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Tim Hardaway Jr. nears return, and changes in Knicks’ rotation are expected

Hardaway goes through a contact practice and scrimmages full-court for the second time this week.

Tim Hardaway Jr. on the Knicks' bench against

Tim Hardaway Jr. on the Knicks' bench against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10, 2017. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — As the Knicks prepare for Tim Hardaway Jr.’s return, some players should start preparing for a reduction in playing time.

The Knicks are listing Hardaway as questionable for Friday night’s game against the Timberwolves in Minnesota. It’s the first time in six weeks that he’s been anything but “out.”

Whether he plays Friday or gets in another couple of workouts to make sure the stress injury in his lower left leg is ready for the pounding of an NBA game, changes are coming.

Lance Thomas has been starting for Hardaway. Michael Beasley, who is averaging 19.1 points in the last 12 games, has become a focal point of the offense along with Kristaps Porzingis. Those days could be nearing an end, especially once Hardaway is back to playing his usual minutes.

“It could be situational,” Jeff Hornacek said after practice Thursday. “Lance has done a great job defending some of these guys. When Tim was here, there were nights when Lance didn’t play. There were nights that Mike didn’t play. It’ll probably end up going back. When Tim’s at full health and playing the bigger minutes, it may go back to that.”

Hardaway went through a contact practice Thursday and scrimmaged full-court for the second time this week but wouldn’t commit to playing his first game since Nov. 29 on Friday.

“If it was playoffs, then I would, obviously,” he said. “But regular season, the guys are out there fighting hard. Time will tell. I’ve still got to make sure I get evaluated and make sure I’m good to go.”

Hardaway wouldn’t say when he would be re-evaluated. The Knicks play at home Sunday against the Pelicans, which could be when he returns.

“The week isn’t over yet, so we’ll see,” Hardaway said.

Hornacek said if Hardaway plays Friday, he likely will come off the bench. If he waits another few days and gets his wind and conditioning up, he will start.

Without Hardaway, the Knicks (19-22) have gone 8-12. They’re 4-5 in games decided by five or fewer points in that span, including Wednesday’s deflating double-overtime loss to the Bulls.

Poor defense and bad shot selection cost the Knicks in a game they led by 11, but Porzingis and Beasley also struggled while playing with one another.

Porzingis scored 10 in the first quarter, four in the next three quarters and 10 in the two overtimes. Beasley totaled 25 points in the second, third and fourth quarters and none in the overtime periods.

Hornacek believes the two should work better together and that Porzingis should be able to get some corner three-pointers if they’re funneling the ball into Beasley.

Soon they will be adding another scorer in Hardaway, so that will affect rotations and lineups. But Hornacek acknowledged that the Knicks have gotten “stagnant” offensively and are forcing it to Porzingis and Beasley too much.

Hornacek said they’re not swinging the ball enough from side to side and that it’s led to too many “predictable” possessions.

“It’s sticking on one side,” Hornacek said. “Even if we come off a pick-and-roll on one side, we’re dribbling it back and trying to throw it into that mismatch. We’ve got to move the ball on. We’re going to continue working on that. That opens it up for everybody. When you become predictable on where the ball’s going to go, the defense can lock in.

“Sometimes they see a mismatch and they see Mike or KP, they have a guard on them. Guys are trying to play smart and say, ‘Hey, that’s our mismatch.’ But it is getting us a little stagnant. That’s fine for us to do occasionally, but we can’t do that every time there’s a switch.”

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