On Wednesday night, Kristaps Porzingis had the game of his life. He poured in 35 points from all over the court. On Thursday, he failed to pick up where he left off and a slow start put he and the Knicks in an insurmountable hole. Porzingis added 16 in the defeat, but clearly didn't display that same level of dominance or fluidity in his offensive game.
At 21 years old, Porzingis is still coming into his own as a force in this league. He's just scratching the surface and his new teammates are still learning what he can do. As they develop even better chemistry, the Knicks are hoping their playmakers continue to find the young stud and set him up in the right spots. As good as Porzingis is, there's a lot of pressure on the Knicks to move the ball and for Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings to help elevate Porzingis' game. Porzingis may be the centerpiece of the future, but Carmelo Anthony is still playing at a high enough level. Even so, he too has unselfishly bought into the idea that this team needs to get Porzingis the basketball.
While the expectations are rather high, it appears as though building up the necessary consistency is an easy key to living up to them. Porzingis is young and it's clear the sometimes daunting NBA schedule got to him on the latter night of a back-to-back. New York struggled all around, but it's clear he had trouble individually against the Wizards.
With all this in mind, Sunday's matchup against the Hawks stands as a big one for Porzingis. The Knicks will have had two days off heading into the contest, which gives him an opportunity to rest and regroup. Still, the 12 p.m. matinee start time presents another wrinkle in the schedule that seasoned NBA players must overcome. With a pregame routine traditionally centered around nighttime starts, sometimes players have difficulty putting forth the same effort so early in the day.
At 9-3, the second-place Hawks are a very formidable opponent. What's more, they figure to give Porzingis a hard time inside with talented players like Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard manning their frontcourt. Millsap made the NBA's All-Defensive Second Team last season, and Howard boasts three Defensive Player of the Year awards to his credit. Each big man provides a rather physical and sometimes intimating presence for Atlanta down low. Putting them together has given the Hawks a scary combination.
Porzingis will assumedly have a difficult time finishing inside against these two. His versatility to shoot from around the perimeter may give him an advantage if the Knicks try and draw Millsap and Howard outside a bit more to chase him. Rose and Jennings may subsequently have trouble attacking the basket, which would result in fewer opportunities for Porzingis as well. There's a steep challenge ahead.
Following his breakout performance earlier in the week, the Hawks will be prepared for Porzingis. It'll be interesting to see if he and the Knicks can use a helpful serving of speed, agility, and fast-paced ball movement to catch their opponent off guard.