SALT LAKE CITY It was like old times Tim and Trey back together winning games, like they did at Michigan.
Do the Knicks now have a point-guard controversy following the Utah nailbiter?
As rookie Frank Ntilikina and Jarrett Jack sat and Kemba Walker counts his days in Charlotte, newly signed Trey Burke became the floor leader during the final 9:45 in contributing to a rare road win Friday in Utah.
The chemistry between Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. is already there and they combined for 13 fourth-quarter points. Burke admitted Hardaways presence was a top reason he joined the Knicks training camp in the final days and he agreed to polish himself at G League Westchester waiting for his moment.
The moment arrived in Salt Lake City. Buke, in his second appearance and back where he has known a lot of disappointment as a Utah lottery pick gone bust.
Hes an experienced player in those kind of situations, Kristaps Porzingis said. He played the pick and roll great and was great on the defensive end.
Ntilikina got yanked late in the first quarter after a sloppy three-minute stint and in came Burke. On the first play, Burke dribbled down the lane and fell out of bounds. It was not foreshadowing just nerves.
With 9:45 left in a tight game, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek tabbed Burke and on the first possession he forced a Utah turnover.
When I first got out there (in the first half), I slipped on the first possession and turned the ball over, Burke said. I was like, man, thats a bad way to start. Mentally, I snapped back in it. I think I did a great job of controlling the tempo. I couldve been more aggressive but as far as getting everyone involved, I did a good job.
Knicks president Steve Mills and Scott Perry admitted their mistake last weekend when they cut Ramon Sessions, a bad summer signing. The Knicks ate half of his $2.3M veterans minimum contract, though it is less of a financial hit as part of the vets minimum is paid by the NBA.
At 25, Burke is getting an audition for next season as the Knicks try to catch lightning in a bottle. Ntilikina is 19 still a project as we witnessed in Utah. Maybe hes hit the rookie wall. Jack is still on his last legs and probably wont be around next season.
I know I am different player, different person, Burke said. Lighter weight-wise, quicker, stronger. I got away from everybody this summer and took a summer sacrificing and working out three times a day. I feel Im a much better player. Time will tell with that. Itll show. I know I can help this team win.
Thats the vexing question for Hornacek in managing the workload for Burke and Ntilikina. The rookie is shooting less than 35 percent, was scoreless in five minutes and didnt defend as well as he normally does. Could a few games in the G League for Ntilikina hurt?
Hornacek said he was convinced to roll all the way with Burke after he drilled a 3-pointer with 6:17 left to boost the lead to five.
He did what point guards are supposed to do, Hornacek said.
Asked why he didnt play Ntilikina, Hornacek noted Ricky Rubio having his way on drives.
We cant afford a five-minute stretch of not getting after it, Hornacek said.
Oh yeah, it definitely does [feel like old times], Hardaway said. I can just read him on the floor anywhere, especially when hes coming downhill . At Michigan, coach always said the first 6 seconds of a possessions is ours. It was great to see him push the ball, push the pace.
While Burke didnt hear any Utah boos, the jeers for Enes Kanter was relentless, starting from pregame intros. Jazz fans have the longest memories. Kanter requested a trade from the Jazz. Kanter literally had the last laugh all smiles in the locker room.
I think they enjoy it, Kanter said on if he deserves to get booed all these years later. This is my first team, so its still in my heart.
In the middle of the post-game locker room, Kristaps Porzingis pounded away on a stationary bicycle. He played only the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. Perhaps he was sending a message hes ready for more.
Despite their center glut, Hornacek closed with Porzingis at the 5 and Michael Beasley at the 4. Surrounded by Burke, Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, its a dangerous offensive unit, though they couldnt get a rebound at the end which nearly cost them on Utahs last three-shot possession.