DETROIT — This is no way to go into Friday’s Kristaps Porzingis Bowl, beset by a four-game losing streak and carrying in a 1-7 record.
The Knicks couldn’t get any worse than how they performed Sunday against the Kings. So though they showed improvement Wednesday on the offensive end and received strong games from Frank Ntilikina and Julius Randle, it ended in a rout anyway, 122-102, to a depleted Pistons team at Little Caesar’s Arena.
The Knicks now head to Dallas to face Porzingis for the first time, and they might not have Mitchell Robinson, who suffered a concussion Wednesday in the first quarter, and definitely won’t have the prized piece of the Porzingis trade, Dennis Smith Jr., who hasn’t returned to the team after his stepmother’s death.
The Knicks battled in the first half and wound up down just 64-59 at halftime then they got blown out after intermission.
Frustration reached a high midway through the fourth as the Pistons kept piling it on. Marcus Morris was called for traveling and bounced the ball hard as the sphere sailed up in the air with 6:26 left. Randle received a technical with 3:43 left.
Randle awoke from an offensive slumber to put up 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, even draining three 3-pointers, but was slacking on defense. Ntilikina had a smooth game on both ends, — 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting with four assists and three blocks.
The Knicks didn’t defend much otherwise, particularly in transition. They couldn’t hold down a Pistons team without their top two point guards in Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose, and their star power forward Blake Griffin.
Only the Knicks could turn Tony Snell perfect. Snell made 9-of-9 from the field — 6-of-6 from the 3-point line — for 24 points. Detroit shot 44 percent from 3-point land.
A turning point came midway through the third quarter. On a controversial call, Randle was called for a flagrant foul on a Markieff Morris 3-point make for allegedly tripping him.
Morris made the free throw for the four-point play, then the Pistons regained possession and Andre Drummond (27 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists) scored inside. That six-point play put the Pistons up 80-72, and the Knicks trailed 96-85 after three quarters.
In the first quarter, Robinson got hit in the head by an errant elbow by Morris. He came out after eight minutes and was diagnosed with a concussion that could put him out for Friday’s game. They missed him against Drummond.
As for Randle, he became a premier inside-outside threat again early. Randle, who had not reached double figures in the past two games and hadn’t put up a star-like game since the season opener, racked up 17 points by halftime. Randle had carried in a 1-of-18 3-pointer ledger into the contest.
Ntilikina, now the starting point guard with Elfrid Payton and Smith unavailable until further notice, put together a strong two-way performance in the half. He blocked three shots, was swarming on defense and moved the ball.
Rookie RJ Barrett finished with 15 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
Markieff Morris outplayed his twin, Marcus, outscoring him 22-18. The Knicks were very competitive in the first half and looked like they would take a step from the Sacramento, when they were blown out from start to finish, but they faded in the second half.
And now a 7-foot-3 Latvian awaits in Big D.
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