AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Two months ago, you would have had to pay people to go to Friday night's game between the Knicks and the Detroit Pistons.
Both teams had new coaches and new general managers, and both struggled early, opening the season with 5-23 records. But what has happened to the two teams since mid-December goes a long way toward explaining why a good-sized crowd braved single-digit temperatures to watch the Knicks defeat the Pistons, 121-115, in double overtime at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Knicks (11-46), who have blown up their roster in order to prepare for this summer's free agency, came back from an 18-point second-quarter deficit and ended their losing streak at eight games. The Pistons, who entered the night one game out of the eighth and final playoff spot, fell to 23-35.
The Pistons are rebuilding on the run. In late December, right before they started a seven-game winning streak, they abruptly cut Josh Smith. The surprise move has played some big dividends, coach Stan Van Gundy said.
"Josh had the ball in his hands a lot," said Van Gundy, who also is the team's president of basketball operations. "We thought it would be easier on him and us if he had another opportunity. Greg [Monroe] has gotten the ball more. And I think it's helped in terms of production."
The Pistons were so happy with Monroe that they decided not to trade him before the deadline, even though they could lose him to free agency this summer. The Knicks, who will have at least $30 million in cap space, could be one of the teams that take a run at him.
Monroe, who led all scorers with 28 points, declined to say whether he would be interested in playing for the Knicks, adding that all he is concentrating on this season is the Pistons and making the playoffs.
So, evidently, is Van Gundy, who last week traded for another player the Knicks wouldn't mind having, acquiring guard Reggie Jackson from Oklahoma City in a complicated three-way deal. Jackson is a favorite of Knicks coach Derek Fisher, having played with him for Oklahoma City. The two embraced in the hallway before the game.
Jackson, a restricted free agent this summer, said he likes Detroit.Said Jackson: "Great talent. Young core, got a bunch of pieces that are very versatile. Looks like an organization moving in the right direction, and I'm trying to be a part of it."
Knicks fans can only hope talented players will be saying the same about their team at this time next year.
Notes & quotes: Langston Galloway hit a three-pointer with 6.3 seconds left in regulation to force the first overtime. Andrea Bargnani had 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 18 points and Lou Amundson had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Andre Drummond had 21 points for the Pistons . . . Jose Calderon is scheduled to have an MRI on his left Achilles Saturday . . . After scouting Ohio State, Knicks president Phil Jackson moved on to Kentucky on Friday. Kentucky has four players who are possible first-round picks.