Carmelo Anthony will return to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. The question: Will Kristaps Porzingis be on the court to greet him?
Porzingis, who has replaced Anthony as the face of the Knicks, is listed as day-to-day with a sore left knee and is questionable to face the Thunder, the Knicks announced Friday afternoon.
Porzingis injured his left knee Thursday night in a win over the Nets. He said he felt “a sharp pain” in the knee after making a pass in the first half, although he said after the game that he didn’t think the injury was serious.
Anthony was the focal point of the Knicks for 6 1⁄2 seasons before being traded to the Thunder in September. His legacy is a complicated one. While he did carry the Knicks to the second round of the playoffs in 2013 — which is the furthest the team has gotten in the last 17 years — the team failed to make the postseason in his last four seasons.
Most of Anthony’s former teammates believe he will get a warm welcome from the fans on Saturday night.
“I think he was as professional as he can be in his time here in New York, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t receive him with love,” Porzingis said Thursday night.
Courtney Lee believes the cheers for Anthony will drown out any boos.
“I think it will be more cheers than anything, man,” he said. “You can’t fault a guy for just playing hard and leaving it all out there on the court and just trying to help the team win. Whether it was the style fans wanted or didn’t want, he competed night-in, night-out. You have to respect him being a professional how he handled the media last year. So I think it’ll be more cheers than anything.”
Anthony and the Thunder haven’t played up to expectations. Oklahoma City is 14-14 after its triple-overtime victory over the 76ers on Friday night. Anthony, who had 24 points in 47 minutes, entered the game averaging a career-low 17.7 points per game.
The Knicks (15-13) have exceeded expectations in their first season without Anthony, fueling speculation that his style of play was responsible for dragging the offense down.
Lee believes the fact that the team no longer relies on the triangle offense is the biggest reason for the improvement.
“If Melo was here, we would have made that adjustment with him,” Lee said. “We can’t point at him and say, ‘Well, he left.’ We made these adjustments. We were going to have this style of play this year, a little bit different than what we were going to have last year, with Melo.”
Porzingis also said Anthony’s absence has little to do with why the Knicks are a better team this season.
“Not at all. He was here for a long time. For him, it was also hard,” Porzingis said. “He was trying to do the right things to win, but it was just not clicking. It was not the right pieces around him to make that happen. I know he wants to win. If he didn’t want to win, he would have probably stayed here or went somewhere else besides OKC because he has an actual chance to win.”
Tim Hardaway Jr. has been close to Anthony since they were teammates when Hardaway was a Knicks rookie. He expects him to bring his A-game on Saturday night.
Said Hardaway: “He knows the arena. He knows the rims, knows the court, knows everything very well. We expect him to come out here, and no matter how he’s shooting the ball from wherever on the court, he’s going to come out here and we’re going to treat him like he’s an All-Star. And he’s coming back home.”