The Knicks’ playoff chances don’t hinge on the health of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s ankle.
But if Hardaway Jr. is out -- or if he is less than 100 percent healthy due to a sprained right ankle -- then it’s fair to say that they'll take a hit.
The rookie guard sprained his ankle late in the Knicks' win over the Jazz on Monday.
He underwent X-Rays after the game. The tests came back negative, according to the team.
His status for Wednesday's game against the Brooklyn Nets is uncertain.
If he has to sit out of the showdown with Brooklyn, the complexion of the Knicks’ bench scoring changes significantly.
New York is 11-4 since the lineup change, and Hardaway Jr. has averaged 10.9 points per game on 41 percent shooting (not great) over 24.7 minutes per game in that stretch.
Shooting percentage aside, Hardaway’s play has been one of several driving forces behind the Knicks’ playoff push.
New York will take the court Wednesday one game behind Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks face tough odds the rest of the way.
Atlanta has nine games left. Four of the nine are against teams with records over .500. Three of the Hawks' opponents (Milwaukee, Boston, Detroit) are a combined 94 games under .500.
The Knicks have seven games to play. All seven are against teams over .500.
New York also trails the Hawks by two games in the loss column. Atlanta holds the tiebreaker by virtue of the team's record against Eastern Conference opponents.
So the Knicks desperately need to win Wednesday's game against Brooklyn, a task that becomes much more difficult if Hardaway Jr. is out.
If Hardaway sits, the Knicks' coaching staff will have to find a way to fill the scoring void in the second unit.
Maybe Mike Woodson can stagger the minutes of Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith so that Smith plays a significant amount of time with the bench players?
The problem there is that Anthony and Smith have been playing well together of late.
The next candidate to fill the void is Iman Shumpert.
Shumpert has shown in brief stretches that he can provide a scoring punch. He averaged 20.8 points on 68.8 percent shooting over a three-game stretch in early January.
But the third-year guard has been wildly inconsistent on offense this season.
Shumpert's per-game scoring (6.5 points) and shooting percentage (37.5 percent) have regressed this year.
Since he was replaced in the starting lineup by Smith, Shumpert's averaged 5.3 points per game on 38 percent shooting.
More minutes for Shumpert may help the Knicks on defense, though.
The Knicks are outscoring teams by 2.5 points per 48 minutes when Shumpert's on the court. When he's off the floor, the Knicks are being outscored 5.3 points per 48 minutes.
For comparison's sake, the Knicks are being outscored by 4.4 points per 48 minutes when Hardaway's on the floor.
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