NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks were playing their first preseason game when Marcus Morris delivered some postseason-type toughness.
His first appearance in his new uniform ended early when he was ejected for banging the ball off Justin Anderson's head as the Washington Wizards forward closely defended him. Morris apologized afterward, but he also made it clear the Knicks weren't going to be pushed around.
He had a similar message on the eve of training camp, saying the Knicks have a lot of "dogs" on the roster, a term he defined as players like him.
"Guys that's not going to back down," Morris said. "Guys that are going to go out there and compete every night."
That would be a welcome change in New York, where the Knicks didn't compete much at all last season.
They had the NBA's worst record at 17-65, matching the poorest performance in franchise history. They were last in the league in field goal percentage and at one point dropped 18 straight games, a franchise-worst within one season.
That futility during a sixth straight season out of the playoffs certainly hurt when the Knicks went into free agency, where they couldn't land any of the All-Star players available. They came away with a seven-player class that aims to back up Morris' boasts.
"Guys are just hungry going out there," new forward Taj Gibson said. "You look at the makeup of a team, a bunch of guys who are underdogs, highly skilled, highly talented guys, but they bring a mentality that just wants to win and wants to prove people wrong."
Joining Morris and Gibson were Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock. There are no stars there, but the Knicks see that as a strength.
"I think the best thing about our team is that we have a lot of guys that's always picked second," Portis said. "We have a lot of guys that are underdogs in a sense that nobody really believes in, nobody's really talking about, and I think when you put a full roster of guys like that on the same team you build a great basketball team."
Perhaps the Knicks will surprise, though they don't appear to have enough firepower to play their way back into postseason contention. But just playing hard would be an improvement and endear the team to fans who appreciated the hard-nosed style of the Knicks of the 1990s, before they became one of the NBA's worst franchises.
"The first thing most guys talked about in the offseason before I came here is that this city will love you if you go out and just play hard and do whatever you can do for just five minutes," Gibson said. "You can just become a special person in this city."
Other things to know about the Knicks:
The Knicks took RJ Barrett with the No. 3 pick, their highest since drafting Patrick Ewing first in 1985, and need the ACC scoring leader from Duke to quickly find his stroke after they averaged just 104.6 points, 28th in the league.
Randle signed with the Knicks following what was probably his best NBA season, ranking in the league's top 20 in both scoring (career-high 21.4 ppg) and rebounding (8.7) for the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Knicks need to play better at Madison Square Garden after going 9-32 with an 18-game losing streak that was one shy of an NBA record. They ranked ninth in attendance, but their 13 sellouts were their fewest since 1990-91.
MITCHELL IN THE MIDDLE
Mitchell Robinson was second in the NBA in blocked shots as a rookie but prone to fouls while trying too hard for blocks. The Knicks hope he can clean up that aspect of his game while expanding his offensive repertoire after shooting 69.4% to lead first-year players.
With a dismal 2018-19 behind them and the potential for more struggles ahead, the Knicks were not deemed to be must-see TV this season. They didn't get their customary spot on the Christmas schedule and landed only three national TV appearances at all. The first is Nov. 14 on TNT against Dallas, when New York welcomes Kristaps Porzingis back for the first time since trading its former All-Star midway through last season.
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