The last two nights, the Knicks have played like the team they were earlier this season, when they looked as if they could compete for a playoff berth. Kristaps Porzingis also has seemed to regain the bounce and form that made him the NBA’s next rising star.
It may be too little, too late for the Knicks, but it’s a good sign that they’re competing. It’s an even better sign that Porzingis is making an impact again.
The Knicks swept the home-and-home with Chicago, beating the Bulls, 106-94, on Thursday night at the Garden to notch their first two-game winning streak in more than two months.
Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks (30-43) with 26 points. Porzingis had 19 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. He matched his career high with 29 points and added 10 rebounds in Wednesday night’s win in Chicago.
“We’re just trying to finish the season the right way,” he said. “We’re all trying to do the right thing. That’s why the game is getting easier for us. We’re finding our rhythm and I’m finding my rhythm and just trying to be aggressive and play my game.”
The Knicks led the final 44:45 of the game and took their biggest lead at 17 points in the fourth quarter on their way to earning back-to-back wins for the first time since Jan. 18 and 20. They have gone 5-5 since the 3-16 stretch that ruined their season.
The fourth quarter featured two highlight-reel alley-oops from Jose Calderon to Derrick Williams.
“We have a good connection out there when we play together,” Calderon said. “It was the right plays. It’s not easy. I love to throw it to him, those kinds of passes.”
Derrick Rose had several acrobatic layups and led the Bulls (36-35) with 30 points, but their playoff chances again took a hit. Chicago is in ninth place, 1 1⁄2 games behind Detroit.
Pau Gasol didn’t play because of swelling in his right knee.
Porzingis has been inconsistent during the last two months. Two weeks ago, team president Phil Jackson said “our phenom, our kid that has surprised everybody, hit the wall.” Porzingis didn’t want to disagree with him, but he had been reluctant to say he hit the rookie wall, and his focus has been on finishing the season strong.
After Wednesday night’s game, interim coach Kurt Rambis said Porzingis “went through a period when it looked like his legs were dead” and that he seems “alive again.” Rambis believes this eventually will be the norm for Porzingis.
“He’s growing. He’s going to continue to develop,” he said. “But he’s just scratching the surface of what he’s going to be.”
Rambis kept Porzingis on the bench for a good portion of the fourth quarter Wednesday night, but when he re-entered, he made a quick impact.
The Bulls were chipping away at a 22-point deficit and the Knicks needed offense. Porzingis made back-to-back baskets, hitting a tough bank shot and converting a lob.
He also made some poor defensive plays, including fouling Nikola Mirotic while he attempted a three-pointer. But Rambis has no doubt that Porzingis will learn from his mistakes and become a star.
“I’m never going to doubt his competitiveness, his drive, his ability to perform in any situation,” Rambis said. “I just think he’s going to be one of those gifted special athletes that’s going to be able to perform under any circumstance.
“I have a vision of him just being an elite player at some point in time in this league, I really do . . . Whatever the situation is, he’s competitive enough that when he goes back in any situation, he’s going to figure out how to make a contribution.”