The Knicks may be much improved than last season, as they’re already creeping towards last year’s win total of 17. But they still have a ways to go to gain the respect of the rest of the league.
Wednesday night’s matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers (18-7) at Quicken Loans Arena will be a great litmus test for a New York (14-15) squad that is looking to gain traction as it tries tostay within range of the eighth seed, currently owned by the Orlando Magic (16-12) – a team they lost to Monday night at the Garden.
They may have to engage the Cavs sans Carmelo Anthony, who sprained his ankle late in the third quarter of the Magic game. Anthony, a known gunner, was so hampered that he was more of a decoy and a willing passer in the fourth quarter.
He admitted he may have to do the same on Wednesday.
“As of right now, I’ll be playing. But who knows. I don’t want to miss it [going against LeBron James], but I've got to be smart,” Anthony said, adding he’ll be a gametime decision. “Who knows how aggressive I can be. I’ll be looking to find guys like Lance [Thomas] or Kristaps [Porzingis]. And if I have to be more of a facilitator than be in attack mode, so be it.’’
Thomas has certainly earned the trust of Anthony and head coach Derek Fisher, particularly Monday when he tallied 24 points, hitting all nine of his field goal attempts. Thomas, considered an afterthought free-agent signing over the summer, has been on a roll lately. During his last five games, he’s averaged 15 points, three rebounds, one steal, and almost two 3s per game, while shooting 76 percent from the field.
That kind of production is something Anthony can value, as the Knicks are no longer a one-man team. And at the very least, Anthony has not only trusted his supporting cast, but has relished in the role of mentor, so he knows if he’s not at 100 percent on Wednesday, he can lean on the others.
“From the moment we met, he’s been like a mentor to me,” said Porzingis. “I take that and try to play well for him, for all he’s done for me.”
Porzingis won’t admit that he’s hit the rookie wall, but the statistics say otherwise. He only tallied nine points and eight rebounds against the Magic, but did add four blocks. He was a fourth-quarter spectator from the bench, due to his 3-of-12 shooting, but said he knows he can fight through this slump and at least contribute elsewhere until his shot returns.
“Maybe it’s mechanics or my feet not set. It’s sometimes those little things that add up to missed shots,” said Porzingis. “But sooner or later they will fall again. I’m not too worried about that.”
Anthony isn’t too concerned about Porzingis’s recent stretch either, and has faith the rookie can bounce back and find his rhythm again.
“It’s gonna happen. It happens to everyone. We all go through it [but] we’ll help him get out of it,” said Anthony. “We’ve got to do a better job of helping him figure this out … no doubt he can still help in other ways, too, though.”
Porzingis is averaging 13 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks per game on the season. But his recent struggles are only magnified because of the market in which he plays, and the much-publicized hot start to his career. His averages over the last two weeks (eight points and five rebounds) are of some concern, but Fisher will still look to lean on the rook against the Cavs, especially with Anthony’s status questionable.
-Adding to the Knicks’ injury front, forward Kyle O’Quinn won’t commit to playing on Wednesday, as he’s battling a right ankle sprain that he suffered in Chicago on Saturday. O’Quinn had steadily been getting minutes in Fisher’s sporadic rotation, and was looking forward to playing his former team, Orlando, Monday night.