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Shootaround. It’s rarely a topic of conversation in locker rooms after NBA games, but it was a buzzword for the New York Knicks on Monday.

Danny Small

There are a few things in life that are inevitable. Death, taxes, and fake New York Knicks comebacks. Death happens once in a lifetime and tax day is once every April, but fake Knicks comebacks are common between the months of October and April.

On Monday, the Washington Wizards came to Madison Square Garden with eight players out and a team made up of Bradley Beal and a bunch of journeymen. Those Wizards held a 17-point lead with four minutes left in the fourth.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Knicks showed some fight by cutting that lead down to three possession in the waning seconds, but a loss is a loss and this one is as disappointing as they come. The mere thought of rationalizing this game as a “moral victory” is laughable, but only the most supportive of fans would try to put lipstick on that pig.

Julius Randle mentioned the team’s sluggishness during shootaround first and he was later backed up by RJ Barrett and Damyean Dotson. All three Knicks pointed to the team’s lack of focus starting long before the opening tip.

“It shouldn’t have gotten to that point. To be honest, we should have never been in that position,” a frustrated Randle said. “From top to bottom, how we approached the game was terrible. This can’t happen.”

“Our approach for the whole day was terrible, from shootaround on,” Randle later added. “I think we had a bad approach as a team, collective, top to bottom, myself included.”

The rest of the team’s comments were in lockstep with Randle, who was the first to mention shootaround before a string of Knicks mentioned the pregame routine.

“It starts in shootaround. We have to come in every day ready to go. We just have to play hard and fight with pride. We have to outwork everybody,” Barrett admitted in the locker room after the game.

“It started in our shootaround,” Dotson added. “We had a lack of focus. I don’t know what it was, it may have been the day off. I feel like we were a little bit sluggish and that usually leads into the game.”

Alright, so clearly the feeling amongst the players is that their issues started during shootaround. That is the established narrative, but that makes the loss far too easy to explain. Saying the Knicks lacked focus and didn’t put forth enough effort is obvious, but the issues run much deeper than a lack of focus.

Washington’s second unit torched the Knicks’ backups during the first full line change. During that period towards the end of the first quarter and start of the second, the Knicks watched an 11-point lead evaporate into thin air.

The Knicks were built to compete in the Eastern Conference and they couldn’t manage to fend off a team playing with a veritable skeleton crew. Gary Payton II signed with the Wizards on Monday morning before playing 34 minutes in his first NBA game of the season. He finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and six steals.

This is about more than simply a lack of focus or a less-than-stellar shootaround. Through 31 games, the Knicks are 7-24 and one of the worst teams in the entire NBA.

They are what they are. Tthe head coaching change is unlikely to make any significant changes and that’s not a knock on Miller at all. This writer has written about the clunkiness of the roster multiple times this season. The 3-3 start under Miller might have been a sugar rush, featuring a quick burst of energy before an unavoidable crash.

New York has yet another brutal stretch of games coming up. Carmelo Anthony’s return to MSG on New Year’s Day is sandwiched between six road games. The first two are against the Brooklyn Nets and Wizards. The others are part of a four-game Western Conference road trip with games against the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Utah Jazz.

“We have to look at ourselves in the mirrors,” a hushed Randle said in a quiet locker room. “Come into the game after Christmas against Brooklyn and approach the game like true professionals, how we are supposed to. Make sure that we are in the mind state to do whatever it takes to get a win.”

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