GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Knicks will continue their tour of John Calipari’s biggest hits on Sunday night when the Sacramento Kings come to town, but this time, they’ll probably do it without Friday night’s secret weapon.
Let’s get one thing clear: Joakim Noah’s probable return to the lineup is very good news for the Knicks, but after Kyle O’Quinn’s dominant performance against the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns on Friday night, you can’t help but wonder how he’d fare against that other former Kentucky center, DeMarcus Cousins.
No matter, though. Noah, who sprained his ankle on Monday, participated fully in practice Saturday and, coach Jeff Hornacek said, “looked fine.” And the truth is, Kristaps Porzingis said, Noah is necessary if the Knicks are going to build off the momentum they established in their home-and-home sweep of the Timberwolves.
A huge part of that will be limiting Cousins, who is one of the few reasons the Kings (7-12) stand a chance against most teams these days. The 6-11, 270-pound Cousins is averaging 28.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
“We need him,” Porzingis said of Noah. “We can’t wait to have him back healthy. Ready to play, ready to go to war like we are. I know he’ll do that, so we’re waiting for him to get back on the court.”
The Knicks have won seven of their last 10 and are over .500 for the second time this season. They can go two games over .500 for the first time Sunday night. More importantly, they’re starting to establish that offensive groove that was missing early on, when players were still acclimating to their roles and to each other after a disjointed preseason that was beset by injuries (Noah) and missed time because of a civil court trial (Derrick Rose).
“We’re really figuring out who we are as a team and how we’re going to win certain games,” said Carmelo Anthony, who played with Cousins in the Olympics over the summer and wound up with a newfound understanding and respect for him. The experience made Cousins even more dangerous, he said, because it was both a lesson and a confidence-booster.
“It’s just being on that team with that caliber of guys, that caliber of talent and realizing and understanding the work ethic that everybody else is having,” Anthony said. “When you’re around the best players in the world, you’re almost forced to kind of take it up another notch, your work ethic. And you start seeing how hard people work and you start wanting to be a part of that and it becomes contagious.”
And whether it’s Noah or O’Quinn or Porzingis, Cousins demands full attention when he’s on the court. “He may be the best center in the league,” Hornacek said. “The guy’s a dominating force, as big as he is. He can score inside, go outside and shoot threes, so again, when you’re in the NBA, no night is ever easy. There’s always someone, whether it’s a point guard, a two-guard or whatever position, there’s a great player on a team. Sacramento has got a few . . . No games are easy.”
Notes & quotes: Courtney Lee was limited in practice Saturday and is questionable for Sunday night. He said his left ankle, which he twisted during Wednesday night’s game, still was sore.