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Knicks’ big problem: They can’t match up with quick, athletic teams

Celtics guard Terry Rozier passes the ball as

Celtics guard Terry Rozier passes the ball as he is triple covered by the Knicks during the second half in Boston, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 Credit: AP / Charles Krupa

MILWAUKEE — Jaylen Brown drove and dunked over Kristaps Porzingis. Jayson Tatum had no defender in sight when he went in for an uncontested one-handed dunk. Terry Rozier got wherever he wanted on the court and hurt the Knicks from inside and out.

When Porzingis had what seemed to be an easy fast-break dunk, Rozier raced back and knocked the ball out of his hands.

The Celtics’ 30-point win over the Knicks on Wednesday night in Boston followed a script similar to what happened to them in Memphis two weeks ago and in Los Angeles against the Lakers four days later.

All three were on the road, but this isn’t a matter of place. It’s a matter of players and personnel.

The Knicks can’t match up with quick, athletic teams or point guards who can get in the paint. Simply, they give the Knicks fits.

“We need everybody to play as hard as they can,” Jeff Hornacek said. “We’re not the size and athleticism of a lot of these teams, so we’ve got to do that.”

The Knicks have touted themselves as a young, developing team, but they’re not that young. Courtney Lee, 32, and Jarrett Jack, 34, are first and fourth on the Knicks in minutes per game. The Knicks also are not athletic. Jack, Lance Thomas, Doug McDermott, Enes Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn and Willy Hernangomez aren’t high-fliers or fleet of foot.

Getting more athletic is a major area of need that Knicks general manager Scott Perry will try to fill as he works on the roster in the coming days and this offseason.

The trade deadline is Feb. 8, and the Knicks are expected to be involved in talks. They are three games behind eighth-place Philadelphia (five in the loss column) for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, could miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year and have players who don’t fit the long-term vision of the team. Management needs to learn what they can obtain for them.

The Knicks need a penetrating point guard, better defenders on the interior and perimeter, and more athleticism, particularly on the wing, as the Celtics showed.

“That’s why they’re such a tough team,” Hornacek said. “They put Jaylen Brown and Tatum at the two and the three. One’s 6-foot-7 at least, 6-8, very athletic and big. It makes it tough on that matchup.”

Next up for the Knicks is Milwaukee on Friday night. The Bucks have one of the most gifted athletes in the league in All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is a tough matchup for anyone but maybe more so for the Knicks because of their personnel.

The NBA has changed, with teams playing smaller and faster, and the Knicks haven’t caught up to that yet. They have four centers on the roster, and that doesn’t include Porzingis, who has shown he can man the middle effectively when the Knicks go small.

The Knicks are trying to clear their logjam at center. Joakim Noah’s future with the team remains a big question mark. A league source confirmed an ESPN report that Knicks officials spoke to Noah’s camp on Wednesday and that he won’t return to the team before the trade deadline. Noah, who was given a four-year, $72-million contract by former team president Phil Jackson before last season, has been away from the Knicks for “personal reasons” after having an argument with Hornacek in Denver last week.

The Knicks are trying to trade Noah, but his contract makes it difficult. It’s doubtful that they would include a first-round pick to convince a team to take Noah off their hands. The Knicks need assets.

Hernangomez, who is out of the rotation, is a candidate to be moved, as is O’Quinn. But the Knicks could ride the season out with O’Quinn, who can be a free agent this summer. A late second-round pick from a playoff team for O’Quinn might not be as appealing as just letting him come off the Knicks’ books after the season. The Knicks don’t want to take back any long-term contracts, as their hope is to have flexibility in the summer of 2019.

They also know they need some more athleticism to keep up with the rest of the NBA.

New York Sports