Hornacek's Beasley Gamble Pays Off; Ntilikina Continues To Improve

By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks beat the Lakers 113-109 in overtime Tuesday night in an important game at Madison Square Garden. There’s a lot to talk about. Here are my five takeaways from the game:

The ‘Beas’ Knees

Jeff Hornacek rolled the dice in what could only be considered a reckless gamble, playing Michael Beasley down the stretch in the fourth quarter and in overtime. Despite multiple blown defensive assignments in regulation that helped send the game into OT, Beasley made a number of plays to help the Knicks win the game. He was 3-of-3 from the field to go along with an assist and even a steal on the defensive end. It was a stroke by Hornacek that worked.

Julius Randle, Michael Beasley

The Knicks’ Michael Beasley, right, and the Lakers’ Julius Randle fight for a loose ball during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 12, 2017. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

It is imperative, however, for Hornacek not to be taken in by a few solid minutes from Beasley. Over long stretches, his defensive shortcomings and poor offensive decision making will more often than not outweigh any positives as a scorer. You will not win many games playing Beasley in key moments. Even Tuesday night, despite the good moments, it was his lack of rotation on Kyle Kuzma’s 3 that sent the game into overtime.

The Growth Of Frank

Frank Ntilikina played 28 minutes and earned his way onto the floor in the fourth quarter and overtime. The rookie point guard’s shooting is starting to come along. He was 5-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from 3-point range, and sank a couple pull-up jumpers off the dribble on pick-and roll-sets. Ntilikina also dished out five assists. He was only credited with one steal, but his defense was active and included him forcing an airball and offensive foul on Julius Randle when he was switched onto the power forward. It’s fair to say Ntilikina outplayed Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball in the fourth quarter and OT.

Hornacek needs to not just play Ntilikina a little more, but also let him do more when he is in the game. Even with his turnover issues, Ntilikina has shown the ability to see the floor and find his teammates in pick-and-roll sets. Too often when he is in the game, all he is asked to do is dribble the ball up the court and dump it to Kyle O’Quinn and Michael Beasley. Ntilikina needs to play more with Kristaps Porzingis and be given the chance to play pick-and-roll with him.

Porzingis Efficiency

This was the first time Porzingis shot better than 50 percent (14-of-26) from the field since Nov. 11. Let that sink in for a second. I’ll have more on his efficiency in a column later in the week. His hot 3-point shooting (5-of-8) helped make him the first NBA player to ever score at least 35 points (37), 10 rebounds (11), five made 3 points and five blocked shots. (Credit to Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders for that stat.) It was a monster Unicorn game that showed his ability to effect the game on both ends of the floor.

Kristaps Porzingis

Kristaps Porzingis shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 12, 2017, at Madison Square Garden. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kuzma did a good job defending Porzingis in the second half, but it appeared the officials missed contact on the arm and body on a few of Porzingis’ shots. It is hard to see soft contact on the arm and elbow during shots, but officials have to watch for it against Porzingis because his height and reach forces defenders into that contact an awful lot.

Baker Beyond the Numbers

The two-year, $8.9 million contract the Knicks gave Ron Baker didn’t make any sense, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some useful skills. His defense, along with Ntilikina’s when they are in the backcourt together, really bothers opposing guards. He knows where to be, has active hands and plays hard on that end every possession. There are no missed rotations when those two are in the game together.

Time To Rest Kanter

It is hard to say anything bad about Enes Kanter given the grit he is showing by arriving to and leaving games on crutches, only to play in between. His numbers last night were great — 14 points and 11 rebounds in only 26 minutes. He deserves more credit than I could bestow in any column. I just can’t imagine that playing in that sort of pain every night is sustainable.

With a lot of travel coming, the Knicks should give Kanter a chance to heal up the next 10 days so he can be at full strength for January. I can’t imagine his back and hip injuries are going to improve much by paying with them. The Knicks have plenty of big man depth, which should give Kanter confidence to miss a few games while he gets healthy.

For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk

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