Knicks center Timofey Mozgov defends against Phoenix's Andre Miller at...

Knicks center Timofey Mozgov defends against Phoenix's Andre Miller at Madison Square Garden. (Oct. 30, 2010) Credit: Jim McIsaac

MILWAUKEE - Rookie Timofey Mozgov started his seventh game on Tuesday night at center for the Knicks. He went into it averaging 13.2 minutes, 3.5 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks.

Veteran Ronny Turiaf came off the bench for the seventh game. He was averaging 25.8 minutes, 6.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.

Turiaf has been twice as good as Mozgov. He might one day replace Mozgov as the Knicks' starting center. But coach Mike D'Antoni said that day hasn't arrived yet.

"I think it's better for us," D'Antoni said before the Knicks visited the Bucks at the Bradley Center. "I think it gives [Mozgov] good experience. We have to develop him into the center that we want.

"Usually at the first of the game the ball is going to Amar'e [Stoudemire] and [Raymond] Felton and different guys and he can kind of fit in. I just like the way it feels right now. That's also a product of preseason, because I thought Timofey deserved to play in preseason. Now Ronny's probably playing as well or better, so it could change, but I just think it functions better this way."

D'Antoni said he learned after the fact that Turiaf turns it up a notch from preseason to regular season. It's the kind of information he can only gather by observing the sixth-year pro in person. The Knicks acquired Turiaf from Golden State in the David Lee sign-and-trade.

"It's a pleasant surprise," D'Antoni said. "He's a good player. I knew he'd help us, but he's been exceptional. He's a good veteran that knows when he has to be ready. I think he treats preseason as preseason and when the lights go off and the bells ring he's ready to roll and he upped his game immensely. It would have saved me a lot of worry if he had told me he was going to do that. He didn't tell me that."

Lee's return to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday is a reminder of the decisions team president Donnie Walsh made last offseason. Lee, the fan favorite, got his big contract (six years, $80 million) from the Warriors and the Knicks got three players: Turiaf, Anthony Randolph and Kelenna Azubuike. Only Turiaf has been healthy enough to contribute; Randolph had played 8.3 minutes in three games and Azubuike is rehabbing a serious knee injury.

"I think Turiaf's been a great addition," Walsh said on Monday. "The kid Anthony Randolph, you see he's got talent. He's just young and he's got to get better. He's got a good future."

The Knicks like Mozgov's future, too. At 24, the Russian is a project, and on Tuesday night he was matched up against Andrew Bogut. The Knicks were hoping for a more balanced outing from Mozgov than Sunday's against the Sixers, when he scored nine points in 15 minutes but had no rebounds. D'Antoni gave Mozgov a pass, however.

"As a team we're rebounding well," D'Antoni said. "That's a team stat. When he's on the floor, we rebound the ball. That means he boxes his guy off. We have athletic guys like Landry Fields, [Danilo Gallinari], they come back and get rebounds, so as long as the team rebounds when he's on the floor I'm OK with it."

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