Struggling Knicks welcome lowly Mavericks
Losers of seven straight and 15 of 16, the New York Knicks host the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden with a chance for at least temporary relief against another one of the NBA's worst teams.
The Mavericks (21-46) enter the matchup marginally hotter than the Knicks -- Dallas had its two-game winning streak snapped Sunday by the league-leading Houston Rockets -- but New York (24-43) has a three-game advantage in the win column.
Or would that be disadvantage, given that all these teams are fighting for now is better lottery seeding?
Even if that is the new goal, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek wouldn't admit to tanking, though he would admit that losing all these games has been tough, particularly for a prize that is sometimes fleeting.
"It's hard to go through," Hornacek said. "A lot of teams, players, coaches, it's tough to go through that. It does take a while. You're not always going to hit that draft pick.
"You see this year you get a (Utah rookie) Donovan Mitchell at, what he'd go, 12 or something? Thirteen? You can find players like that. Guys all play the percentages. The higher the picks, you're usually going to hit with those guys."
The Mavericks hit on one of those lower-lottery picks this season, nabbing point guard and second-leading scorer Dennis Smith Jr. with the ninth pick in the draft -- one spot after the Knicks selected rookie guard Frank Ntilikina.
Smith, though, is coming off perhaps his worst game as a pro, a four-point performance on 2-of-12 shooting from the field against the Rockets on Sunday.
He's looking to regain the form that saw him drop 20 points in three of his first 12 games.
"He's 20 years old," Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki told reporters of Smith. "His floor game is going to get better. His decision-making is going to get better. I love when he attacks. That's what he's meant to do in this league."
Like Dallas, New York is looking to see more out of its young players.
Hornacek has recently tinkered with the Knicks' lineup, giving Ntilikina and former first-round picks Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke more playing time in recent weeks, as the coach has fought rumors of tanking.
"There's a difference between tanking and trying to look at the future," Hornacek told reporters recently. "We brought Trey in from the G-League and Emmanuel from another team. That's a totally separate thought process. We're seeing if they can play for us.
"We're trying to evaluate our three young point guards. Moving forward, we got to make decisions on those guys. We have to play them as many minutes as possible."
On Monday, the Mavericks learned that shooting guard Wesley Matthews will be sidelined for the rest of the season because of a broken leg, according to ESPN.com. He was injured in Saturday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
The 31-year-old Matthews averaged 12.7 points and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range this season.
Updated March 12, 2018