Fatigue a Factor for Knicks, KP?


1. Kristaps Porzingis had 19 points in the game, with just 5 in the second half. He was curiously in the game late in the fourth quarter during what was mostly garbage time. Afterward, Porzingis admitted to not feeling great before the game.

On Thursday, he didn’t practice due to what the team called an illness, which could explain Wednesday’s performance.

He actually got off to a good start with 9 points in the first quarter and was just a little under halfway to another 30-point game by halftime. But he didn’t have it in the third quarter and sat for a long period of time before he re-entered the game way late into the blowout.

Then, after the game, came an interview in Latvia with KP’s brother, Janis, who said the idea to skip last season’s exit interview was planned well in advance and suggested that Kristaps won’t stay in New York because of the money, but because the franchise is heading in a direction that suits him.

“From their point of view, Kristaps is the focal point at the moment so you cannot upset him much or otherwise, at the end of the season, he will say, ‘It’s not so cool here’,” Janis is quoted, via translation, in Eurohoops.net.

The Knicks can offer KP a max extension before next season, so there’s a long time before this becomes an issue. But what Janis is showing here is that Kristaps is not simply looking to cash in and get locked in without some assurances.

Porzingis’ hot start to the season has been a revelation and a result of the hard work he put in during the offseason. But the concern will always be stamina and his ability to endure the rigors of a long NBA season. The team just came off three games in four nights and Porzingis carried the offensive load each night.

The Knicks have four games over the next six days, starting Friday against the Suns, with a back-to-back in the middle of next week. Somebody get KP some Airborne. Or maybe a fresh shipment of his new “ZING” bars.

2. Defense is hard.

The Knicks were doing it well for most of the first quarter but that’s where it stopped for a long stretch through the middle of the game. Against James Harden and the Rockets, who live off the three-pointer like Aaron Judge and the Yankees live off the home run, that’s all it takes to get blown out.

Houston scored the first 16 points of the second quarter to turn a three-point deficit into a 13-point lead and then Harden put up 19 points in what was a 40-point third quarter for the Rockets. Jeff Hornacek pinpointed the issue with the defense against the Rockets’ shower of threes as simply a poor effort defending the three.

“Our close-outs,” he said, “weren’t good enough.”

Hornacek said the gameplan was to get up close into the shooters to deter the threes and his players were either too soft or too slow.

Watching back the game it seems like the best defense — as odd as it may sound — against Houston is to force them to drive the basketball and then don’t help. Obviously, that could lead to a layup line of offense but is that so bad compared to giving up 57 points from the three-point line? The Rockets scored just 38 points in the paint.

Harden seems like he gets bored with dribble-drive and wants badly to step-back rather than go to the basket. So if you stay up on him, he gets flustered and starts snapping his head back to draw fouls. If help defenders stay close to their marks, Harden has nowhere to pass.

Sounds easy, but in the heat of a game, it’s hard to do. No one wants to be embarrassed by getting beat constantly by running into screens, so the call for help is made and the defense breaks down.

“It was about multiple efforts,” Porzingis said. “We needed a couple of extra-efforts.”

[Watch the Knicks on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]

Basically what he’s saying is that the Knicks needed a grittier effort, but the team collectively didn’t seem to have the same energy it did over the three-game winning streak. So it goes in an 82-game season.

3. I’m obsessed with the three-point shot this season and I can’t explain why. It’s just become such a staple of every offense in the NBA (outside of the Spurs, I guess) that it’s impossible to ignore its growth. The Rockets are insane with it. They took 52 of them in this game. Remember New Year’s Eve last year in Houston? They took 55 in that game and won, 129-122.

It’s like they have a shock collar and the invisible fence is inside the arc. The Rockets are averaging 45 three-point attempts per game. Yes, that’s way more than half of their overall field goal attempts, which means they take more threes than twos.

The Knicks have been better from three over the last four games, but you’re not beating this team if you go 8 for 27 (29.6%) in the game.

Maybe my obsession is because, over the last two games, the Knicks have seen 93 three-pointers lobbed over their heads. After seven games, they have seen the most three-point attempts per game (36.1) by opponents. Overall their defense of the three isn’t terrible (36.5%), though it is ranked 18th in the league.

Hey, at least it’s not as bad as the Cavs. Those guys are giving up a league-worst 41.8% shooting from downtown on the season. And they’re asking why the Cavs are bad right now?

4. Ryan Anderson dropped 21 points, including 13 in that Second Quarter of Doom that blew the game open. Was there a little extra motivation against the Knicks after all of the offseason trade rumors that involved him going to the Knicks in a Carmelo Anthony deal? The reports were that the Knicks turned down that type of deal because they didn’t want Anderson’s contract.

Anderson downplayed it and said, “It was completely a Carmelo Anthony-run show” and added, “Twitter is a powerful thing.”

He said the Rockets were upfront with him throughout the ordeal. And while Chris Paul did try to push the Rockets to acquire Melo and Melo later admitted he was willing to waive his no-trade to Houston and expected a trade to go down, Anderson said he was never led to believe it was a real scenario.

“I didn’t pay attention to any of it,” he said. “I do my job. I shoot three-pointers. I know this is where I fit the best. This is where I want to be.”

Regardless of what happened in his game, the Knicks are still better off not making that trade. Anderson’s contract goes a year longer than Melo’s for $20 million a year.

5. In a season where you’re prioritizing the development of young players, even losses have to result in something positive. In this game, it was the further education of rookie Frank Ntilikina. He recorded 8 assists and five steals in the game, two of which came while defending Harden.

A third-time Ntilikina battled Harden one-on-one during the closing seconds of the third quarter. Ntilikina hounded the all-star, who tried to draw fouls by flailing. Harden then launched a contested three that missed at the buzzer with Ntilikina draped over him. Harden turned and jogged toward his bench with a grin on his face.

On another possession, Harden had enough of the pesky rookie and ran him into a hard screen by Nene.

After five games, Ntilikina is averaging 2 steals per game, which has become his calling card. You really look forward to seeing him go up against some of the top guards in the league and see how he does and how much he learns along the way. Next up is Devin Booker.

[Watch the Knicks on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]