NEW YORK -- It’s only the first week of March, but we’re nearing the point of this New York Knicks season when the standings are irrelevant. New York is 5½ games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with 19 games to play after Sunday’s 112-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
So if the Knicks lose a few more games over the next two weeks, the only thing left to watch this season will be the development of their younger players.
And on Sunday afternoon, that wasn’t a bad thing.
Second-year big man Kristaps Porzingis had his most complete game of the calendar year, scoring 24 points and pulling down 15 rebounds in 40 minutes. Rookie guard Ron Baker also had a strong afternoon: New York outscored Golden State by 10 in Baker’s 23 minutes as the 22-year-old hounded Warriors star Stephen Curry on multiple possessions.
Reserve Justin Holiday also played well, a key part of a bench unit that helped the Knicks erase a 12-point deficit in the second quarter in an otherwise eerily quiet Madison Square Garden.
Notably absent during that run was Carmelo Anthony, who sat for all but three minutes of the second quarter. Anthony said he didn’t get an explanation for the benching. But Jeff Hornacek liked how his unit of reserves played during the stretch.
“We just rolled with them,” he said.
It’s logical to wonder if this is a sign of things to come for New York. Barring a miracle, the Knicks will be playing meaningless games in the final weeks of another lost season under Phil Jackson. So at what point do they reduce minutes for veterans such as Anthony and Derrick Rose and give more time to the younger players?
“I don’t think anybody thinks now is the time,” Hornacek said on Sunday. “Guys are playing as hard as they can. If it gets to a point where we look at it and say, ‘Let’s get these young guys an opportunity,’ then we’ll do that.”
The Knicks may be better off getting to that point sooner rather than later. Giving Porzingis the ball as often as he had it on Sunday (he led the Knicks with 21 shots) seems wise. It will give the club an idea of what an offense looks like when run through the second-year forward.
Against Golden State, Porzingis showed a national audience why he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone.
Late in the first half, he dribbled slowly to his right and then quickly crossed over to his left, leaving Draymond Green in his wake and finishing with a reverse layup. Less than three minutes later, Porzingis knocked down a one-footed step back over Green to close out the first half.
“He played with a lot of activity tonight,” Hornacek said.
The opponent on Sunday was also significant for Porzingis. If there’s one player the Latvian has struggled against in his young NBA career, it’s Green. So Sunday served as a measuring stick of sorts for the 7-foot-3 forward.
“It always sucks to lose,” Porzingis said afterward. “But I think especially for me, it was a good game to learn. I had a really good defender against me.”
It seems like the rest of the season will be an opportunity to learn for Porzingis and his young Knicks teammates. The opportunity to make the playoffs, of course, is all but gone.