PHILADELPHIA — Five observations on the Knicks’ 131-109 loss to the Sixers at Wells Fargo Center — their seventh straight defeat against the Philly franchise.
1. Likely in an attempt to get Frank Ntilikina going, Knicks coach David Fizdale didn’t play point guard Trey Burke, who has been rusty with his shooting the past two games (3-of-16) since returning from a knee sprain. But it didn’t change Ntilikina’s fortunes offensively, as he shot 1-of-6 to make him 6-of-25 in his past four outings.
So much for Ntilikina’s rebirth since getting those three straight DNPs. Ntilikina averaged 14 points in his first three games back from banishment — with Burke injured. Fizdale said Ntilikina gets timid and loses confidence when things go badly early in his stint, and he’s trying to change his mindset.
“It’s just like any habit is,” Fizdale said. “You’ve just got to stay with it where you build a habit of playing free without worrying about what people say, about what the coach is thinking, what anybody is thinking. It’s just because he’s so unselfish, he’s concerned about that stuff.
“You can see it. When you’re around him long enough, you can tell when he’s like, ‘Screw it. I’m just letting it all hang out and I’m just going to play.’ And you can see when he’s thinking about, ‘If I miss this or if I screw this up, what’s going to happen?’”
Fizdale said Burke still hasn’t regained that quickness and his game is “all about his wheels.”
2. Refreshing stuff from MSG Network replacement Swin Cash, a former Liberty star, with pointed criticism on the Knicks’ defensive demeanor/strategy after allowing 131 points. The Knicks have, incredibly, allowed at least 110 points in 12 straight games. Cash, subbing for Wally Szczerbiak, said the Knicks looked like they had no game plan to take away anything from the Sixers, whether it be trying to double Joel Embiid or doing something special to defend the pick-and-roll better. The Sixers got everything they wanted.
“I couldn’t tell you what they were taking away,” Cash said.
The Sixers made 15-of-30 3-point attempts, the second-most 3s they have made this season. The Sixers also had their best shooting first half of the season (57.8 percent). And the Knicks let Landry Shamet notch his career high (17 points). Shotblocking center Mitchell Robinson (ankle) and his activity is missed.
3. Kevin Knox’s defense still is subpar, but the Knicks knew that when they drafted him. His offense is flowing the past half-dozen games, though he still needs to sustain it for four quarters instead of having one-quarter splurges. He’s averaging 19.7 points on 42.7 percent shooting — and a lovely 42.9 from 3-point range. Fizdale hinted his intensity level earlier this season wasn’t enough.
“It’s really understanding how to work and the intensity you have to put in the game,” Fizdale said. “And it’s slowing down for him, recognizing things better and where his spots are. A typical 19-year-old, they have to go through it and he’s starting to settle in and score in this league.”
4. How good is the Sixers’ 6-8 point guard Ben Simmons? He posted a triple-double (13 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds) and ripped himself after the game for poor play while Fizdale praised the defense played by power forward Noah Vonleh in limiting him.
“I don’t think I played well at all tonight,” Simmons said.
5. If Fizdale is failing as a defensive coach this season, you have to give him credit for his salesmanship during this trying, 1-8 stretch. The charismatic Fizdale still manages to fill up reporters’ notebooks with his irreverent, non-cliched takes. He’s the only coach who has made losing sound almost noble. That’s no easy feat. Late Wednesday, Fizdale told this reporter he’s owed a fruitcake for a Christmas present to repay him for season-long lively press conferences.
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