Plenty of intrigue when Knicks host 76ers … really
NEW YORK — Believe it or not, there will be plenty of intrigue Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden when the New York Knicks host the Philadelphia 76ers in the final game of the regular season.
All of the intrigue surrounds Carmelo Anthony and whether this is the last time he is on New York’s roster. If it is, Anthony is unlikely to play due to a sore left knee.
Since arriving in New York in a blockbuster trade from the Denver Nuggets in February 2011, Anthony and the Knicks have experienced plenty of intriguing things, some were normal and some are a continuation of the dysfunction surrounding the team.
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While Anthony led the Knicks (30-51) to a 54-win season in 2012-13, the last four years have not gone well and a 37-win follow up in 2013-14 ushered in Phil Jackson as team president. Jackson opted to re-sign Anthony in 2014 but also gave the forward a no-trade clause.
This season, Jackson also opted to tweak Anthony in not-so-subtle fashion by having a friend criticize him in online articles. On Jan. 15 following an ugly loss in Toronto, the 32-year said he would consider waiving the no-trade clause, which will certainly come up when the two meet after the season ends.
“I think it’s all his choice still with his contract,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Every year, until guys are gone, coaches, we all assume we’ll have the same team. When something changes, we deal with it.”
Anthony is averaging 22.5 points on 43.3 percent shooting in 73 games this season. In 411 regular-season games with New York, Anthony is averaging 24.7 points on 44.3 percent shooting.
“I thought it’s kind of what we expected,” Hornacek told reporters at practice Tuesday. He’d be able to score the ball. Defensively, he was in the right spot a lot of times. As you get older — he’s got good reactions — but getting back out to somebody, I think our whole team struggled with that this year. We didn’t close out hard enough on a lot of guys. So, it’s some things we need to improve on.”
Anthony is hardly alone in not being known as a defender. The Knicks are a bottom-10 team in points allowed (108.0) and defensive rating (111.4).
New York is missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season since Anthony averaged 28.7 points in leading to the Knicks to their first division title since 1994. The Knicks made the playoffs in 14 straight seasons from 1988 to 2001 but have missed the playoffs in 12 of the last 16 campaigns and are closing out their seventh season with at least 50 losses since 2001.
Hornacek is the 10th coach since those consistent playoff appearances ended. The Knicks began this season at 16-13 but are 14-38 since Dec. 22 and 7-18 in their last 25 games.
Besides playing without Anthony, Derrick Rose (knee) and Joakim Noah (suspension) Wednesday, it appears Kristaps Porzingis will finish his second season by missing the last five games with a sore lower back. Without those four, rookie Willy Hernangomez tied a career high with 24 points but went scoreless in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 110-97 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
Philadelphia (28-53) is on a seven-game losing streak since Robert Covington’s put-back helped the 76ers to a 106-101 win at Brooklyn on March 28. Covington has not played since then due a torn meniscus in right knee.
The Sixers are concluding their fifth straight losing season without six players due to injuries. Ben Simmons has yet to play after breaking his foot, Jahlil Okafor (sore right knee) has not played since mid-March and Joel Embiid (left knee) has not played since Jan. 27.
Those absences make Philadelphia wonder about what it might look like with a fully healthy roster next season.
“A lot of us talk about it all the time,” guard T.J. McConnell told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Not only Joel, but Ben. If we had everyone that was supposed to play, I don’t think the game on Wednesday would be our last game of the year.”
Philadelphia is 11-25 since Embiid’s last appearance and continued its skid with a 120-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday. In their final home game, the 76ers never led and Gerald Henderson was ejected in a fourth-quarter altercation with Paul George.
Rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot led the Sixers with a career-high 24 points, Richaun Holmes added 17 points while Dario Saric posted his 53rd double-double, the most among first-year players.
Even if the Sixers finish the season with another loss, they matched their win total from the last two seasons, which they view as a positive.
“I think we are improving a lot, especially on everything we worked on over the season and the last couple games,” Saric said. “These guys have changed and started playing unbelievable since there were injuries, and they were ready for it. They practiced all day, and work hard before practice.”