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Knicks' Kevin Knox gets to play in hometown of Tampa vs. Raptors

Knicks forward Kevin Knox II prepares to dunk

Knicks forward Kevin Knox II prepares to dunk the ball during the second half of an NBA game against the 76ers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

For Kevin Knox, this is a scheduling oddity, a chance to play a professional game in his hometown of Tampa. And while he may have some family and friends inside Amalie Arena he won’t be able to hug his parents or visit with friends.

This is the strange course taken in the heart of the pandemic. Tampa has become the temporary home of the Toronto Raptors and in the looser regulations of Florida they will be allowed a maximum of 3,800 fans in person. But with COVID protocols still strict for teams Knox won’t likely be able to do more than wave to his parents in the stands.

"I know with everything going on my parents are coming to the game, a great opportunity for them to see me play alive in person," Knox said. "I don’t think I’ll be able to see them after the game because of COVID and everything going on. I just really want to go out and play hard for them. It’ll probably be the only game they get to watch me play this season so I just want to go out there and take advantage of it."

"It’s so different without fans," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You miss the fans being there. Personal safety has to come first. You do feel about as safe as you can feel because of all the testing going on. But there’s always a concern when you see the numbers every day. I think we have to take every precaution and doing all we can.

No fans will be in floor seats, the restrictions keeping the Raptors from selling any seats within 30 feet of the court. But it’s still home for Knox who attended Tampa Catholic High School.

"That’s a great feeling honestly," he said. "I’m grateful to be here. It’s a blessing to really play in Tampa. So I’ve been looking forward to this game ever since they had the Raptors move here, knowing I was going to get an opportunity to come back and play in my hometown. There’s no basketball team in Tampa so you don’t really get this opportunity ever, so this might be the only year this happens. I’m going to just go out there and play hard and take advantage and just have fun."

Making his return better is that he is playing well under Thibodeau. And the Knicks, after a pair of one-sided losses to start the season, have had back-to-back impressive performances in wins to even their record at 2-2.

The odd part for Knox is that offensively he has been quiet — scoring a career-worst 6.0 points per game over the first four games, but is hearing accolades for his defense and energy on the floor. He took just three shots Tuesday in Cleveland, but converted both of his three-point field goal attempts.

"Unfortunately, he had some foul trouble [Tuesday] night," Thibodeau said. "But on the defensive side of the ball he’s been terrific."

"I’m really just going out there and playing hard, using my length, being able to switch one through four, guarding the post, guarding the perimeter," Knox said. "[I’m] just really using my versatility on the defensive end, getting through screens. I think this year I’m just playing with a little bit more energy on both sides of the floor, running the floor. I think we’re all doing a great job defensively, not just me. We’re doing a great job helping each other out, helping weak side, running in transition. Defensively for me I just want to keep playing hard, keep playing with energy, rebounding, getting through the screens and playing with effort on both ends of the floor."

Notes & quotes: The Knicks early injury woes have continued. Knox has a sore right knee, but said he will play. Frank Ntilikina suffered a sprained right knee Tuesday and despite playing through it, will be held out Thursday. Immanuel Quickley (hip) and Austin Rivers (groin) were upgraded to questionable, their status depending how they recover from contact work at practice. Alec Burks is also questionable.

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