There will be no Kristaps Porzingis for the Knicks, but Enes Kanter and his teammates certainly are looking forward to their showcase matinee on Christmas Day.
Kanter dressed up as an elf and handed out presents to his fellow players alongside team legend Bernard King for a television spot after practice Sunday. He evidently not only believes in Santa Claus, but that the flailing Knicks can use Tuesday’s marquee matchup against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks as a springboard to snap out of their December tailspin of nine losses in their past 10 games.
“I think it could be definitely like a start for us,” Kanter said. “Obviously, every year we play and it’s definitely a blessing to play at the Garden on Christmas Day. I think with that game we can get up and go from there.”
Porzingis, their injured star, didn’t make it back from February knee surgery to participate, but some holiday intrigue was added between the Knicks and Bucks when Antetokounmpo said after the previous meeting between the teams that he’d punch Mario Hezonja “in the nut next time.” The Knicks forward had posed and stepped over the Greek Freak following a dunk during the Knicks’ overtime victory at the Garden on Dec. 1.
Tuesday’s noon tilt on ESPN will be the first of five games across the NBA on Christmas Day, with others featuring top-flight pairings such as Oklahoma City and Houston, Philadelphia and Boston, and the Lakers visiting Golden State.
Rookie forward Kevin Knox said he “always” watched games on Christmas before the Knicks (9-25) selected him with the No. 9-overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Knox said. “Everyone’s gonna be watching. We’ve got the first game. All the players that’s not playing, that’s a great opportunity for them to be able to watch us and see us play, because we don’t really play on [national] TV that much.
“We got [an ESPN] game, so all those players that are at home with their families, opening up presents, they’ll be able to watch basketball. I know all athletes, they’re gonna watch Christmas games. New York’s gonna be poppin’, the Garden’s gonna be crazy. It’ll be a great experience for me.”
It also will be another opportunity to square off with Antetokounmpo for Knox, whose slow start this season was compared to that of the Greek Freak when the current MVP candidate was a rookie averaging 6.8 points per game with Milwaukee in 2013-14.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to go against one of the guys I looked up to,” said Knox, who is averaging 20.3 points over his past seven appearances. “When he first came into the league to where he is now, it’s crazy how much he’s gotten better, how strong he’s got, his confidence in the game.
“That’s something I really looked up to. It’s another great opportunity for me. I’ve been playing really well. Playing for New York, playing on [ESPN], a great game, just go out there play as a team, play together, compete and get that win.”
Knicks coach David Fizdale never got the opportunity to coach on Christmas during his two seasons with Memphis, although he fondly recalls doing so multiple times as an assistant earlier in his career with Miami.
“I have been part of them as an assistant, and it’s an honor,” Fizdale said. “That’s the game everybody wants to play in. So for these young guys that’s a great experience for them to be able to participate in that, you’ve got your family there with you. It’s New York City. You can’t beat that. But I’ve always enjoyed this game. Luckily enough I’ve been around some, gotten to coach in this game a few times.
“I just talk to the guys about that we respect the game from the standpoint that a lot of people want to play on Christmas. This isn’t just something that happens to every team all the time, so make sure that you take that into account when we step out on the court.”
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