A recent slide has the New York Knicks fading in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Knicks will try to avoid their second four-game losing streak in two weeks Friday when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves.
New York (31-43) fell 92-90 at home to Philadelphia on Wednesday for its 10th loss in 13 games. The Knicks are in 10th place in the East, 2 1/2 games behind Orlando for the eighth and final playoff spot with eight games remaining — five of which will be on the road.
“This is definitely a missed opportunity and we just have to suck it up and keep focus,” New York coach Isiah Thomas said after Wednesday’s game.
Stephon Marbury scored 20 of his 30 points in the third quarter and the Knicks rallied to lead by nine during the period, but had that cut to two while Marbury sat for a 59-second breather. New York was outscored by four in the final quarter and Marbury had his last-second 3-point attempt blocked by the 76ers’ Andre Iguodala.
“I wanted to play, but at the same time I basically was running up and down the court for about four or five minutes straight. I got winded,” Marbury said. “I think that was a great move on Isiah’s part as far as taking me out and giving me that breather.”
With Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson done for the season, and Steve Francis out with a sprained right ankle, Marbury has increased his offensive production. He’s averaging 16.5 points on the season, but has scored 27.4 in his last five games.
Marbury is averaging 25.3 points in 18 games against Minnesota (31-43), the team he started his NBA career with in 1996. He had 18 in the Knicks’ 107-89 road loss to the Timberwolves on Nov. 22.
Knicks rookie Renaldo Balkman had 17 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, and Eddy Curry had 14 points and 11 boards for his second straight double-double Wednesday. However, New York went 5-for-20 from 3-point range and committed 22 turnovers to fall to 2-9 since Thomas received a contract extension when the club was in eighth place in the conference.
“Everybody has to play with high energy and fight until the end,” Balkman said. “If we lose one game we have to go out the next (game) and play harder.”
While the Knicks are still alive for a postseason spot, the Timberwolves are set to miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
Minnesota lost for the fourth time in five games Tuesday, 101-88 to Cleveland. With eight games left, the Timberwolves are six games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Kevin Garnett scored 22 points and had 12 rebounds for his NBA-leading 63rd double-double of the season Tuesday, but the other four Minnesota starters combined for just 18 points.
“These guys are showing who wants to do it and who doesn’t,” Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said. “They’re showing who has heart and who doesn’t; who can be counted on and who can’t.”
Minnesota is 11-23 since Wittman replaced the fired Dwane Casey in January.
The Timberwolves have won three straight over the Knicks, and taken four of the last five meetings at Madison Square Garden.
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