Dennis Smith Jr.
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic

Dennis Smith Jr.’s efficient night leads the New York Knicks to their first victory in their last 18 games.

Wins don’t help the New York Knicks’ lottery chances, but that didn’t matter much on Thursday. The Knicks needed a win in the worst possible way after losing a franchise-record 18-straight games. The Knicks were able to knock off the Atlanta Hawks with a balanced offense and suffocating defense. This was the team’s first win since Jan. 4.

Obviously, each loss improves the chance that the Knicks stay near the top of the lottery. If the team hopes to add Zion Williamson this summer, losses help more than wins.

That being said, a historic losing streak isn’t going to help build the “winning culture” that is a constant buzzword around rebuilding teams. The Knicks needed a win to feel good about themselves.

Dennis Smith Jr. led the way for New York, scoring a team-high 19 points on an efficient 7-for-10 shooting from the field. The point guard added seven assists for good measure. He does need to improve on his poor free throw shooting. He doesn’t have his confidence at the line and it’s showing. Smith was 3-for-8 from the free throw line on Thursday.

Five other Knicks finished in double figures, including DeAndre Jordan who had 10 points and 13 boards. Former G Leaguer Kadeem Allen had another eye-opening performance. He finished the night with 14 points and nine assists. He’s a tenacious defender and he’s taking advantage of his opportunity.

Mitchell Robinson is quickly becoming one of the best reasons to watch the Knicks. Despite finishing with only six points, the lanky big man added seven rebounds and four blocks.

The Knicks received contributions from a bunch of different players. This was a team victory in every sense of the word. The Hawks were held to 36.3 percent shooting from the field. They missed a lot of open shots, but that low number is a direct result from the Knicks’ playing sound defense for much of the game. It’s impossible to knock any team that holds its opponent to 91 points in today’s game.

For the Knicks to eventually become a contender, they need to play defense. Of course, losses help the Knicks inch closer to potentially landing Zion. But it’s important for head coach David Fizdale to instill defensive fundamentals with his young roster. If the Knicks are winning games because of their defense, that’s not a terrible sign for the future.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.