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Kristaps Porzingis will look to lead way for Knicks down the stretch

Kristaps Porzingis creates a shot against the Magic.

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Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony may not be fans of, or the right fitin the Triangle offense, but Kristaps Porzingis has shown that his versatile skill set has the potential of being a great marriage to Phil Jackson’s beloved scheme.

Porzingis (sprained ankle) returned from his two-game absence and logged 33 efficient minutes. He didn’t look rusty at all and was as fluid as usual on the offensive end, as he notched 20 points (two 3s), nine rebounds, two assists, and a steal in the 101-90 win over the Magic (22-39), Wednesday night. Porzingis even got the start at center over Kyle O’Quinn, a move that some have bristled at due to the second-year player’s lack of natural strength and true post game.

Porzingis is still a work in progress, and his post-up game is still non-existent – which could be an impediment in truly mastering the Triangle, aka, the triple-post offense. But if he ever fully develops a back-to-the-basket game to go with his deft shooting touch, face-up game, and pick-and-pop game, the sky is the limit.

The Knicks (25-36) have gone on record saying they’re not in the tanking business, but trying to fit a square peg into a round hole will continue to disjoint the team and make winning down the stretch even more of a daunting task.

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That being said, they’re still just four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, with 21 games remaining. There’s still a lot of time to gain ground, and it may be up to Porzingis to lead the way. That’s a lot to put on the plate of a 21-year old, but if Jackson and head coach Jeff Hornacek insist on re-teaching the Triangle at this juncture of the season and highlight Porzingis in the offense, then the Knicks will sink or swim with the young, talented Latvian.

The Magic game was Porzingis’s first start of the season at center, and while he admitted it took a while for his ankle to warm up, he played aggressively on both ends and altered a few shots on defense. He’s averaging nearly two blocks per game and that may be the real impetus for the playoff push, as he’s helping the Knicks play better team defense.

New York stymied Orlando for the most of the game, despite their own team-wide shooting slump (42 percent). But the Knicks made up for their shooting maladies by holding the Magic to 41-percent from the floor, including 5-of-25 shooting in 3s, showing good close-out abilities on the perimeter. There’s been a bit of an uptick in effort on the defensive end, ever since they knocked off the San Antonio Spurs (46-13) at the Garden over two weeks ago. Since then, the effort on the defensive end has tightened and the team is 3-3 in its last six outings.

Porzingis’s return can only enhance that trend. And if he starts to put it all together on both ends of the floor -- enhancing his abilities in the Triangle, while continuing to be a defensive presence around the rim -- the Knicks may actually make that desired push, and put all that tanking talk on the backburner.

The Orlando game started a stretch in which six of the Knicks’ next seven games are on the road. But other than Sunday’s home tilt with the Golden State Warriors, it’s not a daunting task, as it features teams like Friday night’s opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers (22-38), Orlando again, the Milwaukee Bucks (26-33), the eighth-seeded Pistons (29-32), and the Brooklyn Nets (10-49).

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