The NBA season may be only one game old, but the New York Knicks appear to have narrowed the gap between themselves and the Atlanta Hawks.
When the Eastern Conference’s best and worst teams from 2014-15 square off Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks will be the ones coming off a successful opener.
A franchise-worst 17-win campaign brought on sweeping offseason changes to the Knicks’ roster, ones that certainly paid off Wednesday at Milwaukee. Free-agent pickup Derrick Williams scored 24 points and rookie Kristaps Porzingis had 16 as New York led the Bucks by double digits most of the way in its 122-97 rout.
Williams and holdovers Langston Galloway (16 points) and Lance Thomas (13 points) led a second unit that outscored Milwaukee’s reserves 73-32, helping New York withstand an off scoring night from Carmelo Anthony in the All-Star’s first game action since February.
”They have a comfort level and the trust with each other even though it’s early,” coach Derek Fisher said.
Anthony, limited to 40 games last season by a left knee injury that required surgery, finished with 11 points on 4 of 16 shooting.
Atlanta, which won a club-record 60 games to capture the East’s regular-season title, more resembled the team that was swept by Cleveland in conference finals in its lid-lifter. The Hawks struggled badly on the boards and from the perimeter in a surprising 106-94 home loss to Detroit on Tuesday.
The Hawks went 8 of 27 from 3-point range and allowed the Pistons to make 12 of 29 shots from beyond the arc, with Detroit owning a 59-40 rebounding advantage in a game it led by as many as 19.
”They were very good tonight. We weren’t,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Kyle Korver, the league leader in 3-point percentage last season, was just 1 of 5 in a seven-point effort. Kent Bazemore, starting at small forward in place of offseason departure DeMarre Carroll, was scoreless in 21 minutes.
Carroll, signed to a four-year, $60 million contract by Toronto in July, was the lone notable defection to an Atlanta roster that returned mostly intact. The Hawks traded for Tim Hardaway Jr. on draft night as a potential replacement, and the ex-Knick is expected to be uniform Thursday after being inactive for the opener.
Hardaway, New York’s first-round selection in the 2013 draft, averaged 10.8 points in two seasons with the Knicks. He was acquired for the draft rights to Jerian Grant, who contributed 10 points and five assists in his debut Wednesday.
Hardaway could draw into the Hawks’ rotation with Thabo Sefolosha ruled out for Thursday’s game. The defensive specialist hasn’t still fully recovered from a broken ankle suffered during an altercation with New York City police outside a Manhattan nightclub in April.
Arron Afflalo, another of the Knicks’ free-agent newcomers, will miss a second straight game with a left hamstring strain.
Hardaway had 23 points and Galloway scored a career-high 26 in New York’s 112-108 victory in Atlanta on April 13, which snapped a three-game series losing streak. Korver averaged 21.0 points in last season’s three meetings, making 13 of 27 shots from beyond the arc.