MINNEAPOLIS — Jeff Hornacek thinks things will improve for Kristaps Porzingis once he gets his wingman, Tim Hardaway Jr., back.
After his MVP-like start, the 7-foot-3 Latvian has been in a downward spiral since early December, creating “a burden’’ on Porzingis, according to Hornacek.
In excerpts obtained by The Post from the “Jeff Hornacek Experience” to be aired Friday night on MSG Network, Hornacek hopes Porzingis will get back to October/November form. Hardaway has missed the last 20 games and Porzingis, who has played in 16 of those, has shot 39.9 percent in that span. For the season, Porzingis’ percentage has dropped to 43.5 percent.
Hardaway is listed as questionable for the Knicks’ game Friday in Minnesota.
“I think KP’s had to shoulder a lot,’’ Hornacek said. “Obviously he’s our main offensive weapon. When Tim was out there, that just gives us another scorer out there. We’ve stayed in a lot of these games because of our defense but Tim gives us another dimension, another guy that can penetrate to the basket, another guy that can shoot 3’s.
“We haven’t been able to shoot a lot of 3’s lately. So all of that stuff, when you start doing that, that opens the court up for guys like KP and maybe gives him some easier buckets that way. So it just lends that dynamic of more threats, the easier it’s gonna be for everybody.”
Porzingis didn’t want to use Hardaway’s absence as an excuse for the dropoff in his play, though.
“We have what we have,’’ Porzingis said at the morning shootaround Friday at Target Center. “If he’s there, great, we have more help . If he’s not, we have to be able to play without him. We got to win games without him. Hopefully he’s back (Friday) night and can help us.’’
Without Hardaway, opponents have thrown the occasional double team at Porzingis and more teams are going to a trend of putting a physical guard on him — something that seems to work. Hornacek feels Porzingis has to be smarter when sensing the extra defender is coming.
“They tried that earlier in the season (with a guard) and KP kinda took care of that pretty quickly and got off to a great start,’’ Hornacek said on his coach’s show. “Just some little techniques he’s working on in practice. Some of that is sometimes they can load up and put the small guy and get into his legs. They’re coming to double team him occasionally when he puts the ball on the ground. And those are things we practice, trying to get him to get that feel of when he’s getting trapped to just kick it out. He had a nice one the other night (in Dallas), he kicked it out to Courtney Lee for 3. And when we start doing that, it’s gonna get easier on him.’’
Hardaway, who has been out since Dec. 3 with a stress reaction in his lower leg, has kept involved on the bench during his absence. Having him back will hardly disrupt the new wrinkles the coaching staff added since.
“Chemistry I don’t think is an issue, Tim’s been great,’’ Hornacek said. “That’s one thing when he was out that we wanted him to do is be on that bench, be kind of a coach and he’s been great. You watch him all night, he’s engaged in the game. He’s talking to guys when they come off the floor, timeouts. Trying to help out, so chemistry is not an issue.”
Hornacek hinted again that when Hardaway gets back to full minutes, there may be times scorching Michael Beasley doesn’t play and Lance Thomas does for defensive purposes.
“It’s how does certain guys who’ve now got an opportunity to play, they may not get to play anymore,’’ Hornacek said. “The rotation might be a little different with Tim.”