By winning nine straight games with an often-undermanned roster, the New York Knicks engendered thoughts of a playoff run the Big Apple hasn’t seen this century.
A loss in game No. 10 served as a reminder of how thin the margin for error is for the Knicks in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Knicks will look to get back in the win column Tuesday night when they host the Memphis Grizzlies in the final game this season between the clubs.
The Knicks haven’t played since Saturday, when they fell to the visiting Los Angeles Lakers 113-105. The Grizzlies suffered their fifth straight loss Sunday night, when they were routed 131-91 by the host Boston Celtics.
The loss cost the Knicks a chance to win 10 straight for the first time since they won 13 in a row during the 2012-13 season. It also dropped New York into fourth place in the Eastern Conference, a game behind the second-place Milwaukee Bucks and a half-game behind the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers prior to the Cavaliers’ game against the Sacramento Kings on Monday night.
The Knicks are a game ahead of the fifth-place Philadelphia 76ers, who were slated to play the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. The top four teams get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Any hopes the Knicks have of hanging on to a top-four spot will rest on their ability to hold serve without an optimal starting five.
While OG Anunoby (right elbow) is day-to-day after missing the past four games, the timelines are murkier for Julius Randle (separated shoulder) and Quentin Grimes (right knee). Randle has been sidelined the past four games while Grimes has sat out the past two.
In addition, center Mitchell Robinson is expected to be out for at least the remainder of the regular season due to an ankle injury.
“We’re missing three big guys and, obviously, Mitch has been out for months,” Knicks guard Josh Hart said Saturday night. “But you know, when you’re missing four key players, three of which are starters, it’s always tough. We’ve got to focus on the next man up, taking care of business.”
There may be no team in the NBA with a better understanding of the Knicks’ plight than the Grizzlies, whose hopes of making a fourth straight trip to the playoffs disappeared due to a spate of injuries.
The Grizzlies returned five of their seven double-digit scorers last season, but Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Luke Kennard and Brandon Clarke have combined to play just 116 games for Memphis, which sits 13th in the Western Conference.
Morant, who was suspended the first 25 games for conduct detrimental to the league, played nine games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, Clarke has yet to debut after suffering a torn Achilles tendon last March while Bane hasn’t played since Jan. 12 due to a sprained left ankle. Jackson Jr. (right hip) missed Sunday’s game and is day-to-day.
Even the second wave has become depleted for the Grizzlies, who had 13 players on the injury report Sunday and fielded a roster that had six players either on two-way deals or 10-day contracts.
GG Jackson II and Trey Jemison each made their first NBA starts Sunday, when Jackson II scored 18 points and Jemison had six points and five rebounds.
“The guys that are on a 10-day, they’ve gotten a number of opportunities the last couple games,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “You’ve got to attack these opportunities and they’re doing that.”