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Kristaps Porzingis could be Knicks’ new go-to guy, if healthy

Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks

Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks controls the ball against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Mar. 14, 2017 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Kristaps Porzingis thinks he was playing at a high level before an Achilles injury slowed him, and he believes he’ll be better next season.

He might be — if he can stay healthy.

Porzingis has missed 14 games because of illness and injury this season. A back issue has kept him out of the last three games, and he could sit out the Knicks’ last two games if it isn’t better.

This isn’t the way Porzingis wants his second NBA season to end, but he’s looking forward to getting back in the gym in the offseason to strengthen his body and his game.

“That’s going to be a major key for me this summer: getting stronger and staying low,” said Porzingis, 21. “Staying low offensively and defensively, it’s going to take leg strength. Everything, driving to the hoop, it’s going to be big for me.

“I’m going to work so hard this summer. Man, it’s going to be a huge summer for me. I’m excited about this summer. It’s going to be a long summer, but I’m excited about getting better and coming back next season better.”

The Knicks are, too.

With Carmelo Anthony expected to be on the trading block again this summer, Porzingis could be the Knicks’ featured player and go-to guy next season. He still hasn’t proved he’s ready for that challenge, but being healthy and staying healthy will be critical if he is going to take that next step.

Porzingis missed 10 games as a rookie and ended last season watching from the bench because of a shoulder injury. He has played in 66 games this season and could be a well-paid spectator the remaining two games because of his back. He tried to play Thursday night against Washington but his back stiffened up.

“I want to finish the season playing and not on the bench,” he said. “I’ll try to come back. But I won’t try to force it too much.”

The Knicks, who will host the Raptors today, will be smart with Porzingis. They’re not playing for anything anymore.

Porzingis is averaging 18.1 points and 7.2 rebounds and ranks second on the Knicks in each category. But it’s been an up-and-down season for him that included a lot of standing around and watching.

Despite his numbers, he wasn’t as much of a focal point of the offense with Anthony and Derrick Rose dominating the ball in most games.

Porzingis got off to a good start, averaging 20.1 points in the first 32 games and recording 18 20-point games in that span. Then his Achilles flared up in late December and he missed seven of the next 11 games. In his last 34 games. he averaged 16.3 points and reached 20 only eight times.

“Before I got hurt with the Achilles, I was playing at a really high level and really consistently every night, but we weren’t playing at the level we wanted to as a team,” Porzingis said. “But I liked the consistency. I was out there playing every night and playing at a high level.

“Those little injuries and the little things that happened got me out of my rhythm. And then it was kind of on and off. Some games good, some games not so good. I was trying to find that rhythm for a long time.’’

There were games in which Porzingis looked zapped of energy and strength and was pushed around. He said all of the losing wore on him.

“The second part of the season, it was a big fight for us every single day,” he said. “Every game we knew we had to go out there and try to win the game. It was mentally tough preparing yourself for a war every night, and it wasn’t going our way. That’s how I felt a lot of games. It was a big challenge. But I think I grew from this season.”

If Porzingis can come back mentally and physically stronger, it will only help him handle a heavier workload and carry the burden that comes with being the Knicks’ go-to guy.

New York Sports