The season began with Frank Ntilikina glued to the New York Knicks' bench, but injuries and other circumstances are giving the former lottery pick the chance to be a starting point guard.
Ntilikina enjoyed a strong all-around performance Friday when the Knicks halted a four-game losing streak by beating Dallas. On Sunday, New York hopes to achieve consecutive wins for the first time this season when it hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Knicks return home with a 2-7 record after a stirring 106-102 win over former center Kristaps Porzingis and the Mavericks. That halted a skid in which the Knicks fell by 12 in Orlando, lost on a last-second shot by Jayson Tatum in Boston and suffered blowout losses against Sacramento and Detroit.
In Dallas, the Knicks led for most of the way and coach David Fizdale played Ntilikina for 37:33. He responded with 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocks while committing just one turnover.
He helped facilitate an offense that was led by Marcus Morris' 29 points and contributed defensively at times against both Luka Doncic and Porzingis, who still produced big nights but were quiet down the stretch.
"Every game he becomes more confident," Fizdale said. "I'm happy for the kid."
Ntilikina will start his fifth straight game Sunday against the Cavaliers.
"I think it's an improvement I did today," Ntilikina said Friday. "We showed some great things out there and we need to build on that for the future."
In his last four games, Ntilikina is averaging 9.3 points in 32-plus minutes while shooting 48.4 percent (15 of 31). Before being inserted into the starting lineup, he averaged 1.8 points in 13.5 minutes, including a total of three minutes in New York's first three games against San Antonio, Brooklyn and Boston.
Ntilikina is starting because Elfrid Payton remains out with a hamstring injury and Dennis Smith Jr. missed time away from the team due to a death in the family. Both players were struggling before their absences, with Payton shooting 37.9 percent in four games and Smith off to a 1-of-11 start in three games.
Cleveland heads to New York also seeking consecutive wins for the first time this season. The Cavaliers halted a three-game skid when they placed seven in double figures Friday in a 113-100 win at Washington.
Tristan Thompson continued his strong start with 21 and 12 boards and enters Sunday averaging 17.4 points and 11.6 rebounds, which are both career highs. Kevin Love totaled 16 points and 12 rebounds for his sixth double-double.
"It's always great to get a road win," Cleveland coach John Beilein said. "I don't care what type of team you have. They guys needed it. When you win somewhere else, it's always special."
Besides seeing continued production from Thompson and Love, the Cavaliers are hoping to see it from rookie guard Darius Garland. Garland scored a career-high 15 points Friday on 6-of-11 shooting.
"I liked his pace today and he's in my ear the whole game about what we should do next," Beilein said. "That was a good step."
The Cavaliers have won 10 straight at Madison Square Garden since Jan. 30, 2014. Nine of those wins were with LeBron James on the roster.
--Field Level Media