It was the 80th game of one of the most miserable seasons in New York Knicks history, and it sounded like the playoffs.
A sellout crowd of 19,812 roared as the Knicks charged back from 10 points down after three quarters to beat the Washington Wizards for what turned out to be their last home victory of the season.
New York took the floor to start the final period with a lineup that included Henry Ellenson, John Jenkins and Luke Kornet.
Imagine what it will sound like when the Knicks finally have some NBA stars playing for really big stakes?
“All year we had a great fan base for a team that’s struggled and gone through a lot of losses,” coach David Fizdale said. “Our fans have come out every night and really supported us. So yes, I think about the days when we put it together, how this place is going to be.”
It could even be next season.
If things go right, those former G League players could be replaced by the likes of Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant and another All-Star. The Knicks go into the offseason with high hopes for the draft and free agency, and if things go really well even a worst-to-first scenario seems imaginable.
Of course, things have rarely gone as hoped in New York.
They sure didn’t in 2018-19, when the Knicks finished 17-65 to match the worst record in franchise history. The Knicks traded their best player along the way, dealing Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas, and the roster is absent of sure-fire stars.
But New York shares the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick and the chance to draft Williamson, the college player of the year from Duke. After that, the Knicks could have enough money to sign two players from a free agency class that is expected to be headlined by Durant, the MVP of the last two NBA Finals.
The possibilities are the reason there is a high level of hope around a franchise that for so long has been hopeless.
“We’re not putting our heads down because we’re last in the East or stuff like that,” swingman Mario Hezonja said. “That will change. Everybody in the organization is working for that. That change is going to come, we’ve just got to stay together and show our chemistry and our togetherness.”
Some other things to know about the Knicks:
The Knicks didn’t have the best timing for a fall to the bottom. Before this season, the worst record in the league would have given them a 25 percent chance to win the lottery. But after new rules were enacted for this season, they share 14 percent odds with Cleveland and Phoenix, who tied for the second-worst record.
Gearing up for free agency means the Knicks have just a few players under contract beyond this season, mostly players still under their rookie deals. So they will have to decide who else they think are keepers among former lottery picks such as Hezonja, Emmanuel Mudiay and Noah Vonleh, or find other players to round out a new-look roster during the offseason.
The Knicks appear to have done well with their first-year players. Second-round selection Mitchell Robinson is an athletic force, shattering some of Patrick Ewing’s records for blocked shots. Undrafted guard Allonzo Trier averaged 10.9 points and shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range, and lottery pick Kevin Knox scored 12.8 points per game as a 19-year-old.
On the other hand, it was a forgettable season for the Knicks’ previous lottery pick. Guard Frank Ntilikina played in only 43 games because of injuries and was never on the court long enough to improve his limited offensive skills and crack Fizdale’s regular rotation. The Knicks will decide if there’s interest in Phil Jackson’s final draft pick.
It was hard for Fizdale to prove what kind of coach he is because of the Knicks’ lack of talent and experience. But he said it was a positive season, and now he needs to help New York build a better team for his second season.
“Big picture-wise it was good for me because I had to learn how to be patient,” Fizdale said. “As a group, I think we got a chunk of young guys that can move forward with us in the future. They can fill in some spots around some veteran players and start moving in the direction of winning.”