A KP Sighting And Another 3rd Quarter Of Doom

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. There was a unicorn sighting at The Garden. It was the first visual confirmation in over a month. Kristaps Porzingis walked with relative ease on that surgically-repaired ACL and spoke with confidence about coming back “as a better player.”

He offered all of the usual determined rhetoric that a player recovering from a season-ending injury would, and there was no reason to not believe he would put in the work to return to form at some point next season.

Porzingis recognizes his position now with the franchise. With him, there is hope that, with more talent around him, the Knicks can one day emerge out of this five-year streak of losing seasons and become a team that turns the spring conversations from lottery positioning to playoff positioning.

Without him, however, they are rudderless.

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What you’d like to see is him not only attacking his rehab with intensity, but also immersing himself in being part of helping the franchise build itself up. His popularity among players around the league — check who the players voted for as All-Star starter — is valuable in the transformation of the team’s image, especially among free agents.

But when asked about the direction of the franchise under Steve Mills and Scott Perry, Porzingis offered a lukewarm response. It’s only noteworthy because of his decision last season to blow off his exit interview with former team president Phil Jackson.

“It’s hard, I haven’t really been thinking about it that much,” he said of the rebuild. “It’s their job and it’s in their hands. We’ll see what happens this summer. It’s not my job, it’s theirs.”

To be fair, that’s often what Patrick Ewing said, too.

Porzingis did add that he was “confident they’ll make the right moves.” But, honestly, aside from making a decision on Jeff Hornacek, who enters the final year of his contract, and the NBA Draft, there’s not much else the Knicks are expected to do of significance this summer. It’s 2019 that awaits with a lot of salary cap space and a lot of All-Star caliber players potentially available.

Could Porzingis be one of them? Crazy thought, but he would be a restricted free agent in 2019 if the Knicks don’t sign him to a long-term extension, which they can do this summer.

But here’s the question: would the team be ready to commit long-term to a player who has averaged 62 games per season in his first three years and is in the midst of rehabbing from a torn ACL? At most, Porzingis might be able to play a half-season next year with a heavy minutes restriction, similar to what Jabari Parker is experiencing in Milwaukee. And, the Bucks didn’t sign him to an extension, so he will become a restricted free agent this summer.

Porzingis, however, has already shown quicker-than-expected progress in his development and the potential to be a franchise cornerstone. This season, he averaged 22.7 points per game, leads the NBA in blocked shots and was named to his first All-Star team. He seemed to be on his way to getting some All-NBA consideration and most certainly All-Defensive votes.

During this rehab process, both Porzingis and the Knicks need to, if they don’t already, understand how important they are to each other.

2. Trey Burke looked like he was on a mission once he got into the game. At one point he finished an and-one, scowled and glared over at the Knicks bench.

Burke didn’t play until late in the third quarter after the Knicks gave away a lead that turned into a double-digit deficit. He almost led them back, however, with 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter on 6-of-9 shooting.

Jeff Hornacek paused when asked about Burke’s impact.

“Well, he’s able to come off and knock shots down,” Hornacek said. “It’s making shots . . . Our point guards have had good shots. I think our centers have done a pretty good job just setting screens. They’ve got to come off and knock them in and Trey’s a shooter.”

Aside from a few recent games while he was dealing with wrist tendinitis, Burke has been knocking down shots all season. In 22 games so far with the Knicks, he’s shooting 50.8% from the field and 38.6% from three-point range. He’s averaging 22.3 points Per 36 Minutes and 7.7 assists Per 36.

While Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina seem to be the priority at guard, Burke, 25, seems to constantly remind the Knicks they have him, too.

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The issue for Burke, just like Mudiay, is on the defensive end. It’s something Burke addresses regularly and he’s very conscious of making sure he is not a defensive liability.

As you assess the season, Burke is one player the Knicks should be celebrating as a player they brought in, gave an opportunity to and helped develop back into an NBA player and, maybe, a piece to build with going forward.

3. The game saw The Garden debut of rookie Dennis Smith Jr. His career will be forever linked to the Knicks, who passed on him in last year’s draft in favor of Ntilikina. Smith Jr. admitted at All-Star weekend that he preferred going to the Mavericks rather than the Knicks, which is why he declined a late invite for a workout just before the draft.

“The vibe was different in Dallas,” he told the NY Daily News.

Smith said he had come to New York for a pre-draft workout, but left when the team asked him to take a physical. The Knicks were concerned about an ACL injury he suffered in high school.

Smith is among the rookie leaders in scoring at 14.8 points per game, but while he is second among rookies in field goal attempts per game (14.6), his 38.9% shooting is the second-worst among the top-10 rookie scorers. Only Lonzo Ball (36.7%) shoots a lower percentage.

Against the Knicks, Smith finished with 18 points but was 6-for-19 from the field. He did have a highlight-film dunk on a break that made Hornacek frown as he watched Michael Beasley let the rookie put a stamp on the Mavs win.

Meanwhile, Ntilikina had 4 points and 6 assists in just 16:11. He made just 2-of-8 from the field and missed several of those elbow shots off high screens that Hornacek talked about above. Ntilikina put up all of his stats in the first half but didn’t see much action in the second half after he went 0-for-4 from the field.

4. This #3QofDoom was one to witness. The Knicks seemed to be cruising along in a game that had decent pace and not much defense (the 60-57 score at halftime provides all the evidence to that). Then suddenly, the Knicks fell back into erratic tendencies and couldn’t make a shot. The Mavs grabbed the thread and unraveled the sweater.

Over a 6:30 span, the Knicks went 0-for-8, which included five misses from three-point range, and turned the ball over six times. The Mavericks scored 19 straight points and turned a five-point Knicks lead into a 14-point Knicks deficit.

These third quarters of doom have been a major issue this season and, especially, after the All-Star break. But while we’ve been able to attribute most of them to the opponent ramping up its defense, the Knicks get full credit for this one. Many of the turnovers were unforced errors — errant passes and erratic plays — that simply gave the ball back to Dallas.

Hornacek looked completely exasperated. He said they’ve tried to change their halftime routine several times just to avoid these third quarter issues. Maybe he needs to get even more radical than sending the players out of the locker room early. Why not start the quarter with a lineup of sprinters and install pressure defense and some run-and-gun?

For instance, go with Burke, Daymean Dotson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Troy Williams and Kyle O’Quinn. Pressure defense, switch everything and run on everything. Then, halfway through the quarter, once those guys have emptied the tank, you can go back to your starters.

Sure, it sounds crazy, but has anything else worked?

5. We hate doing this here, but I know #GenerationTank lives for it: the loss to Dallas had significant lottery implications. First, at 24-44, the 9th-spot Knicks are now just a half-game ahead of the Bulls (23-44) for the 8th spot. The Knicks face the Bulls, whom they have not beaten this season, on Monday at The Garden.

The Mavericks (22-46) sit in the 7th spot in the lottery and the Knicks are now two games ahead of them. The difference between the 9th spot and the 7th spot when it comes to winning a top-3 pick in the draft is 9%. That’s huge.

I’m expecting a letter from Adam Silver once this blog posts.

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