Knicks, Wizards meet after stern tests

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Consecutive double-digit losses to upper-echelon Eastern Conference opponents in a back-to-back set illustrated the talent gap that exists for the New York Knicks.

After their roughest two showings under interim coach Mike Miller, the Knicks will attempt to get back on track Monday night when they host the Washington Wizards in a matchup of struggling teams.

The Knicks are 3-5 since Miller replaced the fired David Fizdale on Dec. 6 following a 37-point home loss to Denver and a 44-point loss in Milwaukee. They won three of four before getting drilled by a combined 36 points in Miami on Friday and at home against Milwaukee on Saturday.

Those games were against teams who are a combined 47-12, and the Knicks trailed by as many 34 and 29 points, respectively, and never led. In each of those games, the Knicks also started extremely slowly, forcing them into comeback mode.

In Friday’s 129-114 loss at Miami, the Knicks allowed 65 percent shooting and trailed by 19 through the first quarter. A night later in a 123-102 loss to Milwaukee, New York missed nine of its first 10 shots and fell behind 23-6 in the opening minutes.

“We were very anxious and excited to go into this two-game stretch just to see where we were at, what we needed to do, to have a chance to compete and take that challenge, and we saw two very good teams,” Miller said.

Julius Randle scored 20 points to lead the Knicks, who scored 16 points in the third quarter before making the score somewhat less lopsided after a fourth-quarter surge. The Knicks are also hoping for another productive game from rookie RJ Barrett, who sandwiched a two-point game Friday around a career-high 27 points Tuesday against Atlanta and 17 points Saturday.

New York likely will keep the same starting lineup as Saturday when Miller elevated Elfrid Payton to the starting point guard in place of Frank Ntilikina, who started 23 of the previous 24 games.

Washington heads to New York with three straight losses and are 3-12 in their last 15 games since beating Charlotte Nov. 22. During the last 15 games, the Wizards have allowed at least 120 points eight times and are allowing 122.8 points on 50.3 percent shooting and 38.7 percent from 3-point range.

Like the Knicks, the Wizards are coming off a back-to-back set against upper echelon Eastern Conference opponents. The Wizards followed up a 122-118 loss in Toronto with a 125-108 loss in Philadelphia on Saturday.

“This is a championship team,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said of Philadelphia. “We’re not close to that right now. We want to get there.”

Bradley Beal scored 36 points Saturday and has reached 30 points in three of his last four games. Beal also has 13 games with at least 30 points this season but Washington is 5-8 in those games.

“He’s been great for us through this tough time,” Brooks said of Beal. This is not easy for him, and for all of us, but I wouldn’t (want to) have anyone else leading the group.”

The Wizards are hoping to find someone to step up for Davis Bertans, who will miss Monday’s game with a right quadriceps strain. Bertans is shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range but was 2 of 19 in the last two games.

Washington is 18-3 in the past 21 games against the Knicks.

–Field Level Media

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