The Knicks have reached a critical point early in a season that has revealed promise for future success. They fell below .500 Monday night for the first time this season since Nov. 1 by losing to the Indiana Pacers on the road 115-97. At 11-12 before hosting the Memphis Grizzlies at Madison Square Garden last night (Wednesday), they were 1-5 in their six previous games.
Injuries have been the central cause of the Knicks’ plunge and the primary obstacle to head coach Jeff Hornacek’s team achieving positive consistency. The five losses during the six-game span were played without at least one of their starters as center Enes Kanter and forward Kristaps Porzingis missed three of those games, and guard Tim Hardaway Jr. missed two. Kanter returned to the lineup last Wednesday against the Miami Heat after sitting out defeats to the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers because of back spasms.
Porzingis was expected to play last night after being a spectator for the Knicks’ 105-100 loss to the Orlando Magic at the Garden Sunday and unavailable for Monday’s debacle in Indiana, where they trailed by 30 at the end of the third quarter. Hardaway, who hasn’t played since logging 29 minutes versus the Heat last week at MSG, a 115-86 Knicks win, will not suit up again for at least another two weeks because of a stress injury in his lower left leg.
His absence will have a palpable effect on the Knicks’ ability to generate offense, because he is the team’s second leading scorer at 17.8 points per game. The 25-year-old shooting guard is also contributing 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Heading into the Knicks’ matchup with the Grizzlies, the combination of Porzingis (25.8 points), the NBA’s fifth leading scorer, Hardaway and Kanter, who was posting 13.9 points per game and 10.5 rebounds, which was 10th in the league, was providing the bulk of the Knicks’ production on both ends of the court.
Porzingis has been unable to stay healthy over the course of his relatively short tenure with the Knicks. He missed 10 games in his rookie season and last season was out 16 games, including the final seven games with a right shoulder strain. This season, before the Knicks tipped-off against the Grizzlies, the 7-foot-3 22-year-old had already been sidelined four games because of injury or illness.
Starting small forward Courtney Lee and reserves Doug McDermott and Kyle O’ Quinn were the only Knicks to appear in all 23 games.