Surprising Hawks will look to slow Porzingis, Knicks
Kristaps Porzingis has become a matchup problem in just his second season with the New York Knicks.
The 7-3 Porzingis is listed as a power forward, but with his ability to hit mid to long-range jumpers, score on tip-ins and dunks and run the floor like a gazelle, he has created headaches for opposing coaches and their players.
The Atlanta Hawks (9-3) will attempt to slow down Porzingis and the Knicks (5-7) Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Porzingis is averaging 20.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. He's shooting 49 percent from the field, including 40 percent from 3-point range. In a 105-102 win over Detroit on Wednesday, Porzingis scored a career-high 35 points.
Porzingis, who finished second to Karl-Anthony Towns for Rookie of the Year last season, is earning praise from coaches around the league.
"He's (Porzingis) definitely going to be one of the best players in the league very soon," Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks told the New York Post. "He can score (from) so many spots on the floor. For a guy who's 7-3, puts it on the floor, left, right, mid-range game, step back 3s, gets lobs, offensive rebounds.
"He's a great player now. He's definitely on his way to being an All-Star. It's pretty remarkable to improve so quickly," he said. "He's got point-guard moves. He's even got a crossover (dribble)."
On Friday, Porzingis announced he will donate $500 for each of his blocked shots for the rest of the season to the RENS, a New York-area, not-for-profit youth basketball program. He's averaging 1.2 blocks.
The Hawks are one of the early season surprises. Led by power forward Paul Millsap (17.3 ppg, 8 rpg), Atlanta is second in the Eastern Conference and leads the league in turnovers forced (17.6 per game) and ranks second in field-goal percentage (48.0), assists (26.2) and steals (10.2).
Dwight Howard has resurrected his career in Atlanta after several pedestrian seasons with the Houston Rockets and one year with the Los Angeles Lakers. The 31-year-old center is fourth in the league in field-goal percentage (.606) and third in rebounding (12.9).
The Hawks could be without guard Thabo Sefolosha, who has missed the last two games with a knee sprain. The pesky Sefolosha is third in the league in steals (2.60). Former Knick Tim Hardaway Jr. should get most of those minutes if Sefolosha is a no-go.
Center Tiago Splitter's return from a Grade 2 hamstring strain that has forced him to miss the start of the season is uncertain.
Atlanta is coming off a 100-96 loss to Charlotte on Friday in which they squandered a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Charlotte took control of the game after Howard was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul with 5:38 remaining and the Hawks leading 89-86. He landed a hard elbow to the jaw of Cody Zeller as the two were battling for rebound position. From there, the Hornets scored nine straight points.
"That was a momentum shift right there," Millsap said. "It just completely turned the game around. They took that and fueled it to the fire, the crowd gets into it and they're at home. What can you say?"
Howard insisted the foul was not intentional. "That's basketball," he said.
Atlanta plays six of its next seven games on the road.