The Knicks have long been in the market for big man help and following Sunday’s win, they’re optimistic that it might have been on their roster all along.
As the Knicks enter tonight’s matchup with the Mavericks, many within their locker room feel that rookie Timofey Mozgov may actually be that relief. The 7-foot-1 Russian is coming off his breakthrough performance, posting career highs in points (23), rebounds (14) and minutes (40) in Sunday’s win over the Pistons.
“We have two good bigs with [Ronny] Turiaf and Mozgov. He played very well,” said team president Donnie Walsh, adding that recent success aside, he’s still looking to bolster the interior. “I’d still want to get a little more height, though.”
Coach Mike D’Antoni, who is always willing to take on foreign projects, said Mozgov is starting to get the hang of playing in the NBA. Now, we’ll see how well he plays against a bigger front line.
Dallas boasts a 7-foot MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki, who’s arguably the best shooting big man ever. They can also trot out traditional seven footers in Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood.
“Anytime you have Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion on the same team, you’re good. And Tyson Chandler is healthy. And when he is, he’s one of the better centers in the league,” D’Antoni said, gushing over the athletic center. “Maybe they got a steal by getting him.”
Maybe the Knicks got one in Mozgov, who signed a three-year, $9.7 million contract over the summer. At the very least, D’Antoni feels a bit of comfort knowing there’s another big who can fill in when Wilson Chandler is hobbled.
“Matchups don’t mean a whole lot at times. Sometimes it’s just [the player] playing well,” said D’Antoni. “I expect him to play well now. Maybe not as well as Sunday but hopefully he’ll continue to play at a good level.”
When asked if he can keep Mozgov on the bench if he duplicates even half of Sunday’s production, D’Antoni smiled.
“I don’t think you do,” D’Antoni said when asked if he can keep Mozgov out of the rotation after Sunday’s performance. “He’ll play some. We’ll just see how the rotation goes but I don’t know yet. But somehow he has to play.”
Mozgov was gracious at the support he’s gotten from everybody and said he hopes to build on Sunday’s game. He said that more than anything, his confidence going forward will play a big part in him garnering more minutes.
“I will be good and excited to play more minutes,” said Mozgov in his charming broken English. “I feel better. I improved my confidence and I want him [D’Antoni] to still keep me in the game.”
If he dominates the Mavs the way he did the Pistons, D’Antoni won’t have a choice but to play him significant minutes -- especially with Wilson Chandler slowly coming back from a calf injury. Mozgov, according to D’Antoni, may eat up most of the unused Chandler minutes.
“I don’t know yet. We’ll figure it out,” D’Antoni offered. “Wilson won’t be able to play his full regiment of minutes, so there’ll be minutes there.”
Shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike [knee] is now back to playing five-on-five scrimmages, so minutes may even be scarcer for a lot of guys used to grinding out 35-plus minutes a night. D’Antoni countered that may be a good thing for a Knicks team that seemed to wear down some the past month.
He said adding new faces to the rotation will be a good thing, starting tonight, because Dallas comes at teams in waves with its own depth.
“It could be anybody [getting minutes] because we have guys that can play multiple positions,” D’Antoni said. “If you play well, you’ll play. And if you don’t play well, you won’t. We can win in different ways. It all depends on how guys play together.”
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