Knicks Miss KP & Hardaway in Loss to Magic

5 Thoughts From The Game:

1. Suddenly the Knicks are missing 43 points from their lineup. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Kristaps Porzingis (25.3 points per game) out while still dealing with the ankle injury he suffered early in Wednesday’s game against the Heat. But the team was caught off guard when Tim Hardaway Jr. (17.8 ppg) was a late scratch after nagging soreness in his left leg was diagnosed as a “stress injury” in his shin. The Knicks didn’t miss their offense as much as they missed their presence early in the game. The bigger issue for the Knicks was early fouls and defense, especially in the paint. That’s where Porzingis and his long arms usually alter shots. But it’s also where Hardaway Jr.’s intensity is missing.

“It’s tough to lose a guy who plays as hard as Tim does,” Jarrett Jack said.

The Knicks had to chase an early 17 point deficit — trailed 36-19 late in the first quarter — for the rest of the half. But a four-point play by Doug McDermott to end the second quarter and a quick start to the third put the Knicks up by three (57-54). It looked like it was going to be a grinder going into the fourth and that’s where the absence of KP and Tim was felt. The Knicks missed a lot of easy shots and Nik Vucevic scored 8 straight points in a 10-0 run that ruined any plans of an inspiring win.

Then Jeff Hornacek dropped this on us right after the game: Neither Hardaway Jr. nor Porzingis will join the team for Monday night’s game in Indiana.

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Porzingis is believed to be improving, though he was also battling an illness (seems to be going around the team…have we ever heard Hornacek address the media without at least one cough?). Sitting out Monday means a few more days to recover and if he’s ready for Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies, that’s a full week since the ankle injury.

Hardaway Jr.’s situation is more uncertain. A “stress injury” is considered a precursor to a potential stress fracture and for NBA players it can take up to a month — or more — to heal. Hawks center Dewayne Dedmon was recently diagnosed with a similar injury and he is listed to be out 3-6 weeks while Mavericks guard Seth Curry has been out since early October with one as well.

More tests are to be done on Hardaway’s leg before the team makes any additional prognosis or offers a timeframe.

2. With both players out, the Knicks have to look somewhere for offense and that seems to be Michael Beasley. He finished with 21 points in the loss and Hornacek stopped short of saying the job is his while his top scorers are out. “Possibly,” Hornacek said. The coach paused and added, “We’ve got to get some stops.”

What he meant to say was: Beasley can score, though it is generally in isolation, which can slow down an already slow-to-develop offense. He’s also not the most focused defender, either, and he will often freelance, which causes breakdowns in the team concept.

That’s about right.

If only you could change on the fly hockey style. Hornacek likely would have Beasley on offense and run Lance Thomas out when the Knicks are on defense.

If Hardway Jr. is out for an extended period of time, the Knicks could slide Courtney Lee back to the shooting guard spot and use Thomas at the three with KP and Enes Kanter in the frontcourt for a strong defensive starting unit.

And keep an eye on the G-League. Forward Isaiah Hicks (17.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks in 12 games) has put up some big numbers for Westchester and is one of the team’s two-way players, so he can be called up without having to make a roster move.

3. When injuries happen, you get some weird lineups. The Knicks started the game with four players who weren’t on the team last year and three who weren’t on the roster as late as August 1. Jarrett Jack (signed Sept. 15), Daymean Dotson (drafted June 22), Michael Beasley (signed Aug. 8) and Enes Kanter (acquired Sept. 25).

The Knicks last season used 24 different starting lineups. Against Orlando, the Knicks used their sixth different starting five combination.

4. We mentioned that the Knicks had issues on defense that started with taking too many early fouls and putting the Magic in the bonus. It was something Hornacek continually alluded to in his postgame address.

“We’re the home team and they had 11 fouls and we had 24,” he said. “That’s the difference in the game.”

They were without Porzingis, who is one of the NBA leaders in drawing fouls and among the top in the league in free throw attempts. But for a team that scored over half its points in the paint, it’s hard to accept they only earned 10 free throws, home team or not.

Kanter does all of his work inside and grabbed 16 rebounds, including four on the offensive glass and he only had two free throw attempts. Beasley worked almost exclusively on the post and was getting at the rim and he didn’t take a single free throw.

5. Injuries never come at a good time, but when they do happen, you immediately look at the schedule to see potential impact. This is a soft part of December and could be viewed as an opportunity to build some equity before a long cold winter of road games arrives.

After the game in Indiana (12-11), the Knicks have seven straight games against teams with a losing record, with four of them at home. So is this the most optimal time to be shorthanded or the worst? Consider that after this stretch, the Knicks have the Celtics and Pistons on a back-to-back and a suddenly must-watch game on Christmas Day against the Philadelphia Process.

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