Knicks aim to rebound from close losses vs. surging Grizzlies

NBA

For the first time in nearly a decade, the New York Knicks are playing meaningful games in April, but a rash of close losses is starting to gnaw at them.

Seeking its first playoff berth since 2013, New York hopes to shake off another close loss Friday night when it hosts the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Knicks, who are two games under .500 for the first time since an eight-point loss to the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 23, are trying to avoid falling three under for the first time since Feb. 12. New York is 1-5 in its past six contests, a skid that not only includes double-digit losses to the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat but also three losses decided by two points or fewer.

The first one of those close losses occurred in Minnesota on March 31 when the Knicks blew an 18-point lead and scored nine points in the final 7:50 of a 102-101 loss. The second of the close defeats occurred Monday in Brooklyn when they squandered a 14-point lead and took a 114-112 loss.

On Wednesday, the Knicks wound up with a 101-99 loss in Boston and dropped into eighth in the Eastern Conference when they blew a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“It’s annoying losing these two-point games,” New York’s RJ Barrett said. “They’re frustrating and annoying.”

The Knicks have been annoyed numerous times this season. They own eight losses by three points or fewer with most of those defeats coming against teams holding winning records.

The latest loss ruined a stellar night by Barrett, who was 6-of-6 from 3-point range and scored 29 points. Julius Randle added 22 but was 1-of-4 from the field in the fourth quarter and in the fourth quarters of New York’s eight defeats by three points or fewer, the All-Star forward is 13 of 41 (31.7 percent) from the field.

“We’re fine,” Randle said. “We’re not going to get much out of frustration. We’ve got to figure out what the problem is and figure out how to solve it.”

Memphis heads to New York averaging 122.8 points during a four-game winning streak. The Grizzlies also are 5-1 in their past six games with four wins coming on the road.

Memphis is trying to get a season-high four games over .500 after posting a 131-113 win in Atlanta on Wednesday night. The Grizzlies are on their second-longest winning streak of the season despite Ja Morant averaging 12 points since scoring 36 on March 31 in a four-point loss against Utah.

Morant produced his best game of the streak Wednesday when he scored 13 of his 19 points in the third quarter and added seven assists and seven rebounds.

Wednesday marked the third different leading scorer for the Grizzlies in their winning streak. Grayson Allen scored 18 of his 30 points in the third quarter when Memphis outscored Atlanta 43-23 and shot 65.4 percent (17 of 26).

Third quarters are keying Memphis’ second-longest winning streak of the season as the Grizzlies are shooting 57 percent and outscoring opponents 145-102 in their past four third quarters after struggling with them earlier in the season.

“Just learning from the past,” Morant said. “All year we’ve been working on trying to play 48 minutes of our type of basketball. We know that some games hurt us. We didn’t come out strong in the third quarter. Just watching that, (and) watching film on it, I feel like we took a step in the right direction.”

–Field Level Media

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