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MIAMI — New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis is starting to wear down, and the Miami Heat will look to take advantage of that when the teams meet on Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Porzingis, a third-year pro, is a slightly-built 7-foot-3 “unicorn” — so nicknamed for the incredible shooting, ball-handling and movement skills he possesses that seemingly do not compute for someone so tall.
He started this season looking like an MVP candidate, averaging 29.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in six October games.
But his scoring average has dwindled in every month since then, from 24.2 in November to 22.2 in December and 14.5 so far in two January games.
Not surprisingly, the Knicks (18-20) have lost six of their past seven games as opponents focus most of their energies on slowing down Porzingis, who is feeling the burden of superstardom.
“I’m so tired right now,” Porzingis told the New York Post after the Knicks were beaten by the Washington Wizards 121-103 on Wednesday night. “I have one day to rest my legs and play better (against the Heat).
“We’re in a tough stretch. The mental part doesn’t help at all. When it’s mentally tough, you don’t have it in you.”
Those are some honest — but frankly damning — quotes from Porzingis, who does not have a ton of talent around him in New York, especially with shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. on the injured list due to a leg injury.
Porzingis scored 16 points against the Wizards, including just two points after halftime.
On Friday, Porzingis will face a 20-17 Heat team that is three games over .500 for the first time since April 2016.
“That’s sobering,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about his team’s long journey to get to three-over.
The Heat got some big performances in Wednesday’s 111-104 win over the Detroit Pistons, most notably 25 points and 13 rebounds from power forward Kelly Olynyk. The Heat also got 24 points and 13 assists from point guard Goran Dragic and 25 points and five assists from small forward Josh Richardson, who made 5 of 7 shots from 3-point range.
In addition, forward James Johnson returned from the injured list, providing 16 points in 24 minutes.
Despite not having played since Dec. 23, Johnson was sharp, making 6 of 8 from the floor and 3 of 4 on 3-pointers.
“(Johnson) started to say he was ready to come back a week ago,” Spoelstra told The Miami Herald. “We wanted him to pass all the hurdles before we listened to him.”
Even with Johnson back, the Heat still have three starter-caliber players out with injuries: shooting guard Dion Waiters, who has missed the past five games due to an ankle injury; small forward Justise Winslow, who has missed the past nine games due to a sprained knee; and Rodney McGruder, who has yet to play this season because of a left leg stress fracture.
Neither of those three players is expected to face the Knicks.
For New York, Hardaway is still considered at least one week away from making his return.