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With Enes Kanter hurting, Willy Hernangomez gets more playing time for Knicks

New York Knicks center Willy Hernangomez (L) of

New York Knicks center Willy Hernangomez (L) of Spain in action against Atlanta Hawks forward Ersan Ilyasova (R) of Turkey during the first half of the NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena in Atlanta, November 24, 2017. Photo Credit: LESSER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

ATLANTA — Enes Kanter took the blame for the Knicks’ 116-104 loss to the Hawks because he was “in the locker room crying like a baby.”

Kanter woke up Friday with severe back spasms. He said he couldn’t walk but wanted to play through it. The Knicks held Kanter out, and his presence was missed.

Kanter said that if he had played, he could have been out multiple weeks. He also said he’s a game-time decision for Saturday’s game in Houston.

“I just don’t want to see my teammates out there battling,” he said. “I’m just in the locker room crying like a little baby. It’s just tough, man, especially games like this. If you’re thinking about the playoffs, you cannot lose. So if you’re looking for who to blame, you guys can blame me. I’ll take the blame tonight because I was just here like a little baby trying to get my back right.”

Kanter has been a huge part of the Knicks’ early-season success with his inside play. He’s averaging 13.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, including 3.7 on the offensive end.

“It’s tough to see my teammates battling, fighting, in a war, and I’m just here like a crybaby,’’ he said. “It’s tough, man. I cannot accept it. It’s not me. So I’m definitely going to take it day-by-day. I just don’t want to hurt my team for the long run because they said if I play tonight, I cannot play for another three or four weeks.”

Kyle O’Quinn started in Kanter’s place and second-year center Willy Hernangomez played meaningful minutes for one of the first times this season.

Hernangomez, who is considered a cornerstone player for the franchise’s future, has been the No. 3 center behind Kanter and O’Quinn. He had logged only 72 minutes before Friday, many of them when games already had been decided.

“I think I’m a player who can play more minutes than the garbage minutes,” Hernangomez said before finishing with six points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes. “Anyways, every time I can go to the court, I don’t care if it’s starting or the last three minutes, I’m going to enjoy it. I will enjoy it and I will do my best.”

Hornacek said Hernangomez should not doubt himself and that his time will come.“He’s a great player,” he said. “He’s going to have a great career in the NBA. It’s just a matter of how many centers we have.”

The Knicks’ fourth center, Joakim Noah, would have been active for the first time since coming off the NBA’s suspended list six games ago, but he didn’t join the team for this two-game trip because of a stomach illness, Hornacek said.

Noah wasn’t at Wednesday’s game, either. Hornacek said he “didn’t want to take a chance” of having Noah on the plane and getting the other players sick.

Not-so-tough talk

Hornacek was surprised at the big deal that was made over what he told his players at halftime of Wednesday’s win over the Raptors.

Courtney Lee described what Hornacek said as “a little explicit” and said it was directed at him. Hornacek said he didn’t single out any player. But whatever he said, it worked. The Knicks erased an 11-point deficit and went on a 28-0 run while outscoring the Raptors 41-10 in the third quarter.

“Boy,” Hornacek said, “they haven’t played for the coaches I’ve played [for] if they think that was harsh.”

New York Sports