There was hope Andrea Bargnani would become a big cog in the Knicks' triangle offense.
There was hope Derek Fisher's defensive-minded approach would rub off when training camp commenced in West Point. There was hope J.R. Smith would find his Sixth-Man-of-the-Year shooting touch and Tim Hardaway Jr. would get as good on defense as he was last season on offense.
Hope is on hold.
With a preseason starting to tilt toward ominous, Knicks coach Derek Fisher admitted Bargnani may not be ready for the season opener in eight days against Chicago.
Bargnani, suffering from a hamstring strain originally not deemed serious, hasn't played since the preseason opener and is not expected for the final two preseason games Wednesday vs. the Wizards at the Garden and Friday's in Montreal vs. Toronto.
Bargnani's absence has been the biggest disappointment of a 2-3 preseason, leaving the Knicks' new coach scrambling for a sensible starting frontcourt.
In addition, the defensive lapses shown in Monday's 120-107 loss to the lowly Bucks added to the slowdown of optimism and made the Knicks look like the 37-win team from 2013-14.
“We still have eight days before opening night,” Fisher said. “I can't say at this point if that's in jeopardy [Bargnani's availability]. Getting practice time in and being on a level of conditioning you need will be important for Andrea to get.”
“That said, when he's healthy, he's the type of player you need to have on the floor because he can do some good things. As the week goes by, we have to make a decision on him. It's day-to-day on how he's feeling. We're still going to be smart — it's early.”
Modal TriggerDerek FisherPhoto: Anthony Causi
Bargnani started at power forward in the opener, barreling to the basket for two three-point plays. He hasn't been heard from since.
Fisher and team president Phil Jackson envisioned the 7-foot Italian as the perfect fit in the triangle offense because of his outside-shooting prowess and boosted by a reunion with Jose Calderon. Instead, errant-shooting Quincy Acy, a defensive sparkplug, started the last four preseason games at power forward.
Bargnani, who hasn't practiced since missing the Celtics contest 11 days ago, tried running on Sunday but still felt tightness. His first season as a Knick ended late last January when he tore elbow ligaments.
Fisher started Amar'e Stoudemire at center Monday over Samuel Dalembert, but the defensive pivot was missed. Fisher declined to say whether Dalembert returns to the starting lineup, but it's likely.
Fisher still can use Stoudemire at power forward with Dalembert, but it seems the coaching staff doesn't believe in a Carmelo Anthony-Stoudemire-Dalembert troika.
Jackson, before taking over as team president, branded the Anthony-Stoudemire pairing “clumsy.”
Meanwhile, Smith's back spasms won't go away — he may sit out Wednesday's game — and the Knicks' defensive shortcomings were exposed by a Bucks club that shot 59.7 percent.
Anthony said the unevenness of preseason is because of Fisher's fluctuating lineups.
“The lineups keep changing so we haven't had any consistency from that standpoint,” Anthony said. “When Coach figures it out we'll start buckling down, figuring out who's in the lineup, guys know when they're coming out of the game, it will be a lot different.”
Smith, who is shooting 39 percent in the preseason, first suffered back spasms last week in Syracuse, blaming it on preseason bus rides to Connecticut.
“J.R.'s back will let us know what he can do tomorrow,” Fisher said.
The Bucks guards — particularly O.J. Mayo — torched the Knicks. Both Iman Shumpert and Hardaway struggled. Hardaway, a team-worst minus-15, hinted a lack of on-court “communication” was an issue.
“A lot of miscues on the court we have to get better at,” Hardaway said. “We're still very confident. We got a week to prepare and get better. There's no championship won in preseason.”
Hardaway has stated a goal of becoming a better defender. Asked if he thinks he has made strides, Hardaway said, “I can't say that right now. Have to wait for the season to start.”
Fisher's dream of setting a starting lineup Wednesday that would resemble opening night has been shattered. Even Calderon is not a definite for Wednesday after straining his calf four minutes into Monday's game.
“It's nothing important,'' Calderon said. “Just going to be day-by-day. Nothing to worry about. Hopefully tomorrow I feel better like I did today. If I'm good [Wednesday], I'm good to go.”
Fisher has called Friday's finale in Montreal “a dress rehearsal'' and hopes to finalize his rotation. “Hopefully tomorrow and Friday things get closer to a regular-season game,” Calderon said.
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