Robin Lopez says the health issue that’s hampered him in the preseason is just ‘normal wear and tear.’
BOSTON − The player who the Knicks committed the most money and years to over the summer was underwhelming during preseason, but there may be another reason for his struggles beyond the expected acclimation process.
Robin Lopez acknowledged to the Daily News that he has been dealing with an undisclosed injury. The starting center didn’t want to go into details except to characterize the issue as minor and nearly cleared.
Lopez, who signed a four-year, $ 54 million contract in July, played five out of the six preseason games but his playing time and production were down. He logged just 18.2 minutes per game, averaging 6.8 points and four rebounds on 42 percent shooting. He labored on both sides of the court in Thursday’s preseason finale at TD Garden, a 99-85 defeat to the Celtics.
“Yeah (I’ve been dealing with a physical ailment), but it wasn’t anything too serious,” he said. “I’m on the right track. I’m getting back to where I want to be and I’m almost there. It’s nothing serious. Just the regular wear and tear.”
Coach Derek Fisher has made it clear he prefers to start a frontcourt pairing of Lopez and 7-3 rookie power forward Kristaps Porzingis, a towering duo with potential pitfalls that were on display Thursday. Neither player is particularly fast, and they were exposed Thursday by the Celtics − specifically center Tyler Zeller. Lopez sat out the entire fourth quarter of the defeat − even as the other starters returned − finishing with seven points and one rebound in 22 minutes.
“That’s just something we have to feel each other out,” Lopez said about working with Porzingis to get back in transition. “I’m usually going to be crashing the rim on offense for rebounds, sealing guys under the rim. It’s on me. If somebody’s doing that, I have to know to get back. But we’ll get used to each other’s habits.”
The Knicks, who open the regular season Wednesday at Milwaukee, are going to need an effective Lopez for any hope of the playoffs. They’re counting on his ability to be a defensive anchor and a presence for the opposition to be wary about on offense. Lopez, Carmelo Anthony and Kyle O’Quinn are the only players signed to guaranteed contracts beyond next season.
After an uneven first four seasons in Phoenix, Lopez broke through with the Pelicans in 2012-13. He averaged 10.8 points in the last three seasons with New Orleans and Portland, shooting well over 50 percent while advancing to the playoffs twice as a starting center.
Despite Lopez’s struggles in preseason, Fisher said he’s encouraged by the physical and mental improvements.
“I would characterize (his preseason) as pretty good,” Fisher said. “When he’s on the floor, we’re better. And I think he’s understanding more about the way we’re playing offensively and the things we’re trying to do. But Robin’s a solid basketball player and we’re going to enjoy having him.”
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