ATLANTA - Jonathan Bender's feel-good comeback story is taking a break. The 7-foot forward was inactive for Friday night's game against the Hawks with a sore left leg.
Bender returned to the NBA after a four-year absence caused by wrecked knees and made an immediate impact with the Knicks. The former 1999 fifth overall pick played in seven games, averaging 10.9 minutes and 4.3 points. But the action has taken a toll. "He was working out pretty hard, back-to-back [days],'' coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He could play, but we want to make sure. It's more precautionary than anything else. He's trying to really push it a little bit, but we'll slow him down a little bit . . . It wasn't an injury."
The Knicks have until Jan. 10 to decide whether to guarantee his contract for the rest of the season.
In December, David Lee averaged 19.8 points and 12.0 rebounds and shot 62.8 percent from the field. Before recording 11 points and seven rebounds Friday night, he had double-doubles in the previous seven games, including Wednesday's 24-point, 15-rebound, eight-assist outing against the Nets.
D'Antoni has been impressed by the pending unrestricted free agent's offensive game. He didn't expect Lee to be this productive when he first met him and questioned whether he could fit into his system.
"Before I got here, I didn't think he could because I didn't think he could shoot the outside shot and I thought he was very limited offensively," he said. "That was before I got to know him. Then he kept expanding his game. Really, the offense runs through him a lot. He's got a great sense of timing on the offensive end . . . He's become a point guard in the way we play."