Knicks Breathe Sigh of Relief on KP; Kanter Ignites Team

5 Thoughts From The Win:

1. The X-Ray machine in a back room under the lower bowl of The Garden has taken pictures of some famous body parts over the years. But the most important to date is the last one it took: the right ankle of Kristaps Porzingis.

Apparently, replays of the injury were more gruesome than what was seen on the x-rays.

“It didn’t look pretty,” Jeff Hornacek said of the injury.

[Watch: Hornacek’s Post Game Press Conference]

All Porzingis was doing on the play was what Hornacek wants out of his team on every play: give extra effort. It was a race for a loose ball that was headed out of bounds. Porzingis lunged for it and just as he stepped, Heat forward Justise Winslow stepped hard right on KP’s foot. It forced his ankle to buckle and the Knicks’ star immediately fell to the floor.

He then slapped the hardwood in frustration.

“It was painful, obviously,” he said after the game. “It wasn’t like crazy pain. I always try not to show emotions when I get hurt.”

I was frantically texting everyone I could to get the prognosis as KP was helped off the court and into the tunnel to the locker room. Fans all around The Garden were quiet for a while. Some around me quickly referenced the game Carmelo Anthony stepped on the referee’s ankle two seasons ago, which led to an injury that derailed a 20-20 start. There are many who are still scarred by the last two seasons, which included good starts that eventually led to a tailspin out of playoff contention by the All-Star Break.

But just as all hope seemed lost, as KP limped to the tunnel, I noticed him pass a fan wearing a Willis Reed jersey. Inane details like this seem to catch my attention.

OK, so Porzingis didn’t limp back out that tunnel to a roar of the crowd, but that possibility did exist.

“I was actually pretty close to coming back in,” he said. “I wanted to come back in … but the doctor recommended to stay out and we made the decision I should not go back out there.”

There was no need for him to go back out there. His teammates rallied together after the injury and built a 21-point halftime lead and they were up by 30 in the third quarter. The Knicks don’t play again until Sunday afternoon, so there is plenty of time for Porzingis to heal and be ready for the Orlando Magic.

[Watch Knicks-Magic Sunday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Porzingis acknowledged this timely break in the schedule, and The Unicorn informed us he’s also part-lizard “because I recover so quickly.”

Lizards heal themselves by shedding skin. Some can even regenerate an injured tail. There is no record of lizards self-healing ankle injuries.


2. Henceforth, we shall refer to it only as The Enes Kanter Trade.

In Oklahoma City, they may be using harsher verbiage.

If his three-game absence with the back spasms didn’t show how much the Knicks missed his presence, his 22-point, 14-rebound effort — in just 25 minutes, by the way — against the Heat provided added emphasis.

With KP gone after the first 2:30 of the game and Hassan Whiteside given the night off on a back-to-back, Kanter dominated the paint and the glass. He almost always wins every rebound battle and shows off nifty footwork for some easy scores down-low.

“I didn’t play in three games,” he said, “so I was just excited and hungry.”

So hungry that after the game he said he was ready to bite someone’s ear off.

It showed. He had 18 points and 13 rebounds by halftime and had this hilarious exchange with MSG’s Al Trautwig when they discussed Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s spectacular buzzer-beater.

I might have asked this question once before, but it deserves repeating: name me the last player to wear this uniform with as much joy and pride as Kanter. Can you remember the last time someone loved being a Knick as much as he does?

In the meantime, what’s going on in OKC can’t be ignored. They lost by 20 to the Orlando Magic and have now dropped three straight and are 8-12 on the season. In the power forward matchup with Melo, Aaron Gordon went for 40.

3. Joakim Noah didn’t dress for the game but already put in a full day’s work up in Westchester, where he played for the Knicks’ G-League affiliate in an effort to work his way back into game shape. Noah played 22 minutes for the Dub-Knicks with 9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a blocked shot.

He still has a ways to go, but it certainly says something about his determination to show the organization — and fans — that he is willing to do anything to get back into good graces. After signing that four-year, $72 million contract in July 2016, Noah has missed a lot of time due to injury and was suspended 20 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy.

[Video: Noah Determined to Redeem Himself]

There was media speculation that the Knicks should buy out Noah’s contract and use the stretch provision — which spreads out the buyout cap hit over two-times the remaining years — just to open up the roster spot. But he has asked for a second chance rather than just taking the money and running away.

Noah is setting a good example here, as well, by using the G-League as an opportunity to get into game action and rhythm that he can’t experience with the big club behind Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn.

Maybe Willy Hernangomez, who has struggled lately, should take notice?

4. Believe it or not, we’ve hit the quarter mark of the season. The Knicks are above .500 (11-10) and tied for the last playoff spot in the East with the Washington Wizards.

It’s a jumble right now in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff standings, as six teams are bunched up within a game or two of each other between 5th place and 10th. The Knicks are 1.5 games behind the 76ers (12-8) for 5th and 2.5 ahead of Orlando (9-13) in 11th place.

Statistically-speaking, the Knicks are among the best in the NBA in several offensive categories:

FG% – 47.1% (7th best)
FT% – 79.5% (6th best)
Assists – 23.4/game (5th best)
Offensive Rebounding – 10.8/game (7th best)
Total Rebounding – 45.1/game (10th best)
2nd Chance Points – 15.0/game (2nd best)

They also rank well in a few key defensive categories:

Opponent PPG – 103.8 (11th lowest)
Defensive FG% – 43.8% (4th best)

The issues:

Turnovers — 16.2/game (7th most)
3PT Shooting – 35.4% (21st)
3PTA – 23.5/game (28th)
3PT Defense — 36.9% (12th highest)

Turnovers are correctable. But the three-point situation on both sides of the ball really stands out. The team has struggled to defend the three-point line because of their aggressive help defense to stop dribble penetration and pick-and-roll plays. And at the other end, they don’t counter the high volume of threes that opponents take against them by looking for the three-ball themselves.

Hornacek’s offense in Phoenix was consistently among the league leaders in three-point attempts because it was a big part of his system. It makes sense since he was known to be a three-point shooter in an era where the three-point shot was only just starting to become a weapon used by teams.

The key to unlocking more three-point attempts is dribble penetration and kick-outs and those are things the Knicks’ guards haven’t been able to do consistently this season. Based on personnel, they might not ever be a team with a heavy reliance on the three-point shot.

5. Kanter is averaging 14.1 points and 10.4 rebounds through the first quarter of the season. Name the last player to average a double-double for the season with the Knicks while scoring at least 14 points per game.

Hint: he actually did it in consecutive years.

Answer: David Lee averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds in 2009-10 and 16.0 points and 11.8 rebounds in 2008-09.

D-Lee last week announced his retirement via Instagram.

His career began with the Knicks as the third first-round pick taken — 30th overall — by the team in the 2005 NBA Draft, along with Channing Frye (8th overall) and Nate Robinson (21st). Andrew Bogut was the No. 1 overall pick, but the star of the draft class is Chris Paul (4th overall, New Orleans). When you look back on it now, David Lee turned out to be one of the best players of his draft year.

[Watch Knicks-Magic Sunday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]