Turiaf feeling better, contributing more

Knicks forward Ronny Turiaf grins to the during

Knicks forward Ronny Turiaf grins to the during the Knicks' win over the Thunder. (Dec. 22, 2010) (Credit: Christopher Pasatieri)

Ronny Turiaf doesn't like to talk about energy. "I, personally, cannot touch energy," he said.

Still, Turiaf's energy is an intangible that has a tangible impact on the Knicks. The 6-10 center exudes it on the court, and it permeates throughout the team just as much as Amar'e Stoudemire's swagger and Raymond Felton's toughness.

"We need his spirit," Mike D'Antoni said after Wednesday night's 112-98 win over the Thunder. D'Antoni raved about his "positive aura," which he called "infectious."

None of this, of course, is found in the boxscore. Turiaf had 11 points, two rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot against the Thunder, but perhaps the most important number was the fact that he played 21:56.

Here's where the tangible evidence presents itself: The Knicks are 7-3 when Turiaf plays at least 20 minutes. When he plays less than 20 minutes, they're 6-6; when he plays less than 15 minutes, they're 2-5.

(The Knicks did, however, survive four games without him during their eight-game winning streak and are 4-3 in the seven games he's missed this season because of injury).

The issue for D'Antoni isn't finding minutes to play Turiaf, who provides much-needed toughness in the paint and also smart ball movement on the high post. The problem is keeping Turiaf healthy enough to play those minutes with the intensity he brought Wednesday.

Since spraining his left knee against the 76ers Nov. 7, a game that began a six-game losing streak in which Turiaf had to sit out three games, he hasn't been at full health.

Injuries are a subject Turiaf hates to discuss, but there was no denying that the heavy brace he wore for most of the past month was for a reason. It also is worth noting that the brace was gone Wednesday night. And the Turiaf that the Knicks had been missing was back.

He finished strong around the basket - Danilo Gallinari found him with a no-look pass for a dunk in the fourth quarter to put the Knicks up by 20 - but his most impressive play was during an 11-0 run early in the second quarter when he rejected Jeff Green's driving dunk attempt. The play resulted in a turnover, and on the Knicks' ensuing possession, Wilson Chandler drilled a three-pointer to give the Knicks the lead for good at 42-41.

Turiaf had five points in the run, which came at that critical point in the game when D'Antoni has to have the confidence to go to his bench.

Turiaf had been an effective starter with Stoudemire at power forward, but D'Antoni is getting great results with the smaller lineup that has Stoudemire at center and the ever-improving Chandler at power forward. Chandler's long-range shooting - 27-for-61 (44.3 percent) from three-point range in the last 10 games - helps open up the middle for Stoudemire and Felton to work the pick-and-roll.

The Knicks have shopped around for big men to bolster the frontcourt and have considered bringing back D-League graduate Earl Barron. Turiaf's history of trouble with his left knee (it's been an issue since the end of the 2008-09 season) means the Knicks need to find some insurance. But there's no question that when he's healthy, he's an important part of D'Antoni's rotation.

"If we can keep him there as much as we can," D'Antoni said, "that would be enormous."

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