NEW YORK (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis will have to wait to play in the All-Star Game. Same with the playoffs.
He hoped to accomplish both during his third season in the NBA, his first as the unquestioned star of the New York Knicks.
But those plans were derailed when Porzingis crashed to the court, punching the floor in pain after a dunk in the second quarter of a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night.
An MRI revealed a torn left ACL, an injury that will sideline Porzingis for the rest of this season and perhaps a good deal of the next.
Disappointment could be felt not only in New York but around the NBA. Porzingis is a popular player for his wide array of skills at 7-foot-3 that led Kevin Durant to nickname him a “unicorn,” but also for the personality he brought to New York when he arrived in 2015 as a teenager from Latvia.
“Was hoping for the best news when I saw the play after the game,” LeBron James wrote on Twitter . “Best wishes and have a speedy healthy recovery.”
Porzingis was set to play on James’ team next week when he made his debut as an All-Star, and he was also set to defend his title in the Skills Challenge. He hoped to return from Los Angeles to a playoff race after not coming close in his first two seasons.
Those Knicks’ hopes suffered a huge blow when Porzingis went down. The Knicks were already facing a tough climb from 11th place in the Eastern Conference, and that would have been difficult even with Porzingis carrying them.
The Knicks probably would have needed to find some help by Thursday’s trade deadline, and perhaps they would have tried given Porzingis’ stated desire for a playoff push. But now they are better off playing for the lottery than the playoffs, and any moves they make would likely be with that in mind.
Porzingis had at least given New York reason to entertain playoff hopes in a season that started days after Carmelo Anthony was traded to Oklahoma City. Even the Knicks didn’t know if Porzingis was ready to flourish in the No. 1 role at 22.
But he wanted the challenge and has been up for it, averaging 22.7 points and a league-leading 2.4 blocked shots per game.
The only thing he couldn’t really do is put to rest injury concerns that often follow players at his age and size. He had missed at least 10 games in each of his first two seasons and will finish with only 48 games played in this one.
He had come back stronger this season in hopes of becoming more durable and better handling the pounding in the post.
Now he will have to work even harder to come back from a serious injury.
Well-wishers around the league think he will.
“Setback for a major comeback!” the National Basketball Players Association tweeted, with a photo of Porzingis.