The New York Knicks entered play Tuesday just 2½ games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. With a make-or-break five-game road trip on the docket, the Knicks were basically in a must-win situation against a Los Angeles Lakers squad destined for a high lottery pick.
In a season chock full of embarrassing losses, the Knicks instead hit a new low.
With former Lakers head coach and new Knicks president Phil Jackson watching from a Staples Center suite, the Knicks lost 127-96, giving up a franchise-record 51-point third quarter in the process.
The 51 points was also a Lakers record, which is unbelievable when you think about the storied history of the organization. The Lakers are a franchise that has been home to some of the best players of all-time, yet, it was a group featuring the likes of Chris Kaman and Xavier Henry that set the record for most points in a quarter. That's so Knicks.
New York actually started the game well, going up by eight after the first quarter and holding Los Angeles to just 14 points. But then in the second quarter, things just fell apart. As Knicks head coach Mike Woodson so eloquently put it, per Billy Witz of The New York Times, "all Hell broke loose."
The Lakers started the second quarter on a 22-4 run, and although the Knicks were able to somewhat right the ship heading into halftime, the poor defensive effort was a sign of even worse things to come.
The third quarter was just a litany of lazy closeouts and botched rotations leading to wide open Lakers shots. The TNT broadcast harped time and time again about the Knicks' lack of defensive intensity, and it seemed like every time you looked up, the Lakers were hitting another three or layup. For a team supposedly playing for its life, the effort was inexcusable.
Jackson, who stomached the third-quarter debacle but couldn't make it through the fourth before leaving the building, was very blunt in his assessment:
"Fifty-one points," Jackson, in a dark blue suit and a striped tie, said as he arched his eyebrows. "When it's 35 points you start to get worried. When it's a 51-point quarter, that's really awful."
For a better visual on how ugly this got for the Knicks, here's the Lakers' third-quarter box score and shot chart:
This is what the Lakers did in the third quarter. pic.twitter.com/MBIuu0b3Im— Scott Cacciola (@ScottCacciola) March 26, 2014
The Lakers' third quarter. GREEEEEN ACRES IS THE PLACE TO BE. THE KNIIIIIIICKS' DEFENSE IS A SIGHT TO SEE. pic.twitter.com/DzFpVzu4tE— Eye on Basketball (@EyeOnBasketball) March 26, 2014
What makes this all even worse is the fact that this came just a game after the Knicks blew a 17-point lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers to end their eight-game winning streak. There were legitimate hopes for a postseason berth before that game, and although it almost certainly would have involved an early exit, it would have been a nice accomplishment for a team that was dead and buried not long ago.
But after two disheartening losses, the Knicks' season has just about flat-lined. New York is four games behind Atlanta in the loss column, and after this five-game roadie out west, the entire April schedule is against Eastern Conference playoff teams. The Hawks have several tough games left as well, but eight of their last 13 games are at home.
With the playoffs looking less and less likely, the focus should turn to the future. Jackson saw first-hand how big a challenge he has on his plate, and he'll soon have to make decisions on how to fill out the front office and coaching staff. While he's reportedly not making any inquiries yet and simply assessing the current situation, the time to make those decisions is rapidly approaching.
There's also the decision to be made on on pending free agent Carmelo Anthony, who had 29 points and nine rebounds in the loss. Jackson and Anthony reportedly met in the Knicks' locker room before the loss on Tuesday night, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, but it's not known what was said between the two men. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.
New York has little time to dwell on this disaster, as they face the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. That honestly may be for the better.