CLEVELAND — The New York Knicks' franchise-record 17th straight loss might have been the toughest one to take.
The Knicks erased a 17-point deficit in the second half and had several chances to take the lead or tie the game in the final minute before falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-104 on Monday night.
"It's incredibly hard," said guard Dennis Smith Jr. "No one wants to lose, especially 17 in a row. Tonight would've been major for us if we'd have pulled it out."
Collin Sexton, who led Cleveland with 20 points, hit two free throws with 17 seconds remaining to put the Cavaliers up by three.
John Jenkins missed a 3-pointer from the right corner, but Smith grabbed the rebound and dribbled to the left corner. He also missed a 3-pointer and Larry Nance Jr. tapped the rebound to midcourt as time ran out.
Luke Kornet, who hit a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch, missed a wide-open 3 with 21 seconds remaining that would have put the Knicks ahead.
"When you've got a chance at the end, if you don't win, it hurts," coach David Fizdale said. "We had a shot — actually two — and we got the look we wanted. It just didn't go down. And before that, we got a real good look from one of our best shooters in Kornet."
Nance had 15 points and 16 rebounds, while Jordan Clarkson scored 15 points. Kevin Love had 14 points and nine rebounds in his second game since returning from foot surgery. The All-Star forward played 16 minutes, all in the first half. Love was 4 of 10 from the field, including two 3-pointers, and had nine rebounds.
Love played Friday against Washington after missing 50 games. He scored four points in six first-quarter minutes.
"I felt like the last game I wasn't able to open up my lungs like I was tonight," Love said. "It felt pretty good to get out there and feel like I got in some sort of rhythm."
Love said he thinks he'll play Wednesday against Brooklyn in Cleveland's final game before the All-Star break.
"He's doing some things that we've really missed over his absence," coach Larry Drew said. "You can put him in the post and he can manufacture a shot and get to the free throw line. He moves out to the 3 against a bigger guy. He looks good. He's moving very well."
Kadeem Allen scored a career-high 25 points for the Knicks. New York (10-46) has the worst record in the league, and has lost 25 of 26 and 30 of its last 32 games.
Cleveland (12-45) broke a four-game losing streak.
Kevin Knox scored 13 points while DeAndre Jordan had 12 points and 10 rebounds for New York.
Both teams are in the running for a prime spot in the draft lottery, which takes place May 14. The three worst teams in the league will have a 14 per cent chance of getting the first pick in the draft and a shot at grabbing Duke centre Zion Williamson.
Phoenix (11-47) and Chicago (13-44) are also possibilities for a top-three pick.
The Cavaliers led wire-to-wire and jumped to an 8-0 lead, leading Fizdale to use a timeout less than 90 seconds into the game.
The Knicks, who traded injured star Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas on Jan. 31, have their longest skid within one season. New York lost 20 in a row over two seasons, March 23-Nov. 9, 1985.
Knicks: Jenkins was signed to a 10-day contract earlier in the day. He scored seven points in nine minutes. .. G Emmanuel Mudiay (strained left shoulder) and G Frank Ntilikina (sore groin) remain out.
Cavaliers: F Tristan Thompson (sore left foot) likely won't play until after the All-Star break. He has missed the last 12 games. ... F Cedi Osman (sprained right ankle) was out for the fourth straight game. .... C Ante Zizic (sore lower back) was a late scratch.
THAT'S A LONG STREAK
The Knicks' loss gives them the 34th losing streak of at least 17 games in NBA history and the longest skid since the Memphis Grizzlies dropped 19 in a row last season.
New York hasn't won since a 119-112 victory over the Lakers on Jan. 4.
Cleveland won for the first time this season with Love on the floor. He played the first four games in the Cavaliers' 0-6 start and returned for Friday's loss in Washington.
Knicks: Host Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Cavaliers: Host Brooklyn on Wednesday.