GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Kristaps Porzingis has played against LeBron James only on NBA2K. But the Knicks rookie believes he will be able to face the real-life James Wednesday night.
The Knicks are listing Porzingis as probable for the game in Cleveland, which was surprising after he suffered a strained neck when Carmelo Anthony fell on him in a scary moment in Monday night's loss to the Spurs at the Garden.
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"I'm feeling way better," Porzingis said after practice Tuesday. "When I woke up in the morning, I was kind of surprised that my neck wasn't that stiff anymore. So I'm feeling better today definitely.
"My long, flexible neck is fine. That flexibility helped by far."
Porzingis said he took some painkillers Monday night so he could go to sleep. He didn't do much Tuesday in what was a light practice, anyway. The Knicks watched video and went through some plays and sets. Porzingis said he took a few close-in shots during the walk-through.
The versatile Latvian big man will be re-evaluated in the morning. Unless he tightens up, Porzingis expects to play against the defending Eastern Conference champions and James for the first time.
"For now I think I'm good," Porzingis said. "If I get even better tomorrow, I'll be able to go for sure. I'm excited. It's a championship team. It will be tough going up against them, especially LeBron. It will be a big challenge."
It was a freakish play that led to Porzingis getting hurt. He got tangled up near the basket and fell to the floor. Then Anthony fell after trying to put back an offensive rebound and landed on the back of Porzingis' head.
Porzingis lay on the floor for some time before getting up and walking off gingerly. He also appeared a little woozy when he headed for the locker room. But the Knicks ruled out a concussion right after the game, and called it a soft-tissue injury.
The Knicks feel fortunate that it wasn't more severe.
"Yeah, it's a pretty scary play," Derek Fisher said. "Anytime the head and neck is involved, you're concerned, but he feels pretty good and hopefully it will stay that way through the afternoon and we'll see how he feels tomorrow at shootaround.
"Anytime [there's] head or neck trauma, you just have to be smart and as long as he doesn't wake up with any problems [and] he can get through shootaround, then we should feel pretty good from that point that he can go."
Porzingis said he finally saw the replay, but he didn't give Anthony any grief for what happened. "I tried to catch him; he was falling down," Porzingis joked. "No, that stuff happens. I'm back. Nothing happened. I'm healthy."
Porzingis has gotten off to a better start in his NBA career than many expected and has played more aggressively than his critics predicted. Through four games, he is second behind Anthony in scoring (11.8 points) and leads the Knicks in rebounding at 8.3 per game.
He was having a big game against San Antonio when he got hurt. He left with 13 points, a career-high 14 rebounds, two blocks and one athletic and nasty follow dunk over LaMarcus Aldridge in 24 minutes.
Porzingis quickly has gone from the person Knicks fans booed when he was drafted to a Garden favorite. "I'm so passionate about the game," Porzingis said. "I have heart. When I go out there, it doesn't really matter if you're short, tall, skinny. You play your heart out and then you can do whatever you want on the court."
"That's the main thing for me: playing with a lot of energy, laying my heart out on the court, getting those rebounds and block shots and do good stuff for your team."
Notes & quotes: Arron Afflalo (strained left hamstring) went through practice, but won't play against the Cavaliers. There still is no target date for his Knicks debut . . . Former Knick J.R. Smith won't play for Cleveland because of a bruised right knee and tendinitis in his quadriceps.