Kristaps Porzingis said he needed to make an adjustment in his style of play, and he answered with a 26-point surge against the Nets on Monday.
Teams have changed their defensive scheme on Porzingis after his MVP-calibur start to the season, whether it is double teams or playing small. It has forced Porzingis to adapt, and in turn, struggles have followed.
"I think in the beginning of the season, I was free. I was just playing my game and things seemed to happen so smoothly," Porzingis told ESPN's Ian Begley. "(Then) there was moments when all kinds of different defense, the attention was on me, and I felt like I still had to put up the same numbers. I think now I'm starting to realize it doesn't need to be that way. I can just let the game flow and see what happen and i can make the right play and not force and try to get those numbers."
Porzingis did just that on Monday, letting his teammates get in the mix while making the best of his 14 shots. The 7-foot-3 Latvian went 8-of-14 from the field (2-of-3 from three), and spent significant time at the charity stripe, pouring in eight of his 11 free throw attempts for a total 26 points. He also secured nine rebounds, and added another two blocks -- a category he leads the NBA in.
One game isn't enough of a sample size to say Porzingis is out of his slump, but he believes his adjustments showed in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day victory. Instead of forcing shots, he allowed the game to come to him whether that was working one-on-one in the post, or setting a screen for a teammate to drive to the basket.
"I tried to [slow] down mentally -- that's helping," he told The Post's Marc Berman. "I'm not thinking I need to score as much. I just want to be involved. When shots come I'm going to take them, higher-percentage shots and not fighting to get a bucket. I'm trying to make it easier for myself. Just trying to make the right play in every post-up, slow down and take a better shot."
With Porzingis not tossing up a shot every time he touched the ball, the Knicks were moving the ball around smoothly, and everyone seemed to get a share of the wealth. The bench scored 70 points, thanks to performances from Michael Beasley (23), Doug McDermott (13), Frank Ntilikina (11), and Kyle O'Quinn (11).
Head coach Jeff Horancek also curbed Porzingis' minutes, keeping him on the court for 27 compared to 44, 36, and 44 in the previous three contests. Durability is something the 7-foot-3 big man continue to work on, and his new style of play has allowed him to make the most out of his possessions while keeping his body fresh.
"You have to be durable -- there's been moments during the season I was just fighting against it and showing I can do this and that," Porzingis said. "Last couple of games, I felt it come to me a little more and not fight for it so much. Just be smoother. Be at the perimeter, using my speed. I feel like if I can keep my head this way and we move the ball like today, we'll be good."
The Knicks officially kicked off their seven-game road trip with their win yesterday, which finds them making their way to the West Coast. New York has obviously had their issues on the road this season with a 5-15 record. However, Hornacek believes it's an opportunity for his team to break that stigma.
"I told the guys last night, it's an opportunity,'' Hornacek said before the game. "People look at road trips as, 'We got a tough trip.' We got to look at it as this is a chance for us -- if you have a great road trip -- that could give you momentum to go into the All-Star break and maybe make a run at something."
If the Knicks hope to win games against opponents like the Warriors, they will need Porzingis to continue digging himself out of his slump. Luckily, the shovel broke ground on Monday.