NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Tuesday, December 22, 2015, 3:15 AM
With two minutes remaining in a disappointing game – one the Knicks could never quite get a handle on — the crowd noticed somebody was missing from the court.
“Por-zing-is,” they chanted, to no avail.
Derek Fisher decided to bench his rookie for a critical six-minute stretch of the fourth quarter in Monday’s 107-99 defeat to the Magic, a move that wasn’t too popular with the fans and didn’t work out on the court, either.
The Magic (16-12) went on an 11-2 run with Porzingis on the pine, a stretch that lasted just a little over two minutes and ultimately doomed the Knicks. By the time the Latvian returned to the court with one minute remaining, the Knicks were trailing by double-digits for the first time all game, Carmelo Anthony was playing on a sprained ankle and an opportunity passed.
Fisher said he stuck with Robin Lopez because of his size on defense, even though Orlando center Nikola Vucevic torched him all game – finishing with 26 points on 13-of-19 from the field with nine rebounds.
Kristaps Porzingis (l.) sits during a critical stretch for the Knicks, who end up falling to the Magic.
“Of course you think about (putting in Porzingis). I don’t know Kristaps is better in that situation in terms of guarding Vucevic one-on-one,” the coach said. “The reality is that if not for (Orlando’s) record, this guy would have been an All-Star the last couple of years in reality. So we’re talking about an All-Star center in the Eastern Conference with their record right now.”
The defeat for the Knicks (14-15) snapped a four-game winning streak, and it spoiled a gem from Lance Thomas. The reserve was nearly perfect while scoring 24 points on 9-of-9 shooting in 27 minutes, picking up the slack after Anthony suffered a sprained ankle late in the third quarter.
The Knicks fell behind 50 seconds into the game and never recovered, losing in wire-to-wire fashion despite frequently hovering within a possession or two.
“It’s hard to keep fighting an uphill battle,” said Anthony, who finished with 23 points in 40 minutes. “They went on an 11-2 run and broke the game open.”
Nikola Vucevic has his way with Robin Lopez (r.) all night, scoring a game-high 26 points.
Porzingis’ offensive struggles continued as he scored just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting, dropping his field-goal percentage to under 30 over the last seven games. But his absence down the stretch received attention from the crowd, and then became more noticeable as the Magic reeled off its game-breaking run.
The Magic subbed in Vucevic with 7:22 remaining, Fisher countered with Lopez – and Vucevic followed with two easy hook shots over Lopez.
“I think (Vucevic) hit some tough shots but some of them were too easy,” Lopez said. “I let him get middle a few too many times.”
Lopez, who has struggled since signing his four-year, $ 54 million deal over the summer, said he attempted a different strategy by closing out on Vucevic’s jump shot. He was subsequently burned by Vucevic’s ability to get to the hoop.
“I was trying out something new, something I wasn’t accustomed to doing,” Lopez said. “That’s completely on me.”
Porzingis might’ve offered a different look on both ends, but acknowledged he needs to get bigger and stronger to handle big centers like Vucevic.
“Strength-wise I think I need to get stronger to hold that guy. But I can use my activity and my aggressiveness,” he said. “Robin is more of a guy who can hold him, I’m more of a guy who can kind of dance around him and maybe get a steal here and there. … But I’ll put in a lot of work. I’m putting in a lot of work now and I’ll put more work in the offseason to be more prepared to play center.”