PHILADELPHIA — Knicks coach David Fizdale said this retooling season is dedicated now to “small victories.”
Here’s one. The last time the Knicks were here 2 1/2 weeks ago, they got their heads handed back to them in a 28-point slaughter.
Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center was more civilized. The Knicks moved within three points midway through the third quarter and wound up losing by 22.
Their defense still a mess, the Knicks allowed a 69-point first half and suffered their eighth defeat in nine tries — a 131-109 loss to the Sixers.
The 9-24 Knicks got Tim Hardaway Jr. back after a one-game absence. He looked surprisingly limber after it was revealed he has plantar fasciitis and pumped in 27 points.
But there was no stopping superstar center Joel Embiid and most of the Sixers.
Embiid started the game 6-of-7 and finished with 24 points. Jimmy Butler was 5-of-6 in the first half, and scored 20 points, plus a play where he pickpocketed Hardaway.
“We definitely made some tweaks going into it,’’ Fizdale said before the game, referring to the blowout loss on Nov. 28. “The big part of last time when we played them, it wasn’t as much as our coverages, but competitively they kicked our butt.”
Before the game, Fizdale said another “small victory’’ is whenever their 2018 prized lottery pick shines. So there was that. Kevin Knox had his ups and downs but finished with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting.
The 19-year-old staged another productive first half (14 points) before tailing off — a Knox trend. In the first half, Knox blew a driving one-handed dunk, then fouled Furkan Korkmaz from the 3-point line.
But Knox also executed one beautiful a coast-to-coast layup and threw down an alley-oop pass from Hardaway).
The Knicks made it somewhat interesting for a bit, charging back in the third quarter to within 76-73. A four-point play ensued when Enes Kanter (15 points) scored on a hook, got fouled by Embiid and Ben Simmons picked up a technical foul. Kanter made the free throw for the three-point play and Hardaway Jr. hit the technical for a four-point possession, making it 76-70.
After a Sixers’ miss, Hardaway Jr. drilled a corner 3 to cut it to 76-73 with 7:50 left in the third. Sixers coach Brett Brown called time and Philly responded on a 7-0 run capped by an Embiid fast-break dunk and they carried a 13-point lead into the final frame and built the bulge to 20 points.
The Knicks battled closely in a 38-33 first quarter, but the Sixers got on top of them in the second and forged a 15-point lead.
The Sixers racked up 69 points in the first half on 57.4 percent shooting. Embiid was not to be stopped, having his way inside without even center Mitchell Robinson to slow him down. Or Luke Kornet, who lasted 40 seconds in the first half before being bloodied and knocked out of the game. Embiid made an inside move and plowed into Kornet’s nose and the Knick departed.
It was symbolic of another night of getting bloodied and beaten by the Sixers (21-12).
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