A Tough Go In Orlando Without KP


1. If there are no such thing as moral victories, are there at least such things as schedule losses? This one was a tough placement by the NBA schedule computer. A third game in four nights, the second of a back-to-back coming off a three-hour flight against a team that had been home since Thursday, and had not played a game since Sunday.

“They’ve been here for two days waiting for this game,” Jeff Hornacek said.

Even with the NBA’s attempt to eliminate back-to-backs and clusters of games by starting the season a week earlier than usual, the Knicks have now twice had the three-in-four scenario and we’re just 11 games in.

Despite the loss, the 23 turnovers and inability to once again defend the three-point shot, Hornacek seemed mostly pleased with the battle level of his team throughout this game, especially without Kristaps Porzingis in the lineup.

Rookie Frank Ntilikina, who had a team-high nine assists in the game, put it simply about the impact of having KP in the lineup vs. not: “He makes basketball easier.”

But when you consider the workload and the schedule, this was the right game to sit Porzingis, who said he was dealing with a sore ankle and bursitis in his elbow. The Knicks have two days before their next game, Saturday night against the Kings at The Garden. Porzingis plans to be ready to go with a five-day break between games.

He knows there will always be questions about his durability. That’s what he spent so much of the offseason trying to improve. We’ve seen in the first 10 games of the season how much stronger he has gotten, but the goal is to make sure his battery doesn’t drain as we get into the winter months. That happened last season.

The bursitis is something he’s dealt with in the past and it may need to be addressed in the offseason. The ankle has been bothering him for a little while. “I need to give it a rest,” he said.

Porzingis said he tried to play through some early nagging injuries last season and it only led to bigger issues and affected his performance. So rather than try to prove he can fight through the aches and pains, he’ll look to take a day when the schedule sets up for it.

[Watch Saturday’s Knicks-Kings Game on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]

“Sometimes it’s smart when something is hurting to maybe sit out a game,” he said, “and not later lose four games or whatever.”

2. You could point to the three-point defense as the issue once again. Orlando made 13 of 28 from downtown (46%) and have been a great three-point shooting team (40%) early on here in the season. But that wasn’t really the issue, because the Knicks were right in this game through two-and-a-half quarters even with the Magic making threes.

The issue was a bigger concern for Hornacek and the Knicks to remedy: turnovers.

They had 8 in the second quarter and 14 for the first half. Orlando got easy offense off those turnovers, which were mostly the result of telegraphed passes. Quick question: Is there a more antiquated phrase in sports than the “telegraphed pass?” I mean no one even uses the telegraph anymore. Find me a sports phrase that is that old of a reference. If you’re power ranking the most outdated sports cliches, the telegraphed pass has to be No. 1.

Where was I … oh, right, the turnovers. The Magic were very active on defense and denied passing lanes aggressively. It seemed all the Knicks had to do was make them pay for overplaying and either try to beat them off the dribble or just back-cut, but despite a 68-67 lead with 5:58 left in the third quarter, the offense really fell apart late in the game.

“When we got a little tired, we had those mental errors,” Hornacek said, “and the turnovers happened.”

Jarrett Jack had six of them and the Magic made a point to have Elfrid Payton and his vulture-like hair pressure him the second he crossed halfcourt.

The turnovers led to 29 points for the Magic. This is an issue that goes back to preseason. The Knicks average 16.9 turnovers per game, which is tied for the third-highest rate in the NBA. That’s not a category you want to be among the league leaders.

3. At a quick glance, Aaron Gordon looks like what you might imagine Aaron Judge would be if he played in the NBA. There is an uncanny resemblance in their faces and both guys are big dudes. And, doesn’t it feel like Nikola Vucevic dominates the Knicks every time we see him? He scored 24 points on 9 of 16 shooting, which included 3 of 6 from three-point range.

Yeah, he’s now among the traditional centers in the league that are stepping out and taking threes like they’re free throws. Vucevic, Nikola Jokic, DeMarcus Cousins and Brook Lopez all shoot them similarly: like set-shots on their toes as if there at the foul line. But they are accurate and you have to get out on them. It’s amazing what the pick-and-pop has become in this league for big men who can shoot over the smaller defenders on the switch.

That’s the only way for centers to stay relevant in this game that is now all about a quick pace and a high volume of threes. I do believe, however, that Patrick Ewing in his prime would have excelled in today’s game just as much as he did in the grinding, physical post-up style of the 90s. Patrick was a heck of a jump shooter.

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4. Speaking of centers, we had a Willy Hernangomez sighting in Orlando. He came into the game during the fourth quarter and played the final 7:41. Typical Willy, he got right to work filling the boxscore and finished with 8 points and 3 rebounds.

He’s only played in six games this season, as he finds himself stuck behind centers Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn. His production is undeniable, just by looking at his Production Per 36 Minutes, he’s netting 21.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 2.6 steals. I should also mention however, the 5.1 turnovers and 6.4 fouls.

But this is a tough spot for Willy, who was a first-team All-Rookie selection last season and now he can’t get on the court. Kanter has been outstanding, especially early in games. O’Quinn has brought a great energy and all-around play off the bench. So it’s hard for Hernangomez to make a case for more playing time when the two veterans ahead of him are productive and he is not someone you would use most nights at the power forward spot when most of the “4s” in this league play out on the perimeter.

Things will get even more crowded at the center spot when Joakim Noah comes off suspension next week.

5. Yeah, so about that. Noah will serve the final game of his original 20-game suspension from last season on Saturday night. He then is eligible for the official 15-man roster, but the Knicks have 16 players. Something has to give before Monday’s game against the Cavaliers and general manager Scott Perry addressed that before the game in Orlando.

“By Sunday at 5 o’clock, there’ll be a resolution one way or another,” he said. Perry said the team will look to make a trade, but they may have to waive a player instead. The only player on the roster with a non-guaranteed contract is Jack, but he’s the starting point guard. The other two players on veteran’s minimum deals are Ramon Sessions and Michael Beasley.

There were reports the team was shopping Mindaugas Kuzminskas around the league. Kuz, who is in the final year of his contract, had not dressed until the game in Orlando.

“Whatever the best basketball deal that we can find,” Perry said, “we will do.”

The Knicks have the maximum two players signed to two-way contracts, Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks, for their G-League team in Westchester. They don’t count against the 15-man roster.

[Watch Saturday’s Knicks-Kings Game on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]