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Tim Hardaway Jr.’s return can’t save Knicks from another road “L’

MINNEAPOLIS — Twenty-five minutes of Tim Hardaway Jr. wasn’t enough to lift the Knicks out of their road doldrums.

A not-so-rusty Hardaway made his long-anticipated return Friday, coming off the bench for 16 points on 6 of 13 shooting, but Kristaps Porzingis was still absent. Porzingis registered another rough 17-point outing to start the season’s second half.

The Knicks (19-23) lost 118-108 to the Timberwolves at Target Center, dropping their ninth game in 11 outings. They fell a season-worst four games under .500 at 19-23 and are now 4-15 on the road.

Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, showed why as he buried the Knicks with a near triple-double — 23 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists — as the Timberwolves poured it on in the second half.

Nevertheless, coach Jeff Hornacek sang a positive tune, believing this will be the start of a second-half charge.

“That’s what I told the guys — we’re not far off,” Hornacek said. “Tim was back tonight. At least we got 3s today and spread the court. Our guys can’t get down. These last five games we’ve played pretty decent on the road. We got to find another level of toughness, going after balls. When we get that level, we’ll start winning these.’’

Towns, the Metuchen, N.J., product, shot 9 of 15 from the field, while the shooting woes continued for Porzingis (the fourth pick in 2015), even with Hardaway back to spread the court. Porzingis shot 6 of 19 for 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, sprinkling in three turnovers the Timberwolves converted into fastbreak points.

Porzingis entered the night having shot just 39.9 percent in his past 16 games.

“We’re not too far off,’’ Porzingis said. “We’re in a bad moment right now. But we’re going to get out of it.’’

Tim Hardaway, who made his Knicks return, defends Tyus Jones during the Knicks’ loss.AP

The Knicks have one home game — Sunday against the Pelicans — before a seven-game road trip. Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves (28-16) are definitively headed upward, notching their 11th win in 14 games.

Thibodeau sent double-teams toward Porzingis whenever he put the ball on the deck and the Knicks star seemed to overdribble. The 7-foot-3 Latvian said teams are cheating off the Knicks’ point guards — Jarrett Jack and cold-shooting rookie Frank Ntilikina (two points, three turnovers). Wolves guards Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler combined for five steals.

“Guys are already helping whatever I do,’’ Porzingis said. “I have to be careful when I drive. There’s always help coming. They’re sagging off of Frank or Jarrett a little. I have to watch out for the guards when they help. I turn my back, there’s someone coming. I have to be smarter in those situations.’’

Hornacek said beforehand he hoped Hardaway would spread the floor better for Porzingis to get out of his funk. And there was one play in the second half on which Hardaway drove and fed Porzingis for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.

But ultimately the Knicks — and Porzingis — committed too many turnovers (16) and gave up 16 offensive rebounds.

“Probably three, four times, he dribbled one too many,’’ Hornacek said. “You have to take one or two dribbles. If it’s not there, you got to anticipate somebody’s coming. Good veteran team like these guys, they know the timing. They’re not coming late. They’re right there.’’

Knicks super-sub Michael Beasley, who played with Minnesota from 2010-12, already saw a decrease in his minutes, but not in his production. He scored 13 points in 16 minutes, making 6 of 8 baskets with three assists.

After the Knicks led 57-55 at halftime, the Timberwolves sprinted to a 14-4 run out of the gate in the second half to seize the advantage as Towns took control. The Knicks still trailed by just one entering the fourth quarter before Minnesota owned the period and finished shooting 51.6 percent.

“The mood we have now is based off of those close, tough losses — three times to Chicago, Detroit and Miami on the road,” Porzingis said. “Those are tough ones to lose. But we’re right there.’’

The Knicks managed to play the first half without attempting a free throw. It was the first time since 2003 the Knicks didn’t shoot a free throw in the first half. It wasn’t until 1:52 left in the third when the Knicks went to the line.

“We weren’t able to get to the basket, but I don’t think it was the offense — probably more our defense [that lost the game],” Hornacek said.

Source: https://nypost.com/2018/01/12/tim-hardaway-jr-s-return-cant-save-knicks-from-another-road-l/

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