Kristaps Porzingis starts at center, gets torched by Nikola Jokic
Defense apparently has been banned from Madison Square Garden, too.
Jeff Hornacek finally made a long-awaited lineup switch and started Kristaps Porzingis at center for the first time this season Friday night. It backfired miserably.
Porzingis had 17 points but was overmatched and roasted for a career-high 40 points by Nikola Jokic. The Knicks took the night off defensively and lost to the Nuggets, 131-123.
“He should be quicker than that guy,” Hornacek said of Porzingis’ defensive troubles. “He should be able to get up on him. He might get overpowered at some point, but a lot of shots, he just lined ’em up. Spun the ball around with the seams and just shot it right. If our guys think that’s a challenged shot, we need to redefine what that is.”
It’s unclear if Hornacek would have made the change if Joakim Noah had been healthy. He missed his third straight game with a sore left hamstring. Hornacek doubts Noah will return Sunday when the Knicks close out this five-game homestand against the Spurs.
Hornacek went small, starting guards Brandon Jennings, Derrick Rose and Courtney Lee with Carmelo Anthony and Porzingis. He probably won’t start that way again.
“It’s probably what our analytics tells us: they’re very good offensively and they’re terrible at defense,” Hornacek said. “They got zero stops. If you look at their starters down the line, they must have shot 75 percent against them.”
Hornacek has praised Anthony for how he’s handled the recent trade rumors, along with the comments and tweets that Knicks president Phil Jackson has directed at the team’s best player.
Hornacek also has kept a level head with everything that’s been swirling around this team — including the additional drama from the incident involving Charles Oakley near the Knicks’ bench on Wednesday night — and hasn’t allowed anything to be a distraction.
“Our focus with the guys is ‘don’t let it be,’ ” Hornacek said. “You guys got to be in the locker room. You guys got to go out on the court. The coaches, we got to try to figure out how to get these guys to win and stay together.
“There’s more emphasis on talking with the guys, making sure they’re at least talking amongst themselves and that they’re not letting it affect their game. We talk to the guys. They say it’s not. So that’s a good thing.”
Lance Thomas, who hasn’t played since suffering a fractured left orbital bone Jan. 15 in Toronto, could practice Saturday. Hornacek wants Thomas to go through a practice before he plays “to see how he does with the contact and bumping.” Thomas is wearing a protective mask and has been experiencing headaches. He wasn’t with the Knicks Friday night for personal reasons.