Knicks small lineup clicks, but Jeff Hornacek not sold on it

The consensus from scouts is that the Knicks will be at their best with the small lineup, with Kristaps Porzingis at center, Carmelo Anthony at power forward and Joakim Noah on the bench.

Jeff Hornacek, however, is not convinced unless it’s against the right matchup. Like his boss Phil Jackson, the coach is not exactly leaping into the small-ball trend.

“It’s always a game of chicken. I thought earlier in the season we went small and it didn’t pay off. We ended up losing the game,” Hornacek said. “It’s one of those feels if it works, you ride it. If not then you need to get out of it quicker.”

To be clear: Hornacek hasn’t given the optimum small lineups much of a chance. Porzingis and Anthony have played together as a front line pair for a total of 46 minutes over 12 games this season, with mixed results and a net score of +2.

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But most of the struggles from that combination were earlier in the season. The last few games have provided a picture that is very much positive.

In Monday’s victory over the Mavericks, for instance, the small lineup of Porzingis, Anthony, Justin Holiday, Courtney Lee and Derrick Rose outscored the opposition by 14 points over just 8.5 minutes. It was the main reason New York won that game.

In Thursday’s loss to Washington, Hornacek used the small lineup but also with Brandon Jennings and Rose as the two guards. They outscored the Wizards by 12 points in just 6.8 minutes. The Knicks (5-7), who start a three-game home stand Sunday against the Hawks, totaled 47 points in the fourth quarter against the Wizards — all without Noah — and made a late run after digging an impossibly deep hole.

“We got in a flow,’’ Hornacek said. “I’ll give the guys credit, they were down 27 and didn’t give up.”

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Of course, the drawback to the small lineup is a dip in rebounding and the marginalizing of the $72 million center. Noah’s minutes have already been downsized to about 23 per game, which can’t be what Phil Jackson envisioned when making his biggest signing of the summer.

It’s a concerning situation for the future more so than the present: if this is the reality in Year 1 of Noah’s deal, imagine the back end. Imagine Years 3 and 4 when Noah is being paid $18.5 million and $19.3 million, respectively, when Jackson will have enough free time to write his tell-all chronicle and offend everybody.

Jackson has always fancied Porzingis as the power forward — not the center — in his triangle. It’s why he splurged on Robin Lopez and Noah for two straight summers. Don’t forget: Jackson killed any chance of signing LaMarcus Aldridge two summers ago because he wanted the All-Star to play center to accommodate Porzingis’ growth at power forward.

That’s yet another Jackson blunder if, as many people throughout the league believe, Porzingis’ future position is center.

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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