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Jeff Hornacek defends Carmelo Anthony after ejection vs. Hawks

New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) reacts

New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) reacts after a foul in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Atlanta. Photo Credit: AP / Todd Kirkland

NEW ORLEANS — Jeff Hornacek defended Carmelo Anthony for hitting Thabo Sefolosha in the face during a tussle for a rebound Wednesday, and said he sometimes wants to “wrap” his arms around the referees’ necks to see how they would react.

After watching replays of the skirmish that resulted in Anthony’s second-quarter ejection in the 102-98 overtime loss to the Hawks, Hornacek said Sefolosha had his hands around Anthony’s neck. That led to Anthony trying to push Sefolosha away, but he struck him in the face with a forearm and was thrown out.

“I don’t blame him for what happened quite honestly,” Hornacek said after practice Thursday. “If you watch the replay and you watch the action, the guy had his arms wrapped around his neck. I want to sometimes go to the referee and wrap my arms around their neck and say what are you going to do? Are you just going to stand there, flip your arms? You’re going to get the guy off you.

“It’s a natural reaction. You’re not going to let a guy grab you around the neck. To me, it’s inadvertent, it’s a reaction. When someone grabs you up there you’re going to throw your hands up. I don’t necessarily agree with the call.”

Those comments could get Hornacek a call from the league office. Hornacek was just backing up his star player, even if it’s not exactly how it transpired. Sefolosha had his arms up around Anthony’s shoulders. It was Anthony who had his hand on Sefolosha’s neck and then pushed him away with a forearm to the face.

The initial call was a double-technical foul, but after the officials reviewed it they assessed a Flagrant Foul 2 on Anthony, which is automatic ejection.

“I don’t know if it’s retaliation. It’s just a reaction,” Hornacek said. “When someone’s got their arms wrapped around your neck you’re not just going to stand there. It’s a physical game and things happen. But when someone grabs you around the neck, your arms are down, you’re going to throw your arms up. That’s just a natural reaction.”

Anthony spoke to the league office to discuss the situation. He said they asked if there was any history between him and Sefolosha, and he said there wasn’t. Anthony also said he didn’t anticipate being suspended for Friday’s game against the Pelicans since it was never discussed on the phone call.

“It’s unfortunate what happened,” Hornacek said. “I think they see what happened on the tape. I just don’t know if they understand why things like that escalate or happen.”

Anthony, who didn’t address his ejection with reporters after the game, said Thursday that he didn’t think what he did warranted a Flagrant Foul 2. Then it was brought up that he hit Sefolosha in the face.

“If you’re going by what’s the protocol and what’s the rule,” Anthony said, “I guess they made the right decision.”

Anthony said at first the officials said they weren’t going to review it. But they did, and as they showed Anthony hitting Sefolosha and his head going back over and over on the video monitor above the floor, “that’s when they kind of got the crowd into it.”

Anthony said Sefolosha flopped.

“It was more getting him off of me than swinging,” Anthony said. “I don’t think it was anything that Sefolosha was doing as far as being overly physical. It was just a battle. We were both trying to go for it. We got tangled up. He did his European and flopped a little bit. It happened.”

Anthony said he wished he could have been playing in a close game. His offense was missed as the Knicks made just three field goals in the final 6:56 of regulation. But Anthony didn’t express remorse for being thrown out.

“I don’t know how I could have avoided that situation,” Anthony said. “But I can’t take back what happened.”

Notes & quotes: Courtney Lee, who missed Wednesday’s game after having fluid drained from his right wrist, did some shooting on Thursday. Lee expects to play against the Pelicans, but Hornacek said he’s questionable until he sees how his wrist feels Friday.

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