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Knicks’ young guards continue to struggle

Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay has his shot blocked

Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay has his shot blocked by Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu during the first half of a game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Credit: AP / Steve Dykes

The Knicks’ three young guards were struggling so badly against Portland Tuesday night that Jeff Hornacek said they were considering bringing in Jarrett Jack.

But Hornacek is trying to stay committed to Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke and let them play through their mistakes. They made plenty of them in the Knicks’ 111-87 loss, their 13th in the last 14 games.

The three guards combined to shoot 5-for-28 with 13 points and seven turnovers, and they let Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Shabazz Napier run circles around them. The three Portland guards totaled 68 points and were 15-for-21 on three-pointers.

“It’s part of the development of these guys,” Hornacek said. “They’ve got to go through it. It’s tough. It’s tough on all of us. But when you hit that adversity and you’re not playing well how are you going to get yourself out of it?

“It’s part of the experience that they unfortunately are going through right now.”

Jack started 56 games, but coming out of the All-Star break the Knicks went all-in on playing the trio of young guards to let them develop and evaluate who has a long-term future with the team.

All three are signed through at least next season. But their play, particularly on this trip, could make the organization look to bring in another guard in the offseason.

Burke has been the most consistent, but he was 2-for-12 from the field and 0-for-4 from the foul line Tuesday. Ntilikina is a 19-year-old rookie and going through the league for the first time, so his growing pains are more understandable. Mudiay, acquired on Feb. 8 from Denver in a three-team trade, has been the biggest disappointment.

He has started at point guard the past six games and has shown some flashes with his ability to get in the paint and set up teammates. But Mudiay, who turned 22 Monday, is shooting 3-for-25 with 12 points, 14 assists and eight turnovers in the last three games.

After going 1-for-9 with three points, four assists and six turnovers in Portland, Mudiay left the locker room to lift weights and try to clear his mind.

“I definitely want to play well for the team and not let nobody down,” Mudiay said. “That’s the main thing.”

Mudiay has a hitch in his jump shot that Hornacek has been trying to work with him to change. But this is less mechanical and more mental.

The third-year guard says he’s caught between knowing when to shoot and when to pass, which is a terrible place for a point guard to be. He’s still learning his teammates, and he made some ill-advised or bad passes Tuesday.

“Me and Lance [Thomas] had a conversation and he was right on,” Mudiay said. “I was being indecisive because it’s cliché, but just trying to figure it out.

“When to take my own shot. When not to take my own shot. When to pass. Overthinking. Thinking that a player would do this and a player probably doesn’t, so sometimes when I drove baseline I’m thinking somebody’s going to cut and I just got to get on the same page with everybody and figure everybody out. And they got to get on the same page with me, so it’s all a team effort.”

Ntilikina has been playing off the ball more instead of point guard since Mudiay’s arrival. He got his first NBA start Tuesday — and it was at shooting guard — with Courtney Lee away from the team due to a death in the family. Ntilikina is a far better defender than shooter or scorer.

Ntilikina shot 2-for-7 for the third straight game, but his confidence isn’t wavering. He believes all of these experiences are helping him and his teammates.

“We have to be in the mindset where either we win or we learn — we never lose,” Ntilikina said.

“Nights like this allow us to learn a lot. Difficulty makes men better in life and on the court. To be the best we can be we have to go through this experience.”

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