GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When Frank Ntilikina was left on the bench for the entire game Saturday, the first time he’d been benched without an injury in his two NBA seasons, he was understandably disappointed. But to come to terms with his demotion, he just had to look at the stars of the game that night.
It was easy to believe his time would come when Damyean Dotson, who recently was benched for four straight games, delivered 21 points in 33 minutes. Emmanuel Mudiay, who hit a tying jumper with 24.1 seconds left to send the game to overtime and scored 28 points to help the Knicks beat the Bucks, 136-134, played only 2:24 in the first eight games of the season and didn’t become a starter until the 15th game.
"I would say if it wasn’t being communicated, then it would be tough,” Dotson said. “For the most part, Coach is telling us he has a reason behind everything. So just as far as when I wasn’t playing the four games, he was steady talking to me, telling me we’ve got to get this rotation going right now, win a couple games. So I kind of understood it. Now as far as Frank right now, stay with it. Nobody is ever in the doghouse. It’s nothing that Frank did. He called a different name. Frank knows to stay ready. I’m sure he’ll be ready.”
That is what David Fizdale has preached while utilizing six different starting lineups in the first 24 games. Ntilikina was in the starting lineup for the first 14 games, but Dotson, Mudiay, Trey Burke and even rookie lottery pick Kevin Knox have seen their minutes diminish at times as Fizdale searches for rotations and lineups that fit.
“I think my actions speak for themselves,” he said. “No guy has gotten buried here. If you’re available for me, I’ll use you. Just be ready to get out there and play well. Like Dot, there were a few ups and downs for him there, but he never let it bother him. He just came back and kept going.
“I would even say that about Enes [Kanter]. I moved Enes to the bench and he wasn’t happy about it, necessarily, because he’s a competitor, but his numbers that week were crazy . . . He never let it affect him, and that’s what a professional is. It doesn’t mean you have to be excited or happy about not playing, but it’s how you handle it and the way you go about competing.”
In the meantime, the players who have gone through it are in Ntilikina’s ear, telling him what the coach told them — that his time will come.
Dotson said he and Ntilikina are always doing extra work before and after practice and that it will continue. Mudiay certainly knows how Ntilikina feels. He not only had to earn his minutes with the Knicks but saw his status as a former lottery pick drop when the Denver Nuggets gave up on him.
“Me and him talk all the time,” Mudiay said. “His locker's next to mine. He’s doing good, though. His spirits are up. He’s probably going to be the last one out of the gym today because he’s always one of the first ones here and one of the last ones out. I know he’s going to be working on his game. He’s going to get back right.”
Notes & quotes: Burke, who suffered a sprained right knee Saturday, is out for Monday’s game at the Garden against Washington . . . Fizdale said Courtney Lee was available to play Saturday but that he didn’t get a spot to put him in for his first action of the season.