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Why Knicks' Friday letdown might ultimately benefit Kristaps Porzingis

LOS ANGELES -- On the surface, the New York Knicks' loss Friday felt like any other in this throwaway season.

New York tied the game with a little over six minutes to play but missed 10 of its final 13 shots in a seven-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

It was defeat No. 40 on the season for the Knicks. Any hope of a playoff berth is long gone at this point.

Nothing new to see here, right?

Sure. But if you look close enough, beyond the final score, there was a sequence that provided a glimpse into what the Knicks hope is their future.

In a span of 4:08 late in the fourth quarter, the score fluctuated between a four-point Clippers lead and a tie game. In other words, it was crunch time.

During this stretch, rookie Kristaps Porzingis took five shots. He missed three of them. Two of the misses were layups and one was a floater. Some -- including Carmelo Anthony -- thought Porzingis was fouled on his misses.

But any argument over a call/non-call obscures a larger point: Porzingis, a 20-year-old, was aggressive late in a close game, taking high-percentage shots near the rim.

If things go the way the Knicks hope with Porzingis, we could look back on Friday night as a small but important step in his development.

“I liked his decision-making. I’ve got no problem with what he did out there,” Knicks interim coach Kurt Rambis said after the game. “I like the fact that he was aggressive."

“Five years from now, you and I will not be having this conversation,” Rambis said, in answering a question about Porzingis' close misses. “I think he’s going to be that good. But he’s got to learn how to do [convert close scoring opportunities]. He’s got to keep that aggressive, forward-thinking kind of mindset and not just settling for outside shots. We’re trying to break him of that habit so that he sees a bigger picture and [is] not just a 3-point shooter.”

Many have taken issue with Rambis' insistence that Porzingis play in the post. And reasonable people can disagree over the logic behind this move.

The take here is that Porzingis can be incredibly effective playing on the outside facing his defender, but he'll also need an impactful post game to be at his best.

To that end, the idea that Porzingis attacked the basket late in Friday's game is encouraging, even if it didn't produce the desired result.

“It feels terrible to let my team down," Porzingis said afterward. "I know how hard we fought to get back in the game and be right there. So it’s tough but a learning experience for me."

Porzingis also said that shots like the attempts he missed Friday will eventually fall “with experience.”

“But most of it is just working on my game and having the confidence that I can make those shots,” Porzingis said. “Sometimes they just don’t fall. Sometimes it’s preparation. Next time I’m in that situation, I’ll be ready for it.”

Porzingis is shooting 53 percent on shots within five feet of the rim. That ranks 24th out of 26 7-footers who take at least three shots within five feet per game.

The Knicks believe that shooting percentage will climb as Porzingis gains experience -- and muscle.

“He’s going to get physically stronger and he’s going to be able to brace himself when there is physical contact and nudges," Rambis said. "And he’s also going to be able to finish with either hand inside. But it only comes from him attacking the basket and being aggressive.”

Porzingis accomplished both Friday night. Which is why there was reason for the organization to draw hope from what seemed like another loss in another season full of them.