The Knicks are taking a cautious approach with Kristaps Porzingis.
The Latvian big man was unavailable Wednesday night against the Bucks for the third straight game as he continues to deal with a nagging left Achilles injury.
Porzingis was hopeful at Tuesday’s practice that he could return to action for the pivotal home matchup with Milwaukee. The Knicks entered the contest on a five-game losing streak. But coach Jeff Hornacek opted to rest Porzingis for another night in hopes of alleviating the lingering stiffness.
Porzingis didn’t participate in Tuesday’s session and was still experiencing discomfort at shootaround Wednesday morning.
“You’re only 35 games into the season. No reason to take a chance,” Hornacek said. “We need him.”
Porzingis told Hornacek he felt less soreness Wednesday morning than in he did in days past. But the Achilles didn’t improve enough for Porzingis to take the court that night.
Hornacek said he won’t play Porzingis until he’s able to practice fully. The Knicks practice again on Thursday before traveling to Milwaukee for the second leg of their home-and-home with the Bucks.
“It just feels stiff,” Hornacek said. “I think the stiffness is probably because he hasn’t really done anything with it for four or five days. So we’re going to try to get him going in practice tomorrow, and hopefully the next time we play Milwaukee, he can play.”
Porzingis suffered the injury in a loss at the Hawks on Dec. 28. He then played close to 38 minutes in another road defeat two days later against the lowly Pelicans before sitting out losses to the Rockets and Magic on Saturday and Monday, respectively.
Porzingis leads the team in minutes played per game at 34.8. But Hornacek doesn’t have any plans of lessening the 21-year-old’s workload when he does make his return.
“I don’t think they should be tired,” Hornacek said Tuesday. “You should be able to play 35 minutes a game with the amount of timeouts and the length of timeouts.
After the Knicks’ demoralizing 115-103 loss to the Magic on Monday night, their fifth straight defeat, Hornacek called out his players’ defensive effort, saying “maybe we’re just not capable” of playing quality defense.
In the locker room, Carmelo Anthony refused to respond to his coach’s comments. Other players, including Joakim Noah, disagreed with the sentiment.
But Hornacek said Wednesday he didn’t think it was necessary to address the negative remarks with his players.
“Sometimes you’re frustrated,” Hornacek said. “Other times, it’s on us as coaches figuring out what they’re capable of doing defensively and putting them in those situations.
“Sometimes as coaches we’re probably too hard on the guys. We expect perfection all the time.”
Anthony entered Wednesday night shooting 42% from the field, the worst field-goal percentage of his career. He’s only finished one season under 43% from the field, and that was his rookie year in 2003-04.
Still, Bucks coach Jason Kidd — who played alongside Anthony with Knicks in 2012-13 — doesn’t see a drop-off in his former teammate’s offensive game.
“He’s Melo. He’s dangerous,” Kidd said. “He can put the ball in the basket inside, outside. And so when you look at what he’s doing, the pounding that he takes, the hits that he takes, and he never shies way from contact, he just keep playing. He’s just as dangerous as when I was a teammate of his.”