As Signs Point To Porzingis' Return Thursday, Questions Linger About Big Man's Knee Injury

By John Schmeelk
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All reports seem to indicate that Kristaps Porzingis is going to play Thursday night despite still feeling pain in his knee.

But in a season in which Porzingis has said he wants to rest injuries rather than playing through them, it seems like an odd decision to play him. He is the Knicks’ franchise player and has shown some fragility over the early part of his career.

The Knicks are playing the first game of a back-to-back, so why not give him another day and play him Friday night in Detroit instead? Porzingis has avoided back-to-backs all season, and coming off a knee injury, it’s easy to believe they will try to do the same again. Giving him an extra day of rest given his symptoms would seem like the smart thing to do.

I always hesitate to comment on medical issues because public information is obviously scarce and it is easy to make mistakes. The Knicks make it even easier to make those mistakes by how they disseminate information. That being said, how the Knicks handled this Porzingis knee injury is strange. Porzingis said he felt a sharp pain in his knee, a pinch, and also said his knee seemed unstable the night he was hurt. He had to leave that game and couldn’t play in the following contest.

Kristaps Porzingis

Knicks power forward/center Kristaps Porzingis. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

Yet, the Knicks never made clear they gave him an MRI to see if there was any damage in the joint. Instead, they simply termed it as “sore” after there was some improvement the following day. “Sore” is not an injury; it is a symptom. Soreness comes from either ligament damage, cartilage damage or simple inflammation.

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That being said, considering the fact that Porzingis felt an acute pain on a play and continued to feel a “pinch” in the knee as recently as Wednesday, it seems bizarre for the Knicks to play him without getting any imagining of the knee to see what, if any, damage to cartilage or ligaments has occurred. It is very possible the Knicks did give him an MRI and simply refuse to confirm that due to privacy reasons, but it is common across all sports to report that a player underwent an MRI and what news he received. It is a fairly common test that is often performed just as a precaution to rule out worst-case scenarios in joint injuries.

The Knicks had no issue saying Tim Hardaway Jr. underwent additional tests on his lower leg that showed a “stress injury.” But they declined to detail whether it was a stress reaction or a stress fracture, which would seriously change recovery time. They did update his rehab, which was refreshing information, but if they know the details of his injury, they haven’t shared them. The Knicks have practiced these types of injury-reporting methods before, like in 2012, when Rasheed Wallace had a sore foot for months until it was finally revealed as a stress fracture.

There’s absolutely no indication Knicks trainers and doctors are doing anything irresponsible with their players or rushing them back from injury, but there still seems to be an aura of mystery around Knicks injuries, new regime or not. Porzingis might just have some inflammation, which is not dangerous to play through. If that’s the case, just call it inflammation and there would be no reason for fans to speculate.

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Hardaway may just have a stress reaction, or maybe the imagining was unclear whether the injury was a reaction or a fracture. It’s OK to say that. Information isn’t presented to the public, even if it doesn’t give Knicks opponents any sort of competitive advantage. Leave no room for speculation, and there won’t be any speculation. Team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry have done a great job and made a lot of welcome changes, like being available to the media more often. More transparency here would be another step in the right direction.

Keys For Knicks-Celtics

Celtic Road Warriors: The Knicks continue to play well in front of friendly crowds (14-5 at home with another win at the Barclays Center), and there’s no doubt the home fans will be pumped at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. The Celtics have not been phased by travel this season, with a 13-4 road record (third best in the NBA).

Porzingis Focus: The Celtics have the second-best defense in the league behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder, and their physical play has given the Knicks trouble before. Porzingis had his worst game of the season against the Celtics on Oct. 24, scoring just 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting. Porzingis has improved against double teams recently, passing the ball quicker to the open man before help can arrive and disrupt the play. The Celtics were lit up by the Heat’s Kelly Olynyk on Wednesday night (32 points on 12-of-15 shooting), and they will be very motivated to not allow another perimeter-based big man have a monster night against them. The Celtics will test Porzingis early to see how much he has learned from their last matchup.

Rebounders: The Celtics are also well positioned to neutralize the Knicks’ offensive rebounding, led by center Enes Kanter. The Celtics are the seventh-best defensive rebounding team in the league (according to defensive rebound percentage) and start four players who are 6-foot-7 or taller. Aron Baynes is a big, physical center who will welcome the type of physical play Kanter brings to the paint.

Rookie Challenge: Kyrie Irving is the Knicks’ big matchup issue. Jarrett Jack is going to struggle to guard him, so Frank Ntilikina will likely have to play major minutes to slow him down. It will be a great test for the rookie to guard perhaps the best one-on-one scorer in the NBA. Staying out of foul trouble will be key.

The Knicks, on the other hand, will throw one of their best defenders, Lance Thomas, at rookie Jayson Tatum. Tatum has been an excellent versatile scorer to start his NBA career, and it will be fun to watch him compete against Thomas.

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