Knicks center Enes Kanter was at it again Tuesday, swatting with gusto another bold proclamation from LeBron James.
One day after leading the Cavaliers to a stirring fourth-quarter comeback, James posted a photo himself on the Garden floor on Instagram with the caption “You’re welcome .. [crown emoji] of NY #myfavoriteplayground #striveforgreatness.” James rallied the Cavaliers to a 104-101 victory, scoring seven points with dishing out eight assists during a 43-25 fourth-quarter demolition.
It was unsurprising Kanter took exception and called out James for being wrong again. Kanter stuck up for rookie French point guard Frank Ntilikina after James’ diss and now gave a boost to another young Knicks phenom from Europe.
“We’ve already got a king,’’ Kanter said following practice Tuesday. “It’s KP. So sorry about that. We’ve already got a king. It’s Kristaps Porzingis. Sorry about that.”
In a span of two days, Kanter has been the stout defender of the “French-ise’’ and “The Franchise.’’ While Porzingis is the face of the Knicks, Kanter is becoming the heart. He was the first one to promote Porzingis as a legitimate MVP candidate two weeks ago.
For sure, Kanter has James’ number, calling him out Sunday on Twitter for saying the Knicks should’ve taken Dennis Smith Jr. with the eighth pick in the 2017 draft. James spoke with the media after his shot, trying to clarify it was intended for deposed team president Phil Jackson and not Ntilikina.
Kanter got in James’s face on the court Monday after James got in Ntilikina’s way. Afterward, Kanter mocked his longstanding “King’’ moniker, referring to him as “queen” and “princess.’’
Kanter said he and James never had an on-court tiff before, even playing friendly scrimmage games at Carmelo Anthony’s gymnasium in Manhattan this summer. But Kanter is instilling into the Knicks the philosophy all opponents are the enemy – which he learned from Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
“I actually was cool with him,’’ Kanter said of James. “Outside of basketball, I’ve got no problems. But I’ve been telling all my teammates, whenever we step on that court, there is no friends, don’t shake nobody’s hand because they’re not going to feel bad for us. Every night it’s a war. Don’t be friendly, Don’t shake nobody’s hand, don’t smile at nobody because those guys are your enemy. Those guys are not your friends. So I just keep talking to my teammates. We’ve got to bring that dirtiness in us.’’
As the season progresses, Kanter, who scored 20 points and 16 rebounds against the Cavaliers, said he will continue to preach standing up for teammates. Just as Westbrook taught him. On his return to Oklahoma City on opening night last month, Westbrook wouldn’t shake Kanter’s hand.
“I remember I was in OKC and I was saying hi to a couple of my (ex)-teammates and I was getting yelled at, cussed at by Russell,’’ Kanter said. “Because he’s got the same mentality. Whenever you step on that court, you try to kill them. We’ve got to bring the same thing here. We’ve got no friends. We cannot smile.’’
The loss Monday turned into a bonding experience with the Ntilikina-James-Kanter triangle altercation but it wasn’t Porzingis’ best night. Porzingis scored just 20 points, getting into foul trouble and hitting 7 of 20 from the field. James got the Porzingis assignment in the second half and played a physical game that stopped him from the usual domination. It was only the fourth time in his 12 games he didn’t reach 30 or more points.
“He wasn’t afraid of any challenge by LeBron,’’ Hornacek said. “He tried to take it at him. He’s 22. LeBron is 32 and NBA champion. I love KP is taking that challenge.’’
While the club studied film Tuesday of the collapse, Hornacek liked the notion the Knicks mounted a 23-point lead on a night Porzingis struggled.
“KP may not have had a great game offensively but we were still right there and had a great chance to win,’’ Hornacek said. “That’s a great sign for our team. KP can have an off game and other guys stepped up and still gave us a chance.’’
For the first time, Porzingis wore a bulky elbow sleeve to protect himself as he battles bursitis that could need summer surgery. After the loss, the 7-foot-3 Latvian admitted it didn’t help him on his couple of tumbles, so he may just ditch it.
“It’s between him and the trainers,’’ Hornacek said. “It’s uncomfortable when you put on a sleeve for a while. If he feels it effects the extension on your shot, I can understand why (he doesn’t wear it again). I would do the same thing. Get that thing off me.”