There was a changing of the guards at halftime for the Knicks. The move that fans have been clamoring for finally came to fruition.
Trey Burke and rookie Frank Ntilikina started the second half of the 108-104 loss to the Timberwolves on Friday night at the Garden. Emmanuel Mudiay and Courtney Lee were spectators in the third quarter. Lee re-entered in the fourth, but Mudiay didn’t.
Mudiay, who has started 14 straight games, played only five minutes. He has been hampered by an ankle issue and was under the weather Friday, but this was performance-related.
Coach Jeff Hornacek liked how Ntilikina was defending Andrew Wiggins and Burke was controlling the pace. Mudiay was scoreless with one assist in his shortest stint in 17 games since being traded to the Knicks.
“It’s just a matter of those guys were playing well and [we] gave them the most minutes,” Hornacek said.
Hornacek said he hadn’t decided if it was just a one-half thing or if this will be the starting backcourt when the Knicks play in Washington on Sunday. “We haven’t even thought about that game yet,” he said. “I liked what our two guys did tonight. Emmanuel might not have had it tonight, but we’ll see.”
After the change, the Knicks (26-47) began the third quarter with an 18-2 run and went ahead 66-59. But they trailed 84-82 at the end of the third despite Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 19-point quarter.
Hardaway had a career-high 39 points and shot 14-for-25 overall, including 6-for-11 from three-point range. Burke added 15 points and nine assists. Ntilikina scored 13 points in a career-high 37 minutes. Karl-Anthony Towns had his league-leading 60th double-double with 24 points and 13 rebounds for Minnesota (42-31).
The Knicks are giving more time to the younger players to develop. Lee is one of the Knicks’ captains and has proved himself. He’s also under contract for next season and should be back unless the Knicks find a trade they like.
Mudiay has been inconsistent since the Knicks acquired him from Denver last month, struggling with his shot and building on-court chemistry, but Hornacek bristled after Wednesday’s loss in Miami when asked if he would replace him with Burke in the starting lineup.
Mudiay was surprised that he didn’t play in the final 43:06. “Yeah, but at the same time, I wasn’t going to be a sore loser about it,” he said. “I was going to cheer my teammates on.”
Burke has played the best of the three young guards, providing a spark off the bench. He’s the only one without a fully guaranteed deal for next season. Ntilikina’s play continues to be up and down, but he would benefit the most from playing more minutes.
“I thought they did a great job in the first half,” Hornacek said. “The group that was out there had a pretty good chemistry going. So we decided, second half, let’s roll with those guys, knowing that they’re playing best.”
Notes & quotes: Lance Thomas missed his third straight game because of a family matter. He is expected back Sunday.