When the Knicks finally return to the Garden on Tuesday to face the Nets for their first home game since Jan. 14, fans may see a lot more of Trey Burke and a lot less of Frank Ntilikina.
In the Knicks’ 107-85 victory over the Suns in Phoenix on Friday, Ntilikina was the first guard off the bench. But the rookie played just nine minutes and scored three points. His minutes have gone down as his production has waned. Rookie, meet rookie wall.
Burke played 18 minutes against the Suns and scored 18 points, 16 of them in the fourth quarter as the Knicks turned the finale of a seven-game road trip into a much-needed rout. It was Burke’s second straight 18-point effort. He also had 11 assists on Thursday in Denver for his first NBA double-double since 2014.
Yes, even though he’s only 25, Burke has been around. The ninth overall pick of the Timberwolves in the 2013 draft, he was highly regarded enough to play in the Rookie-Sophomore Game during All-StarWeekend in his first two seasons.
But Burke fell off the NBA map before rebuilding his credentials this season with the G League Westchester Knicks. He averaged 26.6 points before getting called up to the Knicks on Jan. 14.
In two days, Burke went from the third-string point guard behind Jarrett Jack and Ntilikina to someone coach Jeff Hornacek is plotting to give more court time.
“Obviously, when he plays like that, we’ve got to find time for him,” Hornacek said. “There might be situations where we can give Tim [Hardaway] and Courtney [Lee] maybe a little more rest with maybe two of our point guards in there. We have that possibility.”
Hornacek has played Burke and Ntilikina together briefly, with Ntilikina guarding the opposing shooting guard.
The Knicks have three games in four nights starting on Tuesday, with games in Boston on Wednesday and Milwaukee on Friday. The team has not played Hardaway in back-to-backs since his return from a stress injury in his lower left leg, so he might not suit up for both of the next two games.
Hardaway clearly likes playing with Burke, his former backcourtmate at Michigan. Hornacek said he sees the same fire in the two guards. Burke was unimpressive in the early part of Friday’s win before turning into an offensive dynamo in the fourth quarter.
“Trey’s a competitor,” Hornacek said. “Him and Tim, I started laughing — they’re the same. Trey came off the court because he didn’t play well the first part of the game when he first got in there. In the second half, I was like, ‘That’s right, you stepped it up.’ They get hard on themselves because they’re competitors. That’s great to see.”
It also might be great for the Knicks to see the Nets again. They are 3-0 against them this season.
The Knicks put an emphasis on their defense against Phoenix after a players-only meeting following a three-game skid in which they allowed 380 points, including 130 the night before against Denver. Hornacek was able to smile for a change.
“I told them after the game, I said, ‘I don’t think there was one stretch of a two-minute period where we let up,’ ” Hornacek said. “That’s how we have to play.”