One of the few previous times Lauri Markkanen was in New York, he dined with Phil Jackson as part of the pre-draft process. The feeling from the Knicks, at that time, was Markkanen could serve as a replacement for Kristaps Porzingis should Jackson pull the trigger on the trade offers that were flooding his phone for the Latvian.
“He made me taste raw fish, or raw steak,” Markkanen told the Daily News. “I didn’t like it.”
We all know how the rest of the story unfolded: The Knicks kept Porzingis, drafted Frank Ntilikina one spot after the Bulls took Markkanen, and Jackson was fired.
The moves were applauded by Knicks fans and the media, largely because Porzingis was and remains the beacon of light for a frustrated franchise. Except maybe Jackson wasn’t so far off in considering Markkanen comparable.
The argument could certainly be made following New York’s 122-119 double OT loss Wednesday to the Bulls, when Markkanen upstaged and outshined his European counterpart during his first NBA game at the Garden.
Porzingis had his moments — including two very special ones — but Markkanen carried the Bulls to their third straight win over the Knicks with a game-high 33 points and 10 rebounds. The power forward’s highlight was a ferocious dunk over Enes Kanter in the third quarter.
Kristaps Porzingis finished with 24 points on 24 shot.
“He’s a great young player,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We always look at KP at 7-3 and the things he can do. But this kid is 7-foot also. He has the skills. He probably has the NBA body already.”
Porzingis countered with 24 points that required 24 shots. His block on Markkanen at the rim saved a potential game-winning bucket in regulation, and Porzingis’ own dunk at the buzzer of the first OT extended the game again. But he was frustrated after another defeat — the third straight at home — as the Knicks were swept over three games in the regular season by the Bulls (15-27).
“Just another tough loss. It’s not a lot to say really,” he said. “We just got to keep going and learning. I don’t want to say the same thing over and over again. We have some growing to do for sure.”
Porzingis even spoke longingly about Chicago’s playing style, which contrasts New York’s halfcourt style.
“They play free. They’re young, they run up and down. It’s pretty fun to watch them play,” he said.
The Knicks are now officially past the halfway point of their season, 42 games of seesawing, and still Hornacek said they’ve exceeded expectations. The bar is low around the Garden these days, but Hornacek has a point given the preseason expectations. They were supposed to compete for the No. 1 draft pick, but there’s still hope for the playoffs nearly three months into the season. In fact, they have a better record at this point than last season’s squad, which featured Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose and managed only 18 wins through 42 games.
Still, there are times when they should be better — HAVE to be better — like against the Bulls at home. New York lost despite a triple-double from Jarrett Jack and another scoring outburst from Michael Beasley (26 points). They lost despite holding leads of 11 in the first half and 8 in the second.
They lost despite Porzingis’ heroics to force two overtimes, including the dunk at the buzzer of the first OT that came off a perfectly-placed pass from Jack.
They lost because a 20-year-old from Finland was the best European at the Garden on a dramatic Wednesday night, and the visitors played harder.
“This is a team that has beaten us three times on just sheer will, just sheer playing hard,” Jack said.
Source: Ny Daily News