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Frank Ntilikina plays against Bucks

Frank Ntilikina #11 of the New York Knicks

Frank Ntilikina #11 of the New York Knicks goes to the hoop in the first half against Richaun Holmes #21 of the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

MILWAUKEE — Frank Ntilikina no longer is glued to the bench.

At Thursday’s morning shootaround, Knicks coach David Fizdale said he planned to use Ntilikina to help defend against the Bucks’ guards that night at Fiserv Forum. “I’m going to get Frank back in there tonight,” Fizdale said.

Ntilikina played 20 minutes and scored five points in the Knicks’ 112-96 loss.

Ntilikina was a DNP in the Knicks’ 109-95 loss to Milwaukee at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day. In the previous five games, he had made only 21.4 percent of his shots and averaged 3.6 points in 18.4 minutes.

Though the benching had to be disappointing, considering that his mother had flown to New York from France, Ntilikina handled it “like a pro,” Fizdale said.

“He says, ‘Coach, don’t you worry about that.’ That’s how he talks. He says, ‘I don’t want you to worry about that. I know you are going to get me back in there at some point and I won’t let you down.’

“For a 20-year-old kid to think that way and talk that way even though I know it hurt him, and I know it was hard on him, and I didn’t want to do that to him — he just handled it great. I want him to have a shot back at these guys.”

“These guys” are Bucks guards Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, who totaled 28 points on Christmas. They had a combined 23 Thursday.

Earlier in the season, Fizdale benched Ntilikina for three consecutive games, so learning that he would be back in the lineup had to be a positive for him.

“It is for confidence,” Ntilikina said. “But no matter what happens, I’ll prepare the same way each and every game.”

Though Ntilikina is one of the team’s strongest defensive players, his struggles on offense have made him a polarizing player among fans, especially on Twitter.

New York Sports