GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Tim Hardaway Jr. wore a black brace on his right wrist -- tacit confirmation that all is not healed -- and said he sees meaning in this final stretch toward the end of the Knicks' season.
Pain or not, he wants to play, he said. And regardless of whether he performs well, Hardaway's attitude toward these final six games could play an important role in his future with the franchise, coach Derek Fisher said.
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"It's an opportunity, not necessarily to hurt yourself, but tremendously help yourself," Fisher said after practice Saturday. "I don't think the games are the deciding factor about how you feel about what Tim is capable of doing. But even with the wrist possibly still bothering him a little bit, the defense, the hustle, the rebounding as a big guard, making good decisions, those are all things he can still do. He should focus on those things."
Hardaway, who is one of four Knicks with a fully guaranteed contract next season, missed nine games after spraining his wrist in mid-March, and his sophomore campaign has been beset by inconsistency and ineffectiveness. In his return against the Washington Wizards on Friday night, he shot 0-for-7 and had two points in 18 minutes.
Hardaway acknowledged that this has been a down year, and Fisher said that is the reason he hopes the young guard will shift his attention to the things they discussed before the season began: better defense and rebounding.
"People know that you can make shots from night to night when the ball is going in, but the other parts of your game have to continue to mature and develop," Fisher said.
It's something Hardaway seems acutely aware of now.
"I'm just trying to play as hard as I can this last week and a half, especially on the defensive end, and finish off strong," he said. "I'm not going to sugarcoat anything. I had shots where I was wide open and I just wasn't making. I'm going to watch a lot of film this summer and just see what I can do . . . to help this team on the offensive end and defensive end."
Notes & quotes: Cleanthony Early is doubtful for Sunday against the 76ers and will be evaluated Wednesday, Fisher said. Jose Calderon probably will miss the remainder of the season.