After a winless three-plus weeks, the NBA-worst New York Knicks are on the verge of the longest losing streak in franchise history.
Carmelo Anthony’s recent absence certainly hasn’t helped, and things could prove all the more challenging after a surprising trade.
It remains to be seen how many bodies coach Derek Fisher will have available as New York tries to avoid a 13th consecutive defeat Wednesday night against the host Washington Wizards.
With the season all but lost, the Knicks (5-32) agreed to send J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland as part of a three-team trade with Oklahoma City shortly before tipping off in Monday’s 105-83 loss at Memphis. New York has dropped 22 of 23, including the last five by an average of 18.8 points, and has matched the 1984-85 franchise record of 12 consecutive defeats.
The Knicks’ only win in the past six weeks came Dec. 12 at Boston.
"As our journey moves through this season, we will search for the type of players that fit the style we hope to exhibit for our fans. Our desire is to improve our ability to compete," Knicks president Phil Jackson told the team’s official website. "In addition, these transactions improve our flexibility to the current roster and the salary cap for future seasons."
While Shumpert has been sidelined since mid-December with a shoulder injury, Smith had averaged 18.5 points while starting the previous two games. New York received Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk and a 2019 second-round pick from Cleveland and Lance Thomas from the Thunder, but all three players could be waived.
"I think Phil is continuing to look at how we transition as we change the culture," Fisher said. "For now at least we go with what we have but I don’t think this in any way signals the end of our transition process. I think our front office will continue to look at what we can do to replace a couple of these guys but also how we’ll build our roster going forward in the short term and long term."
New York also reportedly waived veteran center Samuel Dalembert, and it’s unclear when Anthony will return with the team apparently encouraging him to sit with a nagging knee injury. Anthony has missed the last three games – the Knicks are 0-7 without him – and Amar’e Stoudemire (knee) is expected to miss a seventh straight.
The Wizards (23-11) return home after snapping a season-worst three-game skid with Monday’s 92-85 win at New Orleans. Washington had allowed an average of 106.8 points during the first four games of its 2-3 road trip before holding the Pelicans to their lowest scoring total in 16 home games.
"We got back to our concepts of helping each other," said John Wall, who had team highs of 15 points, 12 assists and four steals. "We blocked shots. We covered for each other."
Wall is averaging a career-high 2.1 steals for Washington, which improved to 18-1 when allowing 99 points or fewer.
"When we don’t give up 100 points we’re pretty much the best team in the league," forward Paul Pierce said. "We can’t be a team that allows (opponents) easy opportunities in the paint. We can’t be a team that turns the ball over more than we assist. … So we got back to the basic principles of who we are today. Hopefully it’ll carry over."
Washington has limited New York to an average of 90.6 points during a five-game winning streak in the series, including double-digit victories at Madison Square Garden in both meetings this season. They got into it Christmas Day after Quincy Acy knocked Wall down with a forearm shove with 5:31 remaining, leading to Acy’s ejection and a one-game suspension for the Knicks forward.
Wall is averaging 23.0 points on 53.7 percent shooting over the last six meetings. The Wizards are 13-2 when he scores at least 18.
Acy, meanwhile, could be in for a bigger role going forward after posting career highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds against the Grizzlies.