HEADLINE

Mavs’ Porzingis makes return to New York

Field Level Media

November 13, 2019 at 8:44 pm.

It didn’t take Kristaps Porzingis long during his rookie season with the New York Knicks in 2015-16 to realize he’d come to a city starved for a basketball winner. When he returns to the Big Apple Thursday night, he’ll find a city more famished for winning basketball than ever before.

Porzingis will play in Madison Square Garden for the first time as a visiting player when he and the Dallas Mavericks face the reeling Knicks in the final game between the teams this season.

The Mavericks, who are completing a three-game road trip, last played Monday when they fell to the Boston Celtics 116-106. The Knicks continued skidding toward the bottom of the NBA on Tuesday with a 120-102 loss to the host Chicago Bulls.

At 2-9, the Knicks entered Wednesday tied for the worst record in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors. But while the Warriors at least have made five straight trips to the NBA Finals and won three championships, the Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since the spring of 2013, haven’t gotten to the Eastern Conference finals since 2000 and haven’t won it all since 1973.

“It’s a city hungry for success in basketball,” Porzingis said after practice Wednesday. “For them, for the fans, for the city to be going through this year after year, it’s got to be tough.”

Porzingis appeared to be the franchise player around whom the Knicks could build during the 2015-16 season, when he averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while earning the “Unicorn” nickname for the versatility he offered in a 7-foot-3 frame.

But Porzingis’ relationship with the Knicks deteriorated over the next two seasons, during which Porzingis reportedly expressed concerns over the direction of the franchise while butting heads with management over the influence his brother/agent, Janis, and his physiotherapist, Manolo Valdivieso, had on him.

Porzingis tore his ACL while trying to dunk over Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo on Feb. 6, 2018. He never played again for the Knicks, who traded him to the Mavericks in a seven-player blockbuster on Feb. 1 of this year.

“This is a basketball city and it just sucks that we never really got to do something big here,” said Porzingis, who is averaging 18.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game after signing a five-year deal worth the maximum $158 million with the Mavericks in July.

The Porzingis trade was supposed to hasten the Knicks’ latest rebuilding project. But they didn’t win the draft lottery and the opportunity to select Zion Williamson, and the salary cap room created by the deal wasn’t enough to lure any of the top-tier free agents to Manhattan.

Since upsetting the Mavericks 106-102 in Dallas last Friday, the Knicks have lost to the Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers by a combined 39 points. After the loss to the Cavaliers, team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry held a press conference to indicate their displeasure. On Monday, ESPN reported head coach David Fizdale was on the hot seat.

“It’s always a media firestorm in New York,” Fizdale told reporters prior to Tuesday’s loss. “For everybody else this is a big deal. But for us it’s normal environment.”