Depleted Knicks Struggle in Houston

Rockets 117, Knicks 102

1. Is James Harden an entertaining player? After watching him closely in the two games the Rockets played against the Knicks this month, it’s not a question you can easily answer.

There are stars in this league who are virtuoso performers who are worth the price of admission. LeBron James, obviously. Russell Westbrook. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors. Kyrie Irving. John Wall. Damian Lillard.

Kristaps Porzingis has shown potential to become one of those types of players. Giannis Antetokounmpo, as well.

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But is James Harden fun to watch? Is he a spectacle of basketball brilliance and amazing athleticism?

The one part of Harden’s game that makes your eyes widen is his three-point range. He can make them from 30 feet with little effort. But it’s the grinding, meandering style he employs — get you on his hip and then stop short so you run into him — is like watching one slow car cause a traffic jam.

He does offer some quick crossover and step-back moves and keeps his dribble impressively low so it’s practically impossible to steal. He’s very strong and has terrific body control. There’s no question he’s one of the most talented players in the game.

But the Eurosteps, the arm-grabs and the head-snaps and all the flailing…is that fun to watch? Is that entertaining?

It sure is effective. He certainly is a stat compiler and an MVP candidate. But after watching two games this month, I can name at least 10 players — maybe more — who I’d rather pay money to watch than him.

2. For a second straight game, the Knicks bench was dominated by the opponent. After being outscored in Atlanta, 37-16, they were throttled in Houston by a difference of 44-14.

You could point to the fact that the Knicks were without one starter (Enes Kanter) in Atlanta and two (Kanter and Porzginis) in Houston, but to be outscored by 51 points in two games needs to be discussed.

Willy Hernangomez had his chance to make a case for playing time and was -27 in 43 minutes over the two games and shot 5 for 12 from the field. Willy’s biggest issue was on the defensive end.

Doug McDermott, who seemed to emerge as one of the most reliable players off the bench for coach Jeff Hornacek, had a tough weekend, as well. He shot 3 for 13 from the field and was -36 over the two games. After Doug went 1 for 5 from downtown in Atlanta, he curiously didn’t take a single three-pointer against the Rockets.

Also, Hornacek has started to carefully manage rookie Frank Ntilikina‘s minutes. He played just 15 minutes in each game this weekend and against the Rockets he managed just two points and was -25.

The point guard position remains one that is an area of concern. Trey Burke (23.1 points, 5.8 assists, 1.9 steals) is biding his time in Westchester hoping to earn a shot at proving he can fill the need with the big club.

3. A weekly reminder that the Knicks give up a lot of threes, but they also don’t take many. When someone asks, how did the Knicks blow an early 22-point lead to the Rockets? Simple. They traded their twos with Houston’s threes. By the end of the game, Houston outscored the Knicks by 42 points at the three-point line.

Look no further than there.

Here’s today’s crazy stat: The Knicks made one more field goal (42) than the Rockets (41) in the game. But of those field goals by the Knicks, only 4 were threes. The Rockets made 18.

D’Antoni ball is all about the three-point shot, so you knew Houston would keep jacking them up. They finished 18 for 47, which isn’t a great percentage but it’s more about how many they hit. In fact, the Rockets MADE more threes than the Knicks ATTEMPTED (17).

We already discussed in the previous Knicks Fix about how three-point closeouts are less about defending the actual shot as much as they are staying with shooters and not getting sucked into the dribble drive help defense. The Knicks struggle in pick-and-roll coverage, which leads to the league-high barrage of threes they give up.

So in this case, if you can’t contain three-point shooting, would the best attempt at defense for now simply be a good offense? When the opponent is beating you with the three-ball and you can’t stop it, you need to find a way to answer them.

4. Update on Porzingis: He said he felt “tightness in my lower back” after the game in Atlanta, once his body started to cool down. The team flew to Houston overnight and KP was on another hotel bed. I wonder about KP’s road issues and if there is some relation to his 7’3″ frame on a standard hotel bed. “Sleeping on a different bed obviously doesn’t help,” he said.

Andrew Bogut once said he used to lay diagonal on hotel beds because it gained a few more inches of mattress.

It’s the second game KP has missed this season and, to no coincidence, both games came on a road back-to-back.

“It’s important for me to keep my core strength and keep working on my back,” he told MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow, “to keep it strong and that way I don’t have no problems.”

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5. Update on Kanter: A night after he took the blame for the loss in Atlanta because he wasn’t able to play due to back spasms, Kanter gave assurances that he will be in the lineup on Monday against the Trail Blazers. “I definitely want to play Monday,” he said. “I know I’m not going to be 100 percent for sure . . . but it doesn’t matter I just want to go out there and compete.”

6. On the jerseys the Knicks were wearing: They are part of the new Nike deal with the NBA and are called “Statement” jerseys. After a 29-7 lead, they were making quite a statement.

The Knicks were in white on the road, which is not so rare in today’s multi-jersey era. The lettering was the difference, as the orange letters and numbers were outlined in white and blue. A subtle change, but a clean look. The Knicks, I’m told, will be wearing these jerseys on the road against Western Conference teams when the home team goes with an alternate jersey. It’s part of Nike’s jersey plan.

The Knicks have four jerseys this season: home white, road blue, the statement jersey and the Christmas jersey that has yet to be revealed.

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.