NEW ORLEANS — A small-ball change that had the Knicks’ three rookies together in the starting lineup for the first time looked good for a long while before the Pelicans’ size and Anthony Davis’ 43-point greatness proved too much in the end.
The Knicks led by 19 points in the first half, by 11 inside the seven-minute mark and were still ahead by four with just four minutes left before they got smacked in the face by Davis and company.
The Pelicans ran off a late 8-1 run and handed the Knicks their fourth straight loss in a 129-124 Friday shootout at Smoothie King Center.
After the defeat, Trey Burke lit a fire in the locker room by saying his club seems content to be in close games instead of trying to win them and the players hang their heads when things go south.
“I think when guys put their heads down and when a team goes on a run, we see that a lot on our team,’’ Burke said after the Knicks fell to 4-12. “A team hits a shot or two shots, we put our heads down. It’s not time to put our heads down. We got to get the ball out and go back at them while they’re celebrating.”
Burke was dusted off after not playing for three of the past four games and struck for 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting, but he was removed down the stretch when the Knicks collapsed and Fizdale went back to his rookie lineup.
Modal TriggerTim Hardaway Jr. scored 30 points in the Knicks’ loss.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 30 points in the Knicks’ loss.NBAE/Getty Images
The awful finish also spoiled a 30-point night by Tim Hardaway Jr. and a solid outing for new starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who notched 16 of his 19 points in the first half.
Burke revealed John Starks was at their Tarrytown campus recently giving a speech to the club about not fading late in games. Starks was referring to the fact the Knicks were tied in the fourth quarter in eight of their first nine losses. Burke said he would address the club on the issues in Orlando, where they play Sunday.
“We can’t keep saying the young-team thing because we’re in all of these games,’’ Burke said. “That’s not the goal — to be in the game. The goal is to have more points than the opponent when the buzzer sounds. John Starks talked about it. He came in the locker room and said when that five-minute mark hits the clock in the fourth quarter, there’s a whole level of focus we have to have.”
Before Burke’s rant, coach David Fizdale acknowledged the obvious.
“I see other teams take it up another level, and we don’t know how to answer the bell,’’ Fizdale said.
Davis punished his Louisiana brother, foul-plagued rookie Mitchell Robinson, and all the Knicks’ bigs from inside and outside. He was 16 of 25 from the field (10 of 15 from the free-throw line) and grabbed 17 rebounds to lead the comeback.
Burly forward Julius Randle became a beast inside and on the boards in the second half. He finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, including a key offensive putback with 1:23 left after David had missed two free throws. That put the Pelicans up three — and Burke said it cost the Knicks the game.
Fizdale acknowledged an inability to get rebounds late led to the Knicks’ demise but wanted his young small-ball group to close.