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Tim Hardaway Jr. returns to Knicks but won’t start yet

Tim Hardaway Jr. returns to Knicks but won’t start yet

MINNEAPOLIS – Tim Hardaway Jr. was to make his return from a nearly six-week absence but come off the bench, Jeff Hornacek said Friday night.

Hardaway has missed the last 20 games with a stress reaction in his lower left leg.

“It’s easier for him to come off the bench first than starting him and play him eight minutes and we’re already wearing him out if (we want) him to finish the game,’’ Hornacek said.

The Knicks have missed their second-leading scorer mostly in the past 10 games when they’ve gone 2-8. Hornacek wouldn’t give a minutes estimate. The decision was made after Hardaway had a workout in the morning at shootaround and still felt fine.

“We will limit his minutes and not play big minutes,’’ Hornacek said. “The stress reaction, we don’t want to throw him out there — here you go, you’re back to what you were six weeks ago. We’ll see how it goes but keep it as low as we can so we can build him.’’

It was the first time Hornacek used the phrase “stress reaction.’’ The Knicks have called it “a stress injury’’ and never gave a timetable for his return.

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