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Monday, January 31, 2011
Can Mozgov crack the rotation?

By Ian Begley

Did Timofey Mozgov’s breakout performance on Sunday night earn him a permanent spot in Mike D’Antoni’s rotation?

Point guard Raymond Felton certainly hopes so.

“We need somebody … who’s physical like that to take some of that banging off Amare (Stoudemire),” Felton said on Sunday night. “He’s getting banged up, his knee is getting hit. So we need to take some of that pressure off Amare.”

Based on his performance against the Pistons, it would seem that Mozgov fits the bill.

After missing awkwardly on his first four shots, the 7-1 Russian rookie hit nine of his next 11 to finish with a career-high 23 points and 14 rebounds in 40 minutes.

The funny part is, Mozgov probably wouldn’t have seen the floor if Wilson Chander was healthy (he sat with an injured calf) or Shawne Williams was available (he was serving a one-game suspension for throwing a punch Friday night in Atlanta). Mozgov had recorded ten straight DNP-Coach’s Decisions prior to his coming out party on Sunday.

Before the game, D’Antoni said that neither Mozgov or Anthony Randolph (who played on Sunday for the second time this month for the short-handed Knicks) would do anything to “upset the apple cart” - or crack the team’s regular nine-man rotation.

But afterward, the coach said he’d give Mozgov some minutes against the Mavericks on Wednesday night.

"Twenty-three and 14, a one-shot deal? No, I think I'll try it again," D'Antoni said.

Of course, Mozgov’s big night came against Pistons rookie center Greg Monroeand a Detroit interior defense that didn’t put up much resistance. It isn’t realistic to expect Mozgov to deliver consistent performances in his first season in the NBA. There was a reason he fell out of favor after starting the opening seven games at center.

Still, it seems like it’s worthwhile to give the Russian rookie a look, if for no other reason than to see if he can fill the Knicks' glaring need for a big body off of the bench.

Just last week, Knicks president/GM Donnie Walshexpressed a desire to acquire a reserve big man to spell Stoudemire.

Stoudemire played 39:30 on Sunday night, marking the 17th time in 42 games he’s played 39 minutes or more. He’s played 33 minutes or fewer just eight times this season.

It’s hard to say if the wear and tear is taking a toll on Stoudemire.

But he’s suffered a knee injury twice in the last two games thanks to collisions with opposing players.

 On Friday night, Marvin Williams rolled into the back of his right knee, causing a sprain. In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, Ben Gordon bumped Stoudemire’s left knee while Stoudemire drove to the basket.

Stoudemire’s has a history of knee issues (microfracture surgery on his left knee in late 2005; arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in April 2006). Those issues, coupled with Stoudemire’s heavy workload (37.2 minutes per game) and Mozgov’s breakout performance give D’Antoni plenty of reason to see if Mozgov can contribute consistent minutes off the bench.

With Mozgov out of the rotation, the Knicks are forced to go to a smaller lineup when Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf are on the bench.

To Felton, the Knicks might have found another, bigger, option on Sunday night.

“Now, when Ronny gets in foul trouble, when Amare gets in foul trouble, we’ve still got Timmy,” Felton said. “To get his confidence back is really big for our team.”