Hardaway Breaks Out In a Big Way

Players often talk about doing the extra work. But what if the work becomes part of the problem?

What if you’re stuck in a shooting slump and all those extra jumpers in practice are clanging off the rim just like the shots in games?

So when Tim Hardaway Jr., mired in the worst shooting slump of his career, showed up at the Knicks training facility, he knew he needed to find another approach to breaking out.

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“Went in on an off-day with coach [Jeff] Hornacek and [assistant coach] Jerry [Sichting],” Hardaway told reporters. “Those guys helped me out and helped me with my rhythm, helped me with my shot, made sure I kept my balance, made sure I was out there focused, but also enjoying myself.”

Often the joy of the game can be sapped by the grind of the season, especially if the shots aren’t dropping and the losses are mounting.

For Hardaway, there was the added burden of knowing he had to up his offensive game. When Kristaps Porzingis was lost for the season with a knee injury, Hardaway became the team’s No. 1 option.

“I know how much this team needs me and how important I am to this team,” Hardaway said. “Everybody needs help, you know? I want to be out there helping.

“So whatever I have to do, I’m going to continue to stay in the gym, keep getting extra reps, continue to stay locked in and keep firing away when they’re open.”

Over a seven-game stretch, Hardaway went 24-of-93 (25.8 percent) from the field including 5-of-44 (11.4 percent) on 3s.

As frustrating as it was to see the shots not drop was the feeling that, technically, there was nothing wrong.

“They feel great, man,” Hardaway said of his shot. “Some rattling in and out. They’re all in line. None are going left, none are going right, none of them are air-balling. Leave my hands great, feel good.’’

Hardaway has had reason to feel good of late. In his first game after meeting with Hornacek and Sichting, Hardaway scored 37 points in a 118-113 loss to the Washington Wizards on Valentine’s Day.

He was 14-of-23 from the field and 6-of-9 on 3s.

In the last three games, Hardaway is averaging 25.7 points on 30-of-58 shooting (52-percent) from the field including 10-of-23 (43-percent) on 3s.

The Knicks (24-37) will need all the offense they can get from Hardaway tonight (7 p.m.; MSG Network & MSG GO) when they host the Golden State Warriors (46-14) at The Garden. The Warriors are the NBA’s highest scoring team at 116.1 points per game. The Knicks average 104.1, tied for 19th.

It was in the breakout game against Washington that Hardaway was reminded of his new role on the team. The Wizards focused their defense on Hardaway in the second half, holding him to five points after the 32-point first half.

This could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Hardaway. Never before in his NBA career has he been the focal point of the opponent’s defensive game plan.

If he learns from it, he can take his game to another level and give the Knicks a powerful duo next season when KP returns.

“I got to be more … just demanding a little bit more, being a little bit more aggressive and drawing double-teams, drawing triple-teams and kicking it out to my guys for easier shots than they had today in the second half,” said Hardaway.

“Just try to have that killer instinct to put teams away is the next step.’’

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