Is Mike Shula the Spark Giants Offense Needs?

In Mike Shula, the New York Giants might have the answer to their offensive woes.

Having been the head coach of a major college program and boasting over a quarter of a century of experience in the NFL, Mike Shula isn’t just any other member of the coaching staff. In many ways he, along with head coach Pat Shurmur, is the perfect fit to fix an ailing and at times repugnant New York Giants offense.

Shula’s work in the NFL most recently has seen him as the offensive coordinator of a very good Carolina Panthers offense. But he also has a resume that includes extensive time as a quarterbacks coach, a tight ends coach and four years as head coach of Alabama. He brings those varied experiences and flexibility, in terms of his understanding of the game, to the Giants organization.

[Giants Thoughts: Hope Lies Ahead For Giants & Their Fans]

Keep in mind that he was very nearly hired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. This is a coach with a unique football acumen, the son of a Hall of Fame head coach who grew to become a quarterback at Alabama and was eventually drafted. He comes to a team that truly can use some spark on offense after two difficult years of stalled drives, a running game mired in the mud and frustrating red zone efficiency.

In his own words, Pat Shurmur explains the type of coach Giants fans are getting in him.

The Giants had the No. 21 offense in the league last season, this despite having a head coach in Ben McAdoo with extensive experience as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Shula will be called upon to improve an offense that was seventh-worst in the NFL in rushing the ball and was second from the bottom in scoring.

With Shula as offensive coordinator, the Carolina Panthers made the Super Bowl and he was considered one of the best coordinators in the league over the past couple of seasons.

Now, while Shula won’t be utilizing the legs of quarterback Eli Manning in the same way he did at Carolina with Cam Newton, the Giants will be expected to run the ball. If Carolina last year was any indication, they will run the ball a lot.

[WATCH: Dwayne Harris’ First Impression of Pat Shurmur]

The Panthers had the fourth most rushing yards in the league a season ago, doing so with an equally appropriate fourth-most rushing attempts per game. Carolina averaged a shade over 30 rushes a game, almost six carries more a game than the Giants did all of last season.

This mentality of pounding the ball works well with general manager Dave Gettleman’s stated desire to beef up the offensive line, a major sore spot on this team the past three seasons. An upgraded offensive line also aligns itself well with maximizing the career of Manning, who will be 37-years old come Week 1.

The Giants currently sit with the second pick in the draft and could potentially select Saquon Barkley, which would be a perfect blend of talent and need for this team. Barkley is a work horse and a talent who loves running between the tackles.

[Dyer: Should Giants Follow Rival’s Blueprint?]

GLENDALE, AZ – DECEMBER 30: Running back Saquon Barkley #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions walks on the field during the first half of the Playstation Fiesta Bowl against the Washington Huskies at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images).

During his three years at Penn State, the Heisman candidate running back showcased a skillset that could thrive in Shula’s offense.

Shula, however, has shown a willingness throughout his career to adjust his mentality given the talent at his disposal, as he did with David Garrard while quarterbacks coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. But perhaps more than anything, this son of Hall of Famer Don Shula is simply a sponge who has soaked up plenty during his nearly three decades in the league.

And given that he has never worked with a two-time Super Bowl MVP as he now gets to in Manning, or a lights-out wide receiver such as Odell Beckham Jr., the sky is truly the limit for the potential of this offense.

[Shurmur: I Think Eli Has Years Left]

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Is There A Difference In How Knicks Lose?

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. There is an irony to being a fan who encourages losing. It’s something that has creeped into the mindset of a new era of sports fans who firmly believe you can win by losing. Or maybe it’s less about what’s really best for the team you root for and more for your own personal psyche as a fan, an affirmation of your loyalty to a “process” that somehow uses losing as a strategy that leads to winning.

[Watch Knicks-Magic on MSG & MSG GO Thursday, Feb. 22. Download Free]

Basically, you say ‘I want my team to lose,’ so when they lose, you don’t feel bad about it.

This is a terrible stage to endure. It’s almost a complete surrender of hope.

The Knicks (23-35) are on an eight-game losing streak going into the All-Star Break. They are now 13 games under .500 and there are 23 games left in the season. Certainly hope has been surrendered.

But is there a difference in how you lose?

For instance, when you’ve lost eight straight games and 32-year-old Courtney Lee is second in minutes played (30.4 per game) and 34-year-old Jarrett Jack leads your point guards in minutes played (21.5 per game), that’s when fans who believe in “the process” get frustrated.

If you lose eight straight games but it’s mainly with young players who are fighting their way through and learning as they go and even showing some progress along the way, it at least feels like there is a method to the madness. When the coaching is focused solely on development and reps and experiencing things they’ve never seen before, it changes the environment a little, doesn’t it? It goes from a feeling of despair to a focus on building toward the future. At least that’s what you hope.

It’s the idea that, right now you’re overwhelmed, but next time you see that guy, you’ll know. On to the next lesson.

As we will address a bit later, the minutes distribution is about to change after the All-Star break. But will that be enough to change the culture of losing?

Back in December, when the Knicks were off to a surprisingly good start and dared to talk about competing for a playoff berth, general manager Scott Perry dismissed the idea of losing for the purpose of gaining a high lottery position.

“I think if you try to institutionalize losing, if you will, that’s hard to get out of your building,” Perry said.

Those words resonate today more than ever.

2. The most impressive thing Tim Hardaway Jr. did in this game — we’ll get to his performance in a moment — was his ominous warning to MSG Network‘s Al Trautwig and the viewers at the end of his halftime interview.

“The game’s not over,” he said, with the Knicks up 21 points at the half. “We’ve been up this amount before and teams have come back and beaten us.”

There’s a guy who is paying attention and also who knows what his team is really all about.

And he was right. Before this game, the Knicks had three times this season lost games in which they held 20-point leads. This would be the fourth.

Oct. 21 vs DET: Led by 21 points, lost 111-107.
Nov. 13 vs CLE: Led by 23 points, lost 104-101.
Nov. 25 @ HOU: Led by 22 points, lost 117-102.
Feb. 14 vs WAS: Led by 27 points, lost 118-113.

[Watch Knicks-Magic on MSG & MSG GO Thursday, Feb. 22. Download Free]

Note that three of the four blown leads were at home.

Hardaway seemed to know it was coming. The Wizards came out at halftime and rolled off nine straight points to turn momentum, and built a “Third Quarter of Doom” for the Knicks in a 39-15 avalanche of reality that has all too often been the story this season.

“That happened several times this year coming out for the third quarter,” Jeff Hornacek said.

A chronic issue that has never been fixed. Which is why Hardaway felt it could happen again.

That says a lot about the confidence crisis that exists in that locker room.

“It’s tough, man,” Enes Kanter said. “It’s embarrassing. It’s on all of us.”

Also note that before this season, the Knicks had blown a 20-point lead to lose just five times since 1991-92, when this type of stat was recorded. Before this season, the last time the Knicks held a 20-point lead in a loss was Nov 12, 2010 at Minnesota.

3. Let’s acknowledge, at least, that Hardaway broke out of what was the worst three-point shooting slump in franchise history. Before the game, on my pregame Knicks Fix segment, I reported that Hardaway’s 5-for-44 shooting (11.4%) over the previous seven games was the worst stretch by a Knick since the three-point shot was introduced. He eclipsed a run of 6-for-45 shooting (13.3%) by Chris Duhon during the 2009-10 season.

The difference between the two is Duhon’s slump lasted 16 games.

Hardaway put in extra work after practice with Hornacek and assistant coach Jerry Sichting, and from his first look in the game — a corner three — his shot looked perfect. He nailed five of his first six from three and went on a torrid stretch in the second quarter that saw him score 10 straight points and send The Garden into a frenzy. The Knicks took their 27-point lead at that point and Hardaway looked like he could go for 50.

He finished with 32 points at the half, just six shy of his career-high, which he set in November against the Raptors. But Bradley Beal and the Wizards decided to focus all of their defensive attention on him and Hardaway was neutralized in the second half. He was 2-for-7 from the field in the third quarter and four of his five misses were blocked.

This is where some players learn just how hard it is to be The Man on a nightly basis. But this is also where a team recognizes a player on a hot streak and you do all you can to get him into situations where he can get more open looks and stay in rhythm.

Once Hardaway was taken out of the game, the Knicks were lost. Michael Beasley tried to pick up the slack, but he had a rare off-night in shooting (8-for-24 for 16 points).

4. Frank Ntilikina was once again held to limited minutes. He played just 10:58 and Hornacek explained it as a defensive issue involving the 19-year-old chasing Jodie Meeks around screens. “That’s something he’s not used to,” Hornacek said.

Clearly Hornacek is protecting Ntilikina right now and has been for most of the season. You have to give the coach some credit here for that while the majority of those watching insist on the baptism-by-fire approach. That could be detrimental to Ntilikina’s development.

[Watch Knicks-Magic on MSG & MSG GO Thursday, Feb. 22. Download Free]

Early in the season, Hornacek was giving Ntilikina heavy minutes in the fourth quarter and the Knicks were winning games. But once advanced scouting caught up and teams started applying heavy on-ball pressure against Ntilikina’s suspect handle, Hornacek got him out of those situations quickly.

After the All-Star break, the kid gloves may come off. Hornacek admitted there will likely be changes made to the guard rotation with Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke (who, by the way, was a DNP again) getting the bulk of the minutes.

“After the break,” Hornacek said, “we’ll probably see those guys play more.”

They’ll get two full days of practice next week to figure some things out before the next game after the All-Star break, Thursday against the Magic.

Mudiay, by the way, played 20:28 and had 8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, which seems like a pretty good stat line. But he was 3-for-9 from the floor, including 0-for-2 from downtown, and committed four turnovers. There’s definitely some potential there, but one observation is he’s not in very good game shape yet. He fell out of the rotation in Denver, so his game conditioning may not be where it should be, but for a 21-year-old, he looks like he would have a lot more explosion and energy if he improved his fitness level.

This is a guy who needs to commit himself to that in the offseason, get with a great point guard coach and come back for training camp next year in the best shape of his career.

5. OK before we go into the break, let’s do exactly what they say Knicks fans do too often and live in the past for a moment.

Come with me into the Hot Tub Time Machine. We need it.

Feb. 14, 2018 marked the 50th annivesary of the first NBA game in the current Madison Square Garden. This is the fourth version of The Garden in New York City and the Knicks have played in two of them. The building known as “the Old Garden” was actually the third version and it used to stand on 49th Street and Eighth Avenue and opened in 1925, well before the Knicks — or even the NBA — existed.

The Knicks officially moved into this Garden on Feb. 14, 1968. Dave DeBusschere scored the first point in arena history, but it wasn’t for the Knicks. In fact, it wasn’t even against the Knicks.

Also, the first triple-double in The Garden was recorded that night and it, too, wasn’t by a Knick. In fact, it was recorded by a coach.

No, seriously. Stay with us.

That night, The Garden hosted an NBA doubleheader – those used to be common back then – and the first game was the Detroit Pistons against the Boston Celtics. (Think about that, the Celtics agreed to play in the opening game at the new MSG). DeBusschere, then with the Pistons, hit a free throw to open the scoring in the game. He would wind up on the Knicks later that year, in December, in one of the biggest trades in league history.

The first triple-double in the arena’s history was recorded in that game by Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who had 13 points, 23 rebounds and 10 assists in the win for the Celtics. He was player/coach at the time.

The Knicks played the second game and took a 114-102 win over the Rockets, who, at the time, were based in San Diego. (I know, this is all so confusing). Our own Walt Frazier scored the first Knick points in the new Garden on a layup. He finished with 22 points and 10 assists.

Check out this excerpt from a story in the New York Times, written by the great Dave Anderson, about the grand opening of basketball at the Mecca:

It did provide more public telephones. There were about a dozen in the old Garden, compared to 89 in the new one. “It’s a great place,” said a man in a black cashmere overcoat. “I don’t have to wait in line now to call my bookie.”

You see kids, before cell phones people had to find a public telephone and use dimes and quarters to make a call and if someone was using the phone you had to wait to make a call so…

Oh, forget it.

One final note, the current version of The Garden, which underwent a major transformation in 2011, will become the oldest remaining arena in the league once the Warriors move out of Oracle Arena in 2019.

[Watch Knicks-Magic on MSG & MSG GO Thursday, Feb. 22. Download Free]

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McConnell Overwhelms Knicks in Philly

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. What we’re learning is there’s a lot to learn about this young backcourt experiment. One game after the Emmanuel MudiayFrank Ntilikina duo had an intriguing debut in Indiana, the magic was lost in Philadelphia.

Both lottery picks struggled against the relentless pressure defense by undrafted guard T. J. McConnell, who exposed a most concerning weakness for the young Knick guards at a most fundamental skill: dribbling the basketball.

The Mudi-Kina Backcourt played 28 minutes together in Indiana and when they were on the floor together, the Knicks outscored the Pacers by nine. They recorded three steals, forced six turnovers and committed only three. They had 17 assists on 26 made field goals. But the stat that stood out most to Jeff Hornacek was the 12 fast break points the Knicks had when the two were on the court together. That’s a huge number for a team that averages just 7.5 fast break points per game on the season.

[Watch Knicks-Wizards Wednesday on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

But the next night, Hornacek didn’t like what he saw with the two on the court so he pulled the plug quickly. The duo played just six minutes together against the 76ers. The Knicks were outscored 16-12 in that time and committed two turnovers — both steals off Ntilikina passes — that resulted in five points for Philadelphia.

Mudiay, who played 19 minutes, told reporters he tweaked his ankle early in the game and it had some effect on his performance. Ntilikina, who was scoreless with three turnovers in 21 minutes, maintained his penchant for struggling in the second game of back-to-backs.

“You have to learn how to play two games in a row with the same spirit and the same fire,” Hornacek said. “He’s going to learn that.”

It’s been a season of learning for Ntilikina and for those of us watching closely to see just what he can be at the NBA level.

2. In the midst of this uninspiring game, McConnell (six steals) stole the show and overwhelmed the Knicks, who succumbed to the pressure defense. It’s been an issue all season long. If you pressure the point guard and overplay the wings, the Knicks turn the ball over. They had 19 turnovers in this game, which led to 28 points for the Sixers.

“You’ve got to give McConnell a lot of credit,” Hornacek said. “He got all after our point guards and we weren’t able to handle that. He got steals and put enough pressure where it took us 13 [seconds] to get into any sort of play. That was disruptive.”

McConnell also recorded a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) to go along with that game-changing defense. He was the first player in 76ers history to record a triple-double off the bench. But forget the stats, it was just his gritty effort and relentless energy that made the biggest impact.

[Watch Knicks-Wizards Wednesday on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

And as you watch this game and say, “How come the Knicks can’t find players like this?” keep in mind that McConnell was a summer league find from three years ago who has been improving year to year. It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for the Pittsburgh native who played at Duquesne and later Arizona before he signed with the 76ers summer league team in 2015. If it seems like he always has big games against the Knicks, you’re right. Last season he buried a game-winner over Carmelo Anthony, and on Christmas Day he put in 15 points in the 76ers win at The Garden.

He’s what Hornacek hopes Ron Baker can eventually become. Baker is a year behind McConnell, but his injury-riddled season has been a major setback in his development.

3. Meanwhile, as Mudiay, Ntilikina and Jarrett Jack struggled to bring the ball up against McConnell’s pressure defense, there was one guard on the bench that was aching to get in and “blow right by that guy,” as Hornacek put it.

Remember Trey Burke?

He played four minutes against Philadelphia.

Burke had 12 points in 13:03 against the Raptors on Thursday, the night of the trade deadline. But since Mudiay arrived, he’s played a total of 12:13 over two games.

There is definitely a need to play Mudiay and Ntilikina over the final quarter of this season, but where does Burke, who is 25 years old, stand in the plans for the future?

It’s a tough spot for him because he chose to sign with the Knicks, rather than other teams, because of the opportunity he saw here to revive his career. He did everything right, from playing well in the G-League to waiting for his chance to sign with the Knicks. But his playing time has never been consistent since he arrived and now his role is uncertain.

It should be noted that despite his inconsistent minutes, Burke is shooting 54.1% from the field and 41.2% (7-for-17) from three in 13 games with the Knicks this season. He’s averaging 20.4 points per 36 minutes and 7.9 assists per 36, as well. His size is a concern on defense, especially on screens, but he’s not the only guard in the league playing at 6-foot.

Do you want to see more of Burke?

4. Meanwhile, Burke’s Michigan pal, Tim Hardaway Jr., can’t get to the All-Star break fast enough. His shooting slump has moved into a seventh straight game and it’s getting difficult to watch him go through it.

Hardaway is now shooting 26% from the field in his last 7 games, including 5-for-44 from three-point range. He went 0-for-8 from downtown in Philly and it started to feel like he was Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy on the 18th hole in the U.S. Open. He just refuses to lay up.

“I’m not going to lie and sit here and laugh about it,” Hardaway said. “It’s frustrating. It’s pissing me off.”

Hornacek spent time with Hardaway after practice trying to recalibrate his shot. But all he could do is just stand there on the sidelines and helplessly watch as Hardaway missed shot after shot from long range.

“I don’t know what it is, but we’ll continue to work with him,” Hornacek said. “But he’s got to get out of it.”

5. So before every game, Wally Szczerbiak and I do this hit for the Knicks social media pages called the Jose Cuervo Hot Take. It’s usually something about the game that night, but before the game against the 76ers, Wally used it as a chance to send a message to Ben Simmons, who recently complained about being passed over for the All-Star team.

Simmons said, “I don’t really know what an All-Star is anymore,” after Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker were both chosen ahead of him — by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, it should be noted — as injury replacements. The rookie then went on to blast Walker for being on a team that has a worse record than his team.

These are definitely different times. The old school mentality is young players need to earn their status and give respect to veterans in the league. There is also a school of thought that him speaking out about deserving to be an All-Star over another player comes off as unprofessional.

“I’m sick of Ben Simmons’ act of whining and crying to try to get into the All-Star game,” said Szczerbiak, who earned All-Star status in his third season in the NBA. “Listen, you’re a rookie and you can’t make a shot outside of 5-feet. Kemba Walker deserved to be on that team over you, now be quiet. You have a lot of time to make the All-Star game.”

Wally wasn’t the only former NBA star to call out Simmons. Grant Hill, a seven-time All-Star, on NBA TV also advised Simmons to dial down the self-pity.

“You’re a great player with a great future, but you’re a rookie,” Hill said. “Just keep your mouth shut and play great basketball.”

Do you think that Simmons was out of line in making those comments or are you fine with him speaking out about what he believes he’s earned?

[Watch Knicks-Wizards Wednesday on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

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Message to Rangers Fans from Glen Sather & Jeff Gorton

*Courtesy of the New York Rangers

As a member of the Blueshirt Faithful, we consider you a part of the New York Rangers family, and always want to ensure we share important news about the organization directly with you. Today, we want to talk to you about the future.

As you know, since the 2005-06 season, we have been a highly competitive team. We have played 129 playoff games, won the Presidents’ Trophy, reached the Conference Finals three times, as well as the Stanley Cup Final. While we’re proud of all those accomplishments – we didn’t reach our ultimate goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to New York.

So as we do every season, we have been continuously evaluating our team, looking for areas that can be improved to enhance our chances of winning. We began the process of reshaping our team this past summer, when we traded for assets that we believe will help us in the years to come. As we approach the trade deadline later this month and into the summer, we will be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character. This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect. While this is part of the game, it’s never easy. Our promise to you is that our plans will be guided by our singular commitment: ensuring we are building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup contender.

There are no fans like Rangers fans. You are passionate, loyal and true. You fill The Garden every night, and we always know there will be a strong showing from RangersTown in every building across the League. We do not take your support for granted. We appreciate that you have always stood by us, and we ask you to remain by our side as we undertake this exciting new chapter filled with promise and change.

We will keep you informed as this process takes shape. Thank you for the incredible loyalty, pride and respect you show to the New York Rangers, each and every day.

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Rangers Host a Formidable Opponent in the Bruins

The Rangers face the Bruins tonight at Madison Square Garden for the third and final meeting of the regular season between these two Original Six franchises.

The Rangers have won the previous two games and are in desperate need of a victory. It sets up to be a difficult task given that, at present, the teams seem to be heading in opposite directions. The Bruins are in the midst of an outstanding run of play, having only one loss in regulation in their last 22 games.

In the meantime, the Rangers have lost six out of their last seven. Boston sits in second place in the Atlantic with the 4th best overall record in the entire league. The Blueshirts have sunk to last in the Metro, but are still trailing Columbus by only three points for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Rangers were beaten 2-1 in their last outing by the Stars in Dallas. It was a gutsy, hard-working attempt backstopped by the tremendous play of Henrik Lundqvist. Playing without five injured regulars, the NHL-talent-strapped Blueshirt lineup played hard and well but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough.

These are not joyful times in Rangerland, particularly when you throw into the mix the noise that now surrounds this team with regards to the trade deadline. That deadline is still a couple of weeks away and a playoff position is certainly within striking distance, and that is something that should serve as motivation on a game-to-game basis. While it is going to be difficult to plow through this situation, I wouldn’t expect the room or the coaching staff to let anyone off the hook when it comes to working hard and competing.

Beyond that, the chips will fall where they may.

A year ago today, the Bruins fired their then head coach Claude Julien and replaced him with their AHL coach Bruce Cassidy. Cassidy coached his team to a playoff spot on the heels of an 18-8-1 record down the stretch last spring and has done a tremendous job guiding Boston to its’ present lofty position.

These are not the big, bad Bruins who, on their way to a Stanley Cup, bullied their way around the ice. This version plays a skilled, quick up-and-down game forcing the opponent in all three zones. It doesn’t hurt the cause that the top players, Tukka Rask, Charlie McAvoy, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and public enemy No. 1 Brad Marchand are playing like top players. Another formidable opponent.

KEYS

1. Penalties

In the last two games, a normally disciplined Rangers team has taken 10 penalties. The skill of the opponent does play a role, but getting into the proper position when defending should cut down on the number of infractions. Staying out of the penalty box will help.

2. Expect 60

The Bruins are 20-1-5 when scoring first and have the second-best winning percentage when giving up the games first goal. They have outscored their opposition in all three periods and are +47 in goals for/goals against in regulation time. The Bruins don’t easily roll over and you can expect them to hang around for a complete 60 minutes.

3. Get it to OT

In overtime, Boston is 4-8 while the Rangers have won 8-of-13 games decided in the extra 5 minutes of 3-on-3 hockey. The last time these teams met, Mats Zuccarello won it in overtime.

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Garden Silenced By Biggest Loss of Knicks Season

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. The Franchise was laid out on the baseline. As the play headed down the other end, not a single set of eyes in the building was on the ball. What you had was 19,812 heads all looking toward that baseline and the image of Kristaps Porzingis clutching his knee and writhing in pain.

And for the record, despite what you’ve read or heard, that wasn’t a collective gasp.

There was actually no sound at all.

There was only a whistle from the referee to stop play after Lance Thomas quickly committed a foul. Even Thomas wasn’t looking at the ball. He was staring at KP.

No one spoke.

Just seconds before, Porzingis completed a vicious dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo that created the type of noise KP had learned to produce as he made The Garden his home. As I’ve said before, there’s something different about how you react when it’s a draft pick you see doing special things on the court. It’s like he’s family; a younger brother or a son. He’s ours.

[Watch Knicks-Raptors Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]

So after seeing the injury on GardenVision, which confirmed the immediate, instinctual concerns, and hours later learning it was, indeed, a left ACL tear that will keep him out for months, this was a different kind of sadness that has swept over this franchise.

We’ve seen this before: Willis Reed‘s torn thigh muscle. Bernard King‘s knee. Patrick Ewing‘s wrist in ’98 and his Achilles in ’99. Allan Houston‘s knee. Chauncey Billups‘ knee. Amar’e Stoudemire‘s back. Jeremy Lin‘s knee. Carmelo Anthony‘s ankle.

Now this.

On social media, Porzingis received a host of goodwill from pro athletes like Odell Beckham Jr. (who certainly can relate) and fellow NBA players from Antetokounmpo — “a good friend and even greater competitior” — to LeBron James, whose All-Star team is certainly cursed after losing it’s fourth player to injury.

We certainly wish KP well, but he will be back on the court eventually. The bigger concern is for the morale of a franchise and a fan base that just can’t get any positive momentum.

I’m at a loss for some today. Even me and my useless stats. The best I can come up with is that Anthony Davis missed 25% of his games in the first four seasons of his career due to so many injuries there were stories as late as April 2016 questioning his durability to be a franchise player. After this season, KP will have missed 26% of his games in the first three seasons. He’s still just 22.

Steph Curry missed 40 games in 2011-12 with an ankle injury that became a big enough concern for the Warriors that they: 1) discussed trading him to New Orleans for Chris Paul; 2) hesitantly signed him to a four-year, $44 million rookie extension that was, at the time, widely viewed as a risk.

The point: this, too, shall pass.

In the meantime, it’s incumbent upon the leadership of the franchise to not only keep the sagging morale in mind as they approach the Trade Deadline, but to also continue to advance the cause in Porzingis’ absence so when he does return, he comes back to a team that is trending up.

2. In Porzingis’ absence, one might have thought it would at least open an opportunity for his friend, Willy Hernangomez. But the 23-year-old didn’t get into the game until the final minutes of a blowout loss. Then on Wednesday, reports surfaced that the Knicks were trading Hernangomez to the Charlotte Hornets.

[Editor’s Note: ESPN reported the Knicks would receive two future first round picks in the deal along with Johnny O’Bryant]

Hernangomez, before the game, acknowledged reports that his agents asked for a trade. “All I can say is I want to be somewhere where I can play,” he said. “Where I can have minutes and keep developing.”

He didn’t get that opportunity this season despite being an All-Rookie selection last year after averaging 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds in 18.4 minutes per game. This season, he appeared in just 26 games and an average of 9 minutes per game. His Per 36 Minute numbers were impressive — 17.2 points, 10.4 rebounds on 60.5% shooting — but he was stuck behind veterans Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn.

Early in the season, GM Scott Perry suggested that Hernangomez had to learn that minutes were not entitled just because you were a young player.

Hernangomez will be 24 in May and has a very affordable contract at $1.54 million next year and a non-guaranteed $1.7 million in 2019-20. He proved with consistent playing time he could be a good scorer around the basket and a rebounder, but despite being 6-foot-11, he didn’t play “big” and struggled as a defender both against stretch 4 and 5s, and also at the rim.

It’s hard to tell what kind of player he’s going to be at the NBA level, but clearly the Knicks coaches and basketball staff saw enough to not believe it was better to turn the former second round pick into two future second round picks.

He’s also, it should be noted, Porzingis’ best friend on the team.

[Watch Knicks-Raptors Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]

3. Antetokounmpo, who hit the game-winner last week in Milwaukee, is a one-man wrecking crew against the Knicks. Not only did he unintentionally cause the Porzingis injury, he also accidentally kicked Tim Hardaway Jr. right in the exact spot where his felt that stress injury that kept him out for six weeks.

Hardaway Jr. immediately went down and grabbed the leg. He hobbled off, went right to the locker room and admitted he “was nervous.” X-rays later revealed no damage to the leg, which was somewhat of a relief, but he still has to see how he feels the next day before we find out if he will miss any more time.

I definitely don’t want to sit out again,” Hardaway Jr. said.

So you think you’re having a bad week? Tim has gone four games now in a deep freeze after he went 4-for-13 from the field against the Bucks, including 0-for-5 from three.

His four-game slump has him at 9-for-46 from the field (19.5%) and 1-for-20 from three.

Even colder than the alley-oop Antetokounmpo finished over Hardaway Jr. that saw Giannis literally hurdle the 6-foot-6 Hardaway Jr.

“All I saw was [Eric] Bledsoe,” Hardaway Jr. said. “And all I heard was footsteps.”

4. More injury news for the Knicks: Enes Kanter said he needed surgery. OK, it’s oral surgery, but, hey, that’s still painful. Kanter cut his lip during practice last week and stitches kept coming loose. Against the Bucks he was hit in the mouth and, yes, the stitches ripped open again.

So he will undergo a 45-minute procedure to surgically-repair the injury.

When MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow asked Kanter if he’d miss any time, he replied, “If you ask me, I’ll play the next game.”

If you consider his stats and impact, should Kanter be considered for KP’s replacement for the all-star game?

5. Trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. After the Hernangomez deal, reports continue to suggest the Knicks are taking calls on veterans such as O’Quinn, Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah.

We’ll have full coverage of trade deadline day Thursday on Knicks Game Night on MSG Networks before the game in Toronto against the Raptors.

[Watch Knicks-Raptors Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]

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Blueshirts Hope to Get Back on Track in Dallas

The Rangers are in Dallas tonight to take on another good Western Conference team when they skate against the Stars.

The game is the second of two regular-season meetings between the teams. At MSG in December, Dallas beat the Rangers in a shootout, 2-1. It was the most complete game played by an opponent on the season, as the Blueshirts were under siege for most of the night and the event was extended to the shootout only by the spectacular play of netminder, Ondrej Pavelec.

The Stars are currently in the first wild-card spot in the West and have won two consecutive games. The Rangers continue to stay in the middle of the Eastern wild card hunt despite notching just one victory in their last six games. Getting their game rectified sooner than later needs to be a priority as the regular season clock continues to tick down.

[Watch Rangers-Stars on MSG & MSG GO]

In Nashville on Saturday night, a very good Predator team beat the Rangers, 5-2. Coming within a goal twice in the third period, the Blueshirts were unable to protect that momentum by giving up a goal on the ensuing shift. It was a battle most of the night to create chances and getting within striking distance only to quickly succumb, not once, but twice was disheartening.

An egregious elbow to the head of Jimmy Vesey will cost Nashville’s Filip Forsberg three games due to suspension despite there being no penalty called on the play. That non-call infraction came 20 seconds after Marc Staal was drilled into the boards by, “an off-his-feet charge,” compliments of Alexei Emelin. No penalty was called on that play either.

While there is a case to be made that Staal happened to be in the wrong position at the wrong time, there was absolutely no excuse for the non-call on Forsberg as the play occurred in open ice when Vesey had the puck. Like players, officials are going to have off nights and this officiating crew had an off night. That being said, no penalty call on either play was inexcusable and while the after-the-fact suspension to Forsberg sends a message, one team was competitively compromised as a result of poor officiating. On this night, that compromised team happened to be the Rangers.

There will always be a need for a Player Safety department in the NHL as this game is one that encourages physicality and is played on a surface that is surrounded by boards. There will always be a debate about the efficiency of the process and the consistency of sentencing. But until the player, his coaching staff and management take proper responsibility and ownership of egregious head-shots the process will be what it is. Taking ownership means not just when an opponent delivers the blow but also when a teammate delivers the blow.

Looking the other way, alibiing for the infraction, calling out the league’s process as a “joke” and letting one off the hook just because it was one of “our” guys who did the damage does nothing to help. On a very simple level does a suspended Forsberg help the Predators in their next three games? The suspension coming as a result of hit delivered by Forsberg damages his reputation, compromises his team, and hurts a league that is trying to get things right. Let alone, the potential long-term damage inflicted upon Vesey. It is about taking responsibility and not pointing fingers. Isn’t it?

[Watch Rangers-Stars on MSG & MSG GO]

Keys

1. 5 v 5

For the better part of the first half of the season, the Rangers were a pretty good team while playing five-on-five. Recently not so as they have been outscored 7-0 while playing at even strength. Given the amount of the game played at even strength, this differential needs to be better.

2. Score First

Goals, as noted, have been difficult to come by particularly when you are chasing a score. Getting that first goal will allow a little breathing room and make it a little easier to hunker down.

3. Hunker Down

With Vesey and Staal out of the lineup tonight that makes five regulars missing. The lack of NHL talent necessitates a defend-at-all-cost mentality and hunkering down will be key.

[Watch Rangers-Stars on MSG & MSG GO]

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Hope Lies Ahead for Giants and their Fans

This is a difficult week in what has been a difficult season for New York Giants fans, having to watch their division rival and most-hated foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

But the Giants are a team closer to returning to the Super Bowl than it is a team ready to select a high draft pick again.

There is no reason to doubt that this Giants team can rebound relatively easily, and that they can be a team that makes the playoffs sooner rather than later. This past season’s 3-13 record — the most losses in franchise history — is an anomaly, an outlier. The talent level on this roster is too much to ignore.

With a fresh slate in 2018, this team can get back to winning games with a roster that has a bevy of veteran talent and some interesting prospects from the last two draft classes. Not to mention that the hires at head coach and general manager were the right ones to turn around things in a hurry.

[Dyer: Gettleman Lays Out Philosophy in Opening Presser]

John Mara introduces Dave Gettleman as the new General Manager of the New York Giants.

This team is more like the 11-5 Giants version that made the playoffs in 2016, despite what some critics may say. One look at this roster and it is far more like a playoff team than the Cleveland Browns, who are picking one selection ahead of them in April’s NFL Draft.

That is not to say that the Giants are playoff-bound in 2018. They are, however, more likely to return to the postseason in 2018 than hold up the rest of the NFC as they did this past season.

In the season’s opening five games, the Giants had three losses by a combined 10 points. This was a team that was supposed to be back in the playoffs instead on the wrong side of some late-game meltdowns and mistakes. Had those games gone differently, the Giants would not have sunk into such a downward spiral.

That they rebounded in their final three games of the season under interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo, in particular their Week 17 win over the Washington Redskins, points not to a lack of talent but instead to a team that wasn’t well-coached early on.

As they showed under Spagnuolo, and will have the chance now under new head coach Pat Shurmur, the Giants are fully capable of rebounding.

In his own words, Pat Shurmur explains the type of coach Giants fans are getting in him.

Yes, they need to make some decisions this offseason as to the long-term status of safety Landon Collins and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., but the components are in place. With some changes, the Giants should be able to get back to being a similar unit that was the league’s second-best scoring defense in 2016. And quarterback Eli Manning is just two years removed from his last Pro Bowl appearance.

[Dyer: Shurmur Has What it Takes]

With Shurmur signaling a commitment to rebuilding the offensive line, there is no reason to believe that Manning can’t find success throwing to Beckham and Sterling Shepard. There is hope.

The Giants certainly aren’t ready to contend for a Super Bowl. Even a drastic overhaul would still likely put them a year or two away from taking the several steps needed to return back to the biggest of games. But with a high draft pick and an elite quarterback — not to mention stars such as Collins and Beckham — the Giants are closer to Super days again than the nightmare that was this 2017 season.

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Rangers Back in Action Against Matthews & Leafs

The Rangers come off their All-Star break tonight to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden.

The teams will meet for a final time this regular season and the young, talented Leafs have won the previous two games by the scores of 8-5 and 3-2. This will mark the 611th meeting all-time between these two original-six franchises, and kicks off a three-game stretch against very good teams. The Blueshirts will travel to Nashville and Dallas for the next two tests and will need to be at the top of their game for all three of these upcoming opponents.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs on MSG & MSG GO]

Alain Vigneault speaks on how his club is doing following the NHL All-Star break and what's on their mind ahead of their matchup with Toronto Thursday.

The Rangers last start was a week ago in San Jose where they were able to stop a three-game slide with a 6-5 victory over the Sharks. Ryan McDonagh led the way with two goals, his first goals of the season. The blue line has not been overwhelming when it comes to offensive production and with Kevin Shattenkirk still out of the lineup; the Ranger captain needs to continue to be an offensive participant.

McDonagh has battled some injury issues for the better part of the season and by all accounts is now healthy. He is the absolute anchor on the back end and while there is some scuttlebutt out there with regards to trading him, I would be very careful buying into that line of thinking. While no one is irreplaceable, as this franchise is presently constructed, Ryan McDonagh is basically irreplaceable.

Kevin Hayes made his return in San Jose after missing six games due to a lower-body injury. With a goal and an assist coming as a result of his assertive play in the middle, the Rangers are a better team with the big center back in the lineup. His return seemed to spark the play of both J.T. Miller and Mats Zuccarello, two equally important guys when it comes to the success of this group. When a team is healthy, players are then usually slotted into the lineup in the correct position. With a goal and two assists, Miller sure looks to be better slotted as a winger as opposed to a center.

The Rangers will look to salvage their season series against the Maple Leafs tomorrow night at The Garden. See what the players had to say about the matchup.

Toronto comes to town with their offensive engines firing on all cylinders, having thrashed the Islanders last night, 5-0. The Leafs boast a dangerous set of forwards, led by the mercurial talents of Auston Matthews.

Matthews was Toronto’s lone representative in the All-Star Game and showed the hockey world the lighter side of a quieter personality. He plays with a presence that belies his youth, an almost ‘I’ve-been-there-done-that’ attitude. With the benefit of a solid front office and a strong head coach, in a hockey-mad environment, the 20-year-old defending Rookie of the Year is trending towards being a strong voice, both on and off the ice as the NHL moves into the future.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs on MSG & MSG GO]

And to think, that this is all the product of the deserts of Arizona. Pretty amazing really.

After getting some well-needed rest after the All-Star break, the Rangers are ready to restart their push to the playoffs.

KEYS

1. Play in the Offensive Zone – Part 1

The best way to defend this group of Toronto forwards is to force them to defend. They do not need a lot of opportunities to create quality scoring chances. Keeping them 200 feet away from Henrik Lundqvist and his net will surely limit those chances.

2. Play in the Offensive Zone – Part 2

The Leafs are somewhat banged up on the blue line and will play once again without their top defenseman, Morgan Rielly. They are young and not overly physical back there and need to be exploited.

3. Head on a Swivel

Toronto’s creativity and patience with the puck will force all five defenders to pay attention to where everybody is away from the puck carrier. Getting locked in solely to the puck carrier will make for a long night.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs on MSG & MSG GO]

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Barzal Named Rookie of the Month

The forward led all rookies in points and assists in January.

EAST MEADOW, NY – The National Hockey League announced today that Mathew Barzal has been named Rookie of the Month for January.

Barzal, 20, led all rookies in scoring with 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 12 games in January, including his second five-point game of the season on January 13 against the New York Rangers. Barzal is the only player in the NHL to record multiple five-point games this season and became just the seventh rookie in league history to record multiple five-point games.

A Coquitlam, BC native, Barzal tied Mike Bossy for second place among Islanders rookies for most 3+ point games in a season with six; he’s the first New York Islander with six three-point games in 40 years.

In 52 games this season, Barzal leads all rookies in points (51) and assists (35).

This marks the first time Barzal has been named NHL Rookie of the Month. He’d previously been named the NHL’s No. 2 Star of the Week for the week ending in Dec. 24. The Islanders selected Barzal in the first round (16th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft.

*Courtesy of the New York Islanders

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