PHILADELPHIA — Watching the Knicks chop a tree would have been more entertaining than witnessing their performance against the mighty 76ers Wednesday in front of a rowdy sell-out crowd at Wells Fargo Center.
The Knicks’ three-game winning streak ended one night earlier against the Pistons, but that wasn’t close to as embarrassing as their lack of defensive effort in a 117-91 disgrace against Philly.
The Sixers have risen to become the third-best team in the Eastern Conference at 15-8 after adding Jimmy Butler and subtracting Markelle Fultz, who is on leave. They are 6-2 since the trade with Minnesota.
Knicks coach David Fizdale said Philly is “knocking on the door’’ as title contenders.
“We didn’t have answers for any of them,’’ Fizdale said. “That was a focused, veteran team that came out. We just got blitzed. They came out with the right mentality. They weren’t going to mess around with us.”
The 7-16 Knicks, who fell behind by 31 points, played as if they were dead tired on the second night of a back-to-back as they completed a stretch of 11 road games in 15 contests. Chopping the tree has become David Fizdale’s motto and the coach brings a team-autographed ax on the road.
On Wednesday, the Sixers took the ax to the Knicks in a wire-to-wire blowout that saw Philly run circles around Fizdale’s crew, shooting 58 percent in the first half and building a 20-point halftime lead.
“They way they built it, that’s how we want be two years from now,’’ said Frank Ntilikina, who suffered his second straight scoreless night. “That’s our goal. We want the Knicks to be a winning team and we’ll keep grinding to make it happen in the next two years.’’
Superstar Joel Embiid finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists and he’s surrounded by shooters such as JJ Redick (25 points).
Enes Kanter led the Knicks with 17 points but also missed two bunnies at the rim as the club shot 34 percent.
Slumping Tim Hardaway Jr. finished with just five points on 1-of-11 shooting, leaving him 6-of-26 the past two outings. He’s noticed teams are loading up against him the past few games.
“I have to try to find way to manipulate their defense and [find] easy baskets,’’ Hardaway said. “It’s tough. It’s all part of the process being an elite player. They’re finding ways of putting two men on me and get [the ball] out of my hands.’’
The Knicks’ youngsters also struggled early. Rookie center Mitchell Robinson picked up three fouls in four first-half minutes, continuing his infraction-laden season. Fellow rookie Kevin Knox finished with nine points and was 3-of-9 from the field, but showed progress in getting to the basket more frequently.
Most notably, Ntilikina, their 2017 lottery pick, continued a startling regression, missing all five of his shots, many badly. Ntilikina hasn’t hit double figures in 12 games and Fizdale said “it’s back to the lab’’ for the second-year player.
The Sixers rang up a 68-48 halftime lead as Embiid had his way with the Knicks defense and finished the half with 17 points, six assists and seven rebounds. During one sequence, he was paired on the block against Trey Burke, who was caught in a mismatch, and spun by him for an uncontested wild slam that had this raucous packed house Broad Street at full throat.
The Knicks already were trailing 41-27 after one period — the Sixers’ second-highest-scoring quarter this season. The Knicks appeared to have tired legs and shot 6-of-29 from 3-point land.
This was the Knicks’ first game against Butler since his trade from Minnesota. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Butler did not have the Knicks on his trade wish list, and according to a source, the Knicks never had a single conversation about a Butler trade. On this night, they may have wanted that sort of talent.
“We’ve been on road a lot and this team is starting to bond and get looser on the court,’’ Hardaway said. “Our chemistry is being built off the court and hopefully will lead to on the court.’’