New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley draws a foul against...

New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley draws a foul against Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Friday, March 18, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

You could point to the Wizards’ visit to Madison Square Garden as a chance for the Knicks to battle them for 11th place in the Eastern Conference.

On the scoreboard, the Knicks took a late 15-point lead and escaped with a 100-97 win, pushing them a half-game ahead of the Wizards and within five games of the Hornets and Hawks for the final play-in spot.

But with Kristaps Porzingis arriving for only his third appearance on the court at the Garden since being traded away by the Knicks on Jan. 31, 2019, it provided a chance to look at where the Knicks and the player they once thought would carry them to the next level are now.

The Knicks (30-40) are back to chasing ping-pong balls for the NBA Draft Lottery, alive in the play-in chase on paper but realistically more suited to try to find a gem in the draft to complement RJ Barrett and Julius Randle.

Porzingis once was that hope. Since he was taken No. 4 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, however, the front office that drafted him in New York has changed over twice, and Porzingis was dealt to Dallas by the Knicks and then shipped to Washington at the trade deadline this season. No current Knicks player or coach was with the team when Porzingis played for them.

The fans at the Garden treated this as if the wounds still were fresh, booing Porzingis loudly in pregame introductions and every time he touched the ball. He had 18 points and 11 rebounds and is averaging 19.5 points in six games with the Wizards.

"I enjoy this. I enjoy playing at MSG, whether it’s at home before or now on the road," he said. "It’s always entertaining. The biggest stage. And again, receiving the boos. It is what it is. It’s in the past now. I love the city. I miss this city a lot. I miss a lot of people here. Yeah, it is what it is, but I really enjoyed my time here and I only have good memories from this place.’’

Porzingis brought plenty of skill during his time with the Knicks but also was troubled by injuries — a trend that has continued through his other stops — and when contract squabbles were exacerbated by the instability and dysfunction of the organization at the time, he was traded.

The players the Knicks got back for him? DeAndre Jordan, Wes Mathews and Dennis Smith Jr. are all long gone. The cap space they sought never got them the stars they were chasing, and the last prize is the Mavericks’ 2021 and 2023 first-round picks. The 2021 pick was traded back and landed them Quentin Grimes.

Barrett and Randle each scored 18 points and went 6-for-22 from the field, but the Knicks outrebounded Washington 71-46, including 19 offensive rebounds. Randle grabbed 17 rebounds and Mitchell Robinson had 12 rebounds, 10 offensive.

The Knicks were 14-for-14 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, and they needed every one of those points. Barrett’s three-pointer with four minutes left gave them a 96-81 lead, but the Wizards hit four straight three-pointers, the last three by Kyle Kuzma. His contested three with 42 seconds left capped a 16-2 run that brought the Wizards within 98-97.

After Barrett misfired in the lane, Kuzma opted for a long three-pointer with just over five seconds left that bounded harmlessly away rather than attempting a two for the lead. Barrett hit two free throws with 4.9 seconds left and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot an air ball as time expired.

Notes & quotes: With Knicks assistant coach Kenny Payne’s introduction as the new head coach for the University of Louisville on Friday, Tom Thibodeau finally was able to comment on the move: "Any time someone has an opportunity to move along to something that’s a job of that significance, particularly for him. Very similar to Mike Woodson going back to his alma mater, Kenny going to his. We’re thrilled for him. It’s exciting for him and his family." With Payne’s departure, Darren Erman moved to the front row of the bench.


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