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Martin makes Knicks' injuries easier to bear

3/28/2013

What took so long?

For about two thirds of the NBA season, Kenyon Martin, one of the best finishers and versatile defenders in the game, said he was "sitting on my couch" waiting for an opportunity to return to the league.

But nothing happened.

"It was complicated," a source close to the Knicks said. "The league is very opinionated and only 30 people's opinions matter. Other teams were interested, but in the end it worked out."

Thanks to a close connection to Mark Warkentien, the Knicks' director of pro player personnel and former GM of the Denver Nuggets, for whom Martin previously played, the 6-9 forward arrived in New York on a 10-day contract. Apparently, not only wasn't it the salary he wanted -- another source said that he was in the market for a mini mid-level deal -- but initially he was not guaranteed any playing time.

But that all changed on the Knicks' West Coast road trip, when Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Kurt Thomas all went down with injuries. And on Wednesday night, in his fourth straight start, Martin proved once again why he needs to be with the first five.

Finishing with 11 points, two offensive rebounds and a steal in the Knicks' 106-94 win over the Magic, Martin's defensive approach, paint presence and intangibles helped set another menacing tone.

"Kenyon just plays with a lot of energy and he's a go-getter," the defensive-minded Iman Shumpert said afterward. "You know if anybody that goes up there and tries to block it or dives on the floor to try and get it, you know Kenyon's going to do that every single time ... his consistency and his competitiveness, I think it's contagious, and it helps out a whole lot."

In the first couple of possessions on Wednesday, Martin set a hard down screen for Raymond Felton to get open for a jump shot, then stole the ball from Tobias Haris. After Anthony missed a layup, Martin cleaned it up with an offensive putback, and later slipped on his defender and Felton found him for an alley-oop dunk.

That wasn't the only time.

Jason Kidd, who played with Martin in New Jersey when the Nets went to the Finals in 2002 and '03, connected with him on an alley-oop in the fourth quarter.

Martin, who said that the only way he knows how to play is "go hard 110 percent," smiled about the play in the postgame locker room.

"I told [Kidd], 'We got hooked up finally,'" he said. "That's encouraging."

Said Kidd, "He's getting more minutes under his belt, so he's feeling a little bit more comfortable and he's definitely a guy that can play above the rim, and defensively he can guard all five positions."

In addition to getting nostalgic with Kidd, Martin started alongside Anthony for the first time since their Denver days together. In fact, they looked like identical twins on the court, basically wearing the same headband and arm sleeve.

"It's not because of fashion, trust me," Martin said, smiling. "I don't like Melo like that. I love him as a teammate, but I ain't trying to dress like him."

But on a more serious note, Martin said that Anthony's skill set benefits his own.

"We played six and a half years together," he said. "Just knowing where he likes the ball, knowing where I can cut and maybe get open when a team tries to double team and things like that, which I think helps."

Now that they're together in New York, along with their experienced sidekicks, Martin said, "The sky's the limit for this team."

For Martin, the most important thing is that he's healthy.

"I'm great," he said.

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