Lowly Knicks host hot Raptors (Mar 10, 2018)


Just when the New York Knicks could use a patsy to regain their shaky footing, instead they welcome the Eastern Conference’s best team Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

The Toronto Raptors bring their sterling 48-17 record to town.

There may not be a starker display of the NBA’s haves and have-nots than at MSG, where the Knicks have played just six times since Jan. 21.

Since then, New York has three wins and 17 losses. Before that, the Knicks were 21-25 and at least still plucky. Now they’ve clinched, at 24-42, their fifth straight losing season.

The Raptors, meanwhile, are among the two hottest teams in the NBA (Portland has won nine in a row). Toronto has won seven straight, the best current streak in the East. That includes a 108-105 win on Friday over the previously scorching Houston Rockets, who traveled to Toronto with an NBA season-best 17-game winning streak.

“We’ve done it against Cleveland, Boston, the second half of Golden State, and now Houston,” Toronto’s Fred VanVleet told reporters after scoring 11 points and dishing five assists. “But this was the difference in terms of, like, crunch time, fourth quarter, the game’s on the line, (coach Dwane Casey) is over there, he’s thinking about subbing, but he ends up leaving us in there for a little bit longer, and we kind of pay him back.”

As high as the Raptors are at the moment, the Knicks are low. Just when they get a little of their offense back on Friday night, putting up 112 points — tied for their highest scoring output in the last six games — their defense failed them yet again in a 120-112 loss at the Milwaukee Bucks.

New York, which averaged 100 points during its 15-game swoon, showed some life behind Tim Hardaway Jr., who scored 26 points. It was Hardaway’s second 20-point performance in three games as his shooting has improved in the month of March (36-for-72).

New York also got a surprising 18 points off the bench from guard Troy Williams.

“He’s been great,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “He has that athleticism to go for an (offensive) rebound and still get back on defense. He’s earned (sticking for the season).”

At this point in the season, the Raptors are fighting for playoff seeding while the Knicks are looking toward the future.

Toronto has a chance to buffer its 2 1/2-game lead in the Eastern Conference over the Boston Celtics, who have a tougher Sunday matchup against the current No. 5 seed Indiana Pacers.

The Raptors will count on the continued hot hand of their star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

New York is battling for better lottery chances, though Hornacek denied that the team was in tank mode.

“We still want to try to win games,” Hornacek told reporters on Thursday. “We want to see if our young guys can help us win games. It’s part of the evaluation process. It’s not like, ‘Oh heck, if we put them out there we’re going to lose games.’ We still want to try to win and see if these guys can step up and help us win.”

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