Kristaps Porzingis moved well and without a limp as he walked onto the court Saturday night. It was a good sign for a franchise desperately in need of one.
Porzingis, who is nearly two months removed from undergoing surgery to repair a torn left ACL, didn’t seem to be favoring the leg as he made his way to center court at Madison Square Garden. Porzingis said hello as he whisked by reporters. He didn’t stop because someone far more important was waiting.
Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis was in attendance on Latvian Heritage Night. Porzingis presented Vejonis a personalized jersey and sneakers before the game. The two shook hands and posed for photos.
Then the Knicks fell to the playoff-bound Bucks, 115-102, and surpassed their loss total from last season. They are 28-52 after finishing 31-51 in 2016-17.
Jarrett Jack led the Knicks with 18 points. Kyle O’Quinn added 15 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks.
With two games left in another lost season, the Knicks are in ninth place in the lottery standings, a game better than the Nets and Bulls. They will play their home finale Monday against the Cavaliers before facing the Cavs on Wednesday in Cleveland.
It’s the fifth straight year that the Knicks won’t be in the playoffs. For Porzingis, it’s the third consecutive time his season will end with him unable to play.
All three years of Porzingis’ career have ended in injury, but in the previous two, there was never a question of whether he would be ready for the start of the following season. The only thing known at this point is that he won’t be ready for the start of next season. He might not return before the calendar turns to 2019.
Porzingis wasn’t made available to the media Saturday, and he left long before the game ended. He exchanged pleasantries with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was guarding him when Porzingis drove for a dunk and tore his ACL on Feb. 6.
This was only the second time Porzingis has been at the Garden since then. He also attended the March 13 loss to the Mavericks.
That night, he wouldn’t put a timetable on his recovery, but he said he already had begun working on his upper-body strength and sounded confident that he will return to the All-Star level he reached this season. “I believe that I’m going to come back better and stronger,” he said.
The Knicks have lost at least 50 games for four straight years, matching a franchise record. Given Porzingis’ health, they could do it again next season.
The Knicks are a team in transition. They will have a top 10 pick in this year’s draft and don’t want to add too much payroll that would handcuff them from having as much salary-cap room as possible in the summer of 2019. Barring an unexpected trade for a marquee player, they could field a very young team next season. So they could have another high draft pick in 2019, too.
Enes Kanter (sore back and wrist) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (sprained ankle) didn’t play. Hardaway, who appeared in serious pain when he turned the ankle Friday night, was in a walking boot on the bench. This was the fourth straight game that Kanter has missed, but Jeff Hornacek said the Knicks won’t be “shutting it down.”
“I think if those guys feel they’re healthy enough to play, they’re going to play,” Hornacek said. “It has nothing to do with shutting it down. These guys are all competitors, and that’s what we like about them. We don’t want a guy that’s just going to quit and say, ‘You know what? The season’s over, there’s only two games left, I’m not going to play.’ That says a lot about the guys when they come out there and try to play if they can.”
Antetokounmpo (sore right ankle) didn’t play for Milwaukee . . . Emmanuel Mudiay (concussion) was unavailable. It’s unclear whether he will play again this season . . . O’Quinn is the first Knick since Patrick Ewing in 1999 to record at least 13 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in three straight games.