The Knicks are battered and bruised, both physically and in psyche.
Whether it’s Kristaps Porzingis and his ailing Achilles, Carmelo Anthony’s bruised ego, or the faces of key members of the squad, the Knicks (18-24) are spiraling.
Porzingis has missed the last three games for New York – all losses. The second-year forward could’ve been used on Monday, a 108-107 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks, where both Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony both missed point-blank shots at the rim as time expired. The Hawks were without Dwight Howard, which should’ve boded well for a Knicks squad that was planning on using Porzingis at center some whenever Joakim Noah needed a breather. But the Latvian sensation was sacked even before pregame warm-ups by head coach Jeff Hornacek – the sixth time this season that he’s missed time nursing the injury. Porzingis was slated to go through shootaround, but the training staff decided he wasn’t ready.
His status for Wednesday night’s affair in Boston is still up in the air.
Their budding forward isn’t the only one reeling, as Anthony is still seeking some sort of remedy for team president Phil Jackson’s foot-in-mouth syndrome. Jackson’s words about Anthony this season, first starting with his December critique about Anthony being a “ball-stopper,” and now the criticism from longtime Jackson mouthpiece Charley Rosen stating that Anthony’s “legs are going, going, almost gone,” and that Anthony “has outlived his usefulness in New York,” have been the bane of Anthony in recent weeks. Rosen claimed that he wasn’t speaking for Jackson, but the damage is likely done – especially since Jackson hasn’t made himself publicly available much to expand on Anthony’s value to the team.
The duo will reportedly meet sometime this week to air out any grievances.
Whatever will be said during their closed-door meeting, it’ll need to harmonize a seemingly contaminated culture that is heading towards toxicity. The Knicks have now lost 11 times in their last 13 games, and with a schedule that still has eight games remaining over the next two weeks, the team can either find a way to rally or further slip into despair.
Hornacek is going to need to find a way to rally from within. And for spurts during Monday’s matinee, it appeared he found the elixir. He started rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Ron Baker instead of Porzingis and Courtney Lee – and both responded nicely. Kuzminskas notched 14 points in his first NBA start to go along with five rebounds, two assists, and two steals in a career-high 38 minutes. He even earned his battle scars, so to speak, when he caught an inadvertent swipe to the face from Kent Bazemore that opened up a laceration on his right cheek. Ironically, Kuzminskas was in the lineup for Lance Thomas, who is out with an orbital issue after getting hit in the face the game before, so even the backup’s backup isn’t safe in this climate.
Baker, an undrafted rookie, started at shooting guard and scored 12 points (all on 3s) in his maiden start. He added three rebounds and two steals and looked comfortable in his role. Hornacek said he likes “how he competes” and was pleased with the early shooting – although Baker wasn’t allowed to close out the game, as he was attached to the bench down the stretch, hot shooting be damned. The coach didn’t make it clear whether either rookie will continue to see extended minutes, but whatever he decides, he needs to do it quickly – and stick to his decision.
Brandon Jennings alluded as much while discussing his frustration with the Knicks’ sudden malaise.
“Every day is something new,’’ Jennings said, adding the inconsistency in the rotation is likely aiding to the team’s discourse. “When you come in, you really don’t know what’s going to happen ... There’s kind of no consistency. It’s tough.’’
Outside of spot-starting due to injuries to starters, Hornacek’s customary starting five looks good on paper. It’s just when he needs to dig deep for a boost off the bench where he and the team lose their way. The Knicks are a banged-up and frustrated outfit, which only aids in the on-court chemistry – or lack thereof.
The team is in disarray, as they’ve now dropped to 11th in the conference and three games out of the eighth seed. They’ll need to get both their minds and bodies right quickly if they’re to get themselves out of their self-induced dilemma.