Lakers 100, Knicks 92: A Question of Degrees

Howard Megdal

NEW YORK — When it was over, Marcus Morris Sr. didn't celebrate. He wasn't cheerful, his body battered by a game-high 37 minutes in his return. He wasn't 100 percent by his own admission, "about 75 percent, it is what it is," he said.

But Morris wanted to be out there, once again the most willing Knick. 

"These last couple of games, we've been trending in the right direction," Morris said, noting that this has been the team's best defensive stretch of the season.

It wasn't enough, ultimately, to get a win. Hold LeBron James to two points in the second half, at the arena James called "probably my favorite place to play in the world", in no small part because he's not often seriously challenged here, but still the Knicks couldn't quite make enough plays down the stretch to win.

"I think there is only so many things that we can control, and if we are playing hard and we are really sticking to our defensive schemes and making it tough on them to score and we try to get good shots... you're going to have nights where maybe they're not going to go [in]," Knicks coach Mike Miller said after the game.

And so, that is the essence of the Knicks as the season moves into its final 37 games. It is, speaking realistically, what 2019-20 has been about since the start.

It is finding Frank Ntilikina's shooting keys, to move him away from nights like 0-for-8. It is seeing Mitchell Robinson hold his own against Dwight Howard and scheme how to build on that.

It is determining whether Damyean Dotson can do more of what he managed off the bench Wednesday night, with five threes, and it is getting more playing time for Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox, struggles or no struggles, to understand exactly what they are, and whether the future should include them.

Morris can go to another team after this season is over. He can probably make that happen in two weeks if he tells management he's ready for a change.

Even so, as he put on his black winter hat, steeled against the cold weather ahead, he spoke about immersing himself in the details.

But hope, too, creeps in. Marcus Morris Sr. played 37 minutes at 75% health because he is a competitor of the highest order. That's what gets guys to the NBA. And so it is a balance, right? For Morris, for the coaching staff, for everybody watching. Listen to him strike that balance within his answer.

"The biggest thing for me is, I'm a big film guy," Morris said of his process. "I just watch film, and you just continue to get better. You never know, man. You put together a good stretch, some teams start losing, and you never know, man. I just keep my head up, continue to go forward... we're going to continue to play, we're going to continue to fight."

The reality of 12-33 up against a lifetime of playing basketball at the highest level. It makes for some challenging psychology.