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Knicks brace for rotation shake-up as Tim Hardaway nears return

The availability of Tim Hardaway Jr. for the Knicks in Minnesota on Friday and their ability to win on the road are pretty much the same.

Both are questionable.

Hardaway went through another full practice Thursday at the team’s Tarrytown facility. His official listing is “questionable” against the Timberwolves. Hardaway, who last played Nov. 29 because of a lower left leg stress injury, said he needed to visit again with the doctors for clearance.

“If it was playoffs then I would [play] obviously. But, regular season, you know the guys are out there fighting hard. Time will tell. I’ve still got to make sure I get evaluated and make sure I’m good to go,” said Hardaway, who claimed his third straight workout left him with “more confidence, more rhythm, just trying to get my legs and everything — wind — back up to pace with these guys.”

Hardaway doesn’t know when the approval might come.

“Soon. No idea. The week isn’t over yet, so we’ll see,” he said.

Whenever Hardaway is cleared, the Knicks as currently constituted are in for a shake-up. Guys whose time increased in Hardaway’s absence — Michael Beasley, Lance Thomas — should get reduced minutes.

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“When Tim was playing, we had 11 guys [playing],” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “It could be situational. Lance has done a great job defending some of these guys. When Tim was here, there were nights when Lance didn’t play. There were nights that Mike didn’t play. It’ll probably end up going back when Tim’s at full health and playing the bigger minutes it may go back to that.”

But first, the Knicks must get Hardaway back. It could be Friday when the Knicks try to improve their 4-14 road record, the third-worst in the NBA behind Atlanta (4-19) and Utah (4-17). It could be Sunday at home against New Orleans.

The Knicks were 11-10 with Hardaway and have struggled without him, going 8-12, including a double-OT home loss Wednesday to Chicago. Beasley has averaged 16.6 points in Hardaway’s absence — after getting 7.1 before the injury.

Beasley’s numbers have helped with the offense, which averaged 104.5 before Hardaway’s injury and 102.6 points since. It has been tough watching for Hardaway who obviously wants to play, but insisted he hasn’t played the “I would have done this or that” game while watching.

“Yeah, it’s difficult but that would be selfish of me. Everybody has a role for this team and anytime someone goes down, only rightfully so that the person behind that individual come in and step up and play like there’s no tomorrow,” Hardaway said. “We have guys that definitely have done that throughout this process and kudos to them.”

Hardaway will be in Minnesota, but whether he actually dresses to play depends on the evaluation by the doctors.

“I don’t know about [Friday]. He’ll be questionable,” Hornacek said. “He’s getting better every day. We’ll just talk to him and see how he’s feeling. … If he feels like he’s getting in that game condition — you don’t want to throw a guy out there when he’s been out six, seven weeks.

“From my side of it, he looks like a guy who’s coming off an injury. He’s doing pretty well. Is he in top game condition yet? No. We can’t expect that yet,” said Hornacek, who indicated he would play it by ear on whether Hardaway starts or comes off the bench when he is considered ready.

And according to teammates, none of whom are doctors or play them on TV, Hardaway looked ready.

“He looks good. It looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. I know his wind is probably the only thing that’s been different. He’s got to get back into game shape,” Courtney Lee said. “But other than that, he’s out here making plays, he’s knocking down shots, he’s competing so he looks good.”

Enes Kanter saw the same.

“He actually looked really, really good,” Kanter said. “Offensively, defensively, he moved really well, he was competing.”


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