For once, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t want to make too much of back-to-back losses.
Taking the top two teams in the Eastern Conference in Brooklyn and Philadelphia to the final possession is not panic-worthy.
However, the point-guard situation is panic-worthy — not just for the present but for the future. The Knicks are looking to make a move at the March 25 NBA trade deadline for an upgrade — backcourt help preferably.
While Houston’s combo guard Victor Oladipo is very available, Pelicans pass-first point guard Lonzo Ball is higher on Leon Rose’s list.
However, the Pelicans have not tipped their hand on whether they’re ready to move their ever-improving playmaker, even though he is a restricted free agent this summer as his rookie contract expires.
The Pelicans passed on giving Ball a rookie contract extension at the December deadline. Ball will be seeking big bucks this summer – and Pelicans ownership historically is afraid of luxury-tax implications.
ESPN’s cap guru Bobby Marks told The Post he doubts the Pelicans would match an offer sheet that starts higher than $18 million. The max starting number is $28 million.
The Post has learned the Knicks, with plenty of cap room, would be heavily on Ball’s radar as a restricted free agent.
It’s no surprise Ball would consider the Knicks an attractive destination. Father LaVar Ball wanted the Knicks to find a way to draft his point-guard son, LaMelo, favorite for Rookie of the Year who also wound up in a smallish market in Charlotte.
Charlotte is another place the Knicks can possibly find expendable point-guard types with LaMelo taking over.
Terry Rozier is playing off the ball now to accommodate the rookie star. Meanwhile, Devonte’ Graham has moved to the bench and is a free agent this summer.
The Knicks’ point-guard situation is in a bad way. In their last two losses, Thibodeau was forced to start Immanuel Quickley there – something he’d been reluctant to do as he loved the rookie on the second unit.
Meanwhile, Frank Ntilikina, elevated to backup point guard, is unable to score at this moment. And that’s not hyperbole.
Out of the All-Star break, the Frenchman put up four straight goose eggs on the 1-3 road trip, shooting 0-for-13 in 53 total minutes.
Yet Ntilikina is getting court time because his long-armed defense is disruptive – even if he fouled out against the Nets in 16 minutes.
Ntilikina also has committed just one turnover in the four games. Ntilikina was a team-high plus-4 in Philly. At the trade deadline, he can be shopped as the prototype defensive specialist.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” Thibodeau said.
But for a team scrambling to score, Ntilikina has lost his offensive mojo at the wrong time. Ironically the 6-5 guard entered the All-Star break making six straight 3-pointers.
The Austin Rivers-Thibodeau playing-time tiff has also come at a terrible time. Since the break, Rivers has been away from the team for “personal reasons.” His fiancée is expecting.
In addition, starting point guard Elfrid Payton (hamstring strain), weaving a serviceable season, has missed seven of the last nine games.
Derrick Rose has been out seven straight games because of COVID-19 issues – with the Knicks coach saying Tuesday that he’s “feeling a a lot better.” But the coach had no date for his return. NBA sources say each COVID-19 situation is analyzed case by case by physicians.
It’s not all Quickley and Ntilikina’s fault the Knicks couldn’t get to 100 points in Philly Tuesday, but the duo combined for just four assists. It’s put unnecessary playmaking chores on Julius Randle and swingman Alec Burks.
The Knicks return to the Garden on Thursday to face Orlando. Rose, Payton and Rivers are not good bets to be back.
They will need more contributions up front other than Randle. Nerlens Noel, starting at center for injured Mitchell Robinson, is being exposed on offense.
And the regression of rookie power forward Obi Toppin is not helping matters.
Toppin was particularly inept in Philly – making a blooper play as he mistimed a dunk attempt, missing it badly as he fell off balance. He was held scoreless in seven minutes.
After scoring 96 points in Philly, it may be time Thibodeau benches their 2020 lottery pick and goes with 2018 lottery pick Kevin Knox, an improved 3-point shooter, at power forward.
Or finally make a move for banished center Andre Drummond.
On the bright side, the Knicks are playing meaningful games after the All-Star break for the first time since 2014 and gave the Nets and Sixers a scare.
“Those are two top East teams,” Quickley said. “We never want to come into a game losing but for us to be right there, we know we just have to make those extra effort plays, extra hustle plays to get over the hump.”