SACRAMENTO — The Knicks were in midair somewhere over California's central valley when physics and physiology conspired against them.
Amar'e Stoudemire's sprained ankle swelled at 30,000 feet Friday afternoon, forcing a sudden shift in the Knicks' identity. Stoudemire, the high-flying rim bender, was out. Josh Harrellson, the stout rookie jump-shooter, was in. New Year's Eve had just become more interesting.
It also proved eye-opening.
Harrellson, a rookie out of Kentucky, produced a double-double in his first NBA start Saturday night as the Knicks rolled to a 114-92 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Never miss a local story.
Harrellson, a 6-foot 10-inch, 275-pound mass of muscle, finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds in 38 minutes.
"Josh is a solid player. He's been preparing himself all through training camp and so far during the season," Stoudemire said. "So when opportunity knocks, you just have to be ready."
Jimmer Fredette, the rookie sensation who has energized Kings fans, had only seven points, going 2-for-10 from the field.
The best rookie on the floor, though, was Harrellson, who was taken with the 45th pick in June — 35 picks after Fredette. He made his first attempt, a three-pointer, then hit three more from the arc, finishing 5-for-11 from the field.
"It's a big honor for me, and I hope I did well," Harrellson said of replacing Stoudemire.
There had been no rhythm offensively in the first three games for Harrellson, who had a combined three points and five rebounds in 29 minutes.
"It was very important for me to make that first shot and get my confidence going," Harrellson said. "They had to come out and guard me and that opened things up and left other people open."
Aside from the big shots, Harrellson held DeMarcus Cousins, his former teammate with the Wildcats, largely in check. Cousins had nine points and 11 rebounds.
"I stopped one of the best big men in the league," Harrellson said, adding later, "I've improved since I played with him, and he didn't know really what I could do out there.
"I guarded him all season at practice, so I felt like I know DeMarcus' game. I thought I did a good job on my former teammate. I was trying to get him out of whack, get him out of his rhythm."
Stoudemire called his injury "a typical ankle sprain" but his status for Monday's home game against Toronto is uncertain.
D'Antoni had few options. He chose Harrellson for his beefy build and three-point shot but added before tipoff: "It's a little sight unseen. I don't know yet."
Three minutes after tipoff, Tyson Chandler was on the bench with two fouls, and the Knicks' vaunted frontcourt was reduced to Carmelo Anthony and two second-round picks, Harrellson and Jerome Jordan. Against any other team, that might have been a reason to shudder.
Despite the patchwork lineup, the Knicks promptly went on a 15-0 run — including three three-pointers from Toney Douglas — to take an early 20-10 lead. The Knicks pushed the lead to 22 points without a single basket from Anthony, who did not convert until the 6:11 mark of the second quarter.