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Kevin Knox's surprise start doesn't earn an upgrade

Knicks forward Kevin Knox II watches a free

Knicks forward Kevin Knox II watches a free throw by the Nets during the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Kevin Knox had waited in vain for his opportunity in the Knicks’ previous two games, playing an average of less than 10 minutes — and not at all in the second half of the games.

But less than an hour before game time Sunday, while getting ready in the locker room, he was alerted that RJ Barrett was unable to play because of an illness. Knox would be in the starting lineup.

He laughed as he noted that he didn’t know which position he’d be playing or whom he’d be guarding, but he was happy to be in at all.

“I just want to go out there and just play my game,” Knox said before the game. “I think this can be, definitely, a good booster for me. Be able to get some extra minutes, get out there and really just play hard on both ends of the basketball court. And hopefully, lead this team to a win.”

He couldn’t do that, and Knox didn’t do anything that would seem to convince coach David Fizdale to change what has become the plan: forcing Knox to earn his minutes by becoming a better defensive player.

Knox played only 17 minutes and 40 seconds, including just 3:59 in the second half. He finished with five points, shooting 1-for-4 from the field, and committed four fouls.

There were plenty of lapses Sunday — some that could be pinpointed as Knox’s fault and plenty that could spread blame around the entire team.

“I’m going to keep holding his feet to the fire defensively,” Fizdale said. “I really want to get him to where he’s desperate to play and see that his defensive effort and focus and execution has got to be there for us to be a good basketball team.”

This was Knox’s first start of the season. He started a team-high 57 games as a rookie last season.

“I adjust really fast to things,” he said about coming off the bench. “ . . . You’ve just got to be ready when your name is called. Like my dad used to tell me when I was growing up, you’re an ankle sprain away from that time.”

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