb. 27 behind 25 points from Andrea Bargnani, which is tied for his season high. It was his first start of the season, and he’s averaging 16.7 points in 23 starts dating to that game. The big man, however, has missed the last three with an illness.
A loss for Detroit in the season finale would give it a shot at tying Denver for seventh in the lottery standings, and a win wouldn’t change its position.
Monday’s 109-97 loss in Cleveland was its third in four games and fourth straight on the road. The Cavaliers were 17 of 32 from 3-point range and outrebounded Detroit 45-31.
"We were not the least bit ready to compete when the game began," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We got completely out-competed and blown out from the start. The game was over after one."
No matter how the lottery odds shake out, both teams are assured to undergo changes. The Knicks are concluding the franchise’s worst season. The Pistons have seven straight losing seasons, have missed the postseason for a sixth straight and have lost at least 50 games for a fifth straight campaign free of a work stoppage.
"We’ve got some cleanup stuff to do from this year," Van Gundy told the team’s official website. "I like to meet with my staff while everything’s fresh in our minds from the year – things we need to do differently, system wise. How we operate, the way we practice, the way we travel, whatever it is."