KP’s Appearance Provides Hope, Encouragement

Ever since Kristaps Porzingis crumpled to The Garden court clutching at his injured left knee, even the most optimistic Knicks fan knew the season was headed for troubled waters.

Porzingis suffered a torn ACL on Feb. 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks, a game the Knicks were winning until KP went down.

Including the game against the Bucks when Porzingis got injured, the Knicks have played 14 games and have lost 13 of them.

If we didn’t know KP’s value to the franchise post-Carmelo Anthony, we do now.

Here’s what we also know: KP has become more than the face of the franchise. He’s become the emotional beacon, the players look to when times are tough.

That was beautifully obvious Wednesday night at The Garden when Porzingis made his first public appearance since the injury and surgery on Feb. 13.

“It made us feel so nice,” rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina said. “Just to have his presence, having him here is always good for the team.

“I have a special relationship with him even if it’s not a long time that I have been here. Kristaps is just a good friend and a good teammate so having him back here, having the chance to see him walking, felt good.”

Of course, the Knicks (24-44) would be a lot better off seeing KP shooting threes, dunking and swatting shots, than walking. They lost, 103-99, to the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night and host the Philadelphia 76ers (36-30) Thursday night at The Garden. They have dropped eight straight since the All-Star Weekend in what has been a groundbreaking lab experiment that could set up the Knicks to be a force next season with a healthy KP.

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“I believe,” Porzingis told reporters, “that I’m going to come back better and stronger.”

Porzingis, 22, has come back stronger each season. Last summer, he added more muscle to his upper body. The knee injury will force him to spend more time on his legs and lower body.

He has additional time to strengthen the knee and supporting muscles and ligaments. KP’s skill is undisputed. His strength and durability need to match those skills. By the start of next season, he will have missed 60 of a possible 246 games.

Although players can return from ACL injuries in 6-9 months, it’s realistic to assume Porzingis may not be ready by the start of the 2018-19 season. There’s no gain in pushing the rehab schedule.

“We don’t want to force anything,” Porzingis told reporters. “We’re going day-by-day of how I’m feeling. Like I said, every day we’re adding some more stuff I can do; more mobility, more this and that. Just going day-by-day really.”

It’s the prudent approach. But KP’s appearance at The Garden gave the Knicks a daily dose of encouragement. He is the player that can carry a team.

His presence as the No.1 option takes some of the pressure off Tim Hardaway Jr. It allows Enes Kanter to concentrate on rebounding and not worry as much about scoring. It provides each of the three young points a finisher.

“I was [bleeping] pumped,” Kyle O’Quinn said as he broke in on KP’s pregame media session and hugged the 7-foot-3 footer, who had been at practice Monday for a team photo shoot.

“It warmed my heart tremendously. He went through something that was tough on him and his family. But for him to come through here with that big smile, it lightened up the locker room. Everybody was excited to see him.”

That’s what KP’s presence provides, even if he’s in street clothes. He’s the beacon. He’s the reason why the Knicks are using this final portion of the season to evaluate the pieces they can surround their franchise player.

“It was really, really good to see him walking, good to see him smiling. It was just an unfortunate situation, so it was really good to see him walking,” Lance Thomas told reporters. “He told me stuff was going really well. He has a positive mindset, so that’s all we could ask for.”

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