The Knicks hope Carmelo Anthony will return for Monday afternoon’s game against Philadelphia. But no one would like to see No. 7 back in uniform more than Kristaps Porzingis.
He’s learning what it’s like to be the focal point of the offense and what comes with that — namely being the person the defense keys on to stop.
With Anthony sidelined by a sprained right ankle the last two games, the Nets and Grizzlies played Porzingis very tightly and physically, making it difficult for the rookie to receive the ball.
In those two losses, Porzingis shot 12-for-29 and totaled two fourth-quarter points — one free throw in each game.
“I’m going to have to find a way to score in those situations,” he said. “That’s the learning process. I’m not going to come in the league and know how to do that with a lot of pressure on me. As I grow as a player, I need to be able to find those positions where I can get the ball and make sure now I can attack.
“I’ll be running around, a lot of pressure on me, and I can’t real ly receive the ball. I got to learn from Carmelo the way he does it. He always gets the ball whenever we need him to get the ball. Those are the things I need to learn.”
Porzingis takes it as a compliment and a challenge that defenses are focusing on him. He said Nets forward Thaddeus Young “was really into my jersey” and Memphis big man Zach Randolph “was just really sticking to me like glue.”
But an underplayed aspect of Porzingis’ impressive play has been Anthony’s impact on it. Porzingis is athletic, versatile and skilled and has all the tools to be a future All-Star. But Anthony makes the game easier for him because of all the defensive attention he receives.
Porzingis said he will watch video and Anthony more closely to see how he can become more effective when additional defensive pressure is put on him.
“I’m a guy who always studies the game,” Porzingis said. “I’m going to be watching film. I’m going to be watching how big guys receive the ball whenever they need to. So I’m going to be learning.
“If they are playing me tough defense, pressuring me, that’s more like a challenge for me. That’s what I like. That’s something I need to be prepared for in the future. They’re taking stuff away from me, so I’ve got to respond to that and find new ways to score.”
It’s not just Porzingis, though. Anthony makes life easier for all of the Knicks and the coaches.
They’re 0-4 without him this season. The game was close or the Knicks were leading in the fourth quarter in each, but they couldn’t score in crunch time.
It was tied to open the fourth in Memphis, but the Knicks made only two field goals in the first 9:05 and scored nine points. Against the Nets, the Knicks led by two with 5:01 left and made one basket in the next 4:34.
Without Anthony on Dec. 23 in Cleveland, the Knicks led by two with 4:07 left and were outscored 11-2 to close the game. And in their Nov. 29 overtime loss to Houston, the Knicks led by 14 with 8:04 left in regulation and scored 10 points the rest of the game.
“When your best players are out or not there, that makes everybody’s job tougher,” Derek Fisher said. “If you take what is considered to be the best player off every team across the league, it would be a different situation. But the really good teams, they still find a way to work through that, and that’s what we need to do.”