The Knicks got a much-needed win, 91-83, in an ugly game of basketball against the winless 76ers, but the biggest positive of the night was the return of point guard Jose Calderon from injury.
Calderon made his official Knicks debut, he had missed the team’s final two preseason games with a strained calf and expected to play the season opener against Chicago, but was a late withdrawal after reinjuring his lower leg before the game. He was was acquired over the summer in the trade that sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas.
The Knicks started second-year point guard Shane Larkin in his absence, going 3-10 in that span, missing the steadying influence of the 33-year old Spaniard.
Calderon finished with three points (1-for-6) and three assists in 21 minutes. Fisher announced Calderon as a starter prior to the game, and maintained that he was not given any minutes limitation by trainers.
“Jose looked good tonight,” said Fisher. “He looked like he found some comfort level – you could tell he was really easy himself into being aggressive out there. Those were twenty-one good minutes.”
On Friday, Calderon participated fully in practice for the first time since his injury and was aware that his Knicks’ debut was always going to come along with a little rust to his game.
“It is always going to be a little scary out there,” said Calderon. “It is going to be in your mind a little bit, I tried to do the little things. I missed some wide open shots as expected, I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be.”
“It was good to see Jose back,” added teammate Iman Shumpert. “He was tired as hell, super tired. He wasn’t pushin’ that ball to get us on a breakaway, but it’ll get there.”
Slowly but surely, the Knicks are getting back to full-health with only Andrea Bargnani still missing from the core rotation players. The team is hoping Calderon’s return will be the impetus it needs to help get it’s season back on-track. His return takes the pressure off guys like Larkin and Shumpert, who has taken over ball-carrying duties at times for the Knicks. Team leader Carmelo Anthony should benefit greatly from having a high I.Q. floor leader playing alongside him.
“Jose is a smart point guard, he’s a smart guy, he’s been around, he’s played a lot of games, he knows how to run a team, he knows how to run an offense, especially an offense like this,” Anthony said on Saturday night.
“He can shoot the ball, he can spread the court. Most importantly, his I.Q. out there on the basketball court is very high and that’s something out there at that position we’ve been missing.”
Anthony, whose two most successful seasons came playing alongside respected point guards Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd, smiled when he was asked how much having that type of player to run with helps his game.
“I don’t think there’s nothing like playing with great PG’s,” Anthony said. “Back in Denver, I had Chauncey [Billups], even earlier, having Andre Miler on that team, even here with [Jason Kidd], we’re just trying to build something here.”
Remarkably, despite their horrific start to the season, the Knicks are just 1.5 games behind Orlando for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. With Calderon back they will look to “build something” and avoid losing ground on teams above them as they did last year.
Three-straight road games at the Rockets, Mavericks and Thunder await New York over the next seven days, how much they build on Saturday’s momentum could depend on how quickly Calderon shakes off his rust.
Feature image credit: Robert Sabo/New York Daily News