GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Enes Kanter learned from former Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook to look at the opposing team as the enemy. Kanter takes that approach into every game, but there’s one team he dislikes more than any other.
The Golden State Warriors.
“I play for the Knicks, so whoever I go against, I don’t like them,” Kanter said after practice Sunday. “But Golden State a little bit more . . . It’s because of the history we have.”
Kanter was with the Thunder when it blew a 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference finals. A month later, Kevin Durant bolted Oklahoma City to join Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and led the Warriors to the title last year.
Both of those things stung Kanter, who said of Durant earlier this season, “Whenever I’m on the court, I will try everything to get in his mind.”
They will be on the same court Monday night when the Warriors visit Madison Square Garden for the only time this season. But Kanter toned down some of his trash talk for Durant before this meeting.
“He gave me a fist bump last game. I gave him a fist bump,” Kanter said. “I played a pickup game with him last summer. I got no problem with him outside of the court. He’s a good dude. Obviously, he’s one of the best basketball players in the world. He’s been doing an unbelievable job with that team. On the court, it’s not just him. I just try to get in everybody’s head and try to make him play bad.
“I was really cool with him when he was in OKC and stuff. But right now it’s just another team and another player we go against.”
But the Warriors (46-14) are not just another team, and Durant is hardly just another player.
Golden State has four All-Stars, two players who have been the league MVP (Durant and Curry) and one Defensive Player of the Year (Green). Durant is an MVP candidate again this season.
The Warriors have been to three straight Finals, winning twice, and their players love the big stage. Curry scored 54 points at the Garden in 2014.
They come into the game leading the NBA in points (116.1) and three-point accuracy (39.6 percent). Their last six victories have been by an average of 22.5 points. They’re arguably the toughest team to defend in the NBA, and defense hasn’t been a strength of the Knicks.
“They’re a great team,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “What makes them hard to guard is they know each other well enough and they all know how to play the game well enough that no matter what you do, they have an adjustment.
“They just read it. If you’re going to try to switch something, they’ll just quick-pass it, they’ll flip things. And they’ve got great passers. All that stuff wouldn’t work if the guys couldn’t pass. It’s going to be interesting to see how our guys do.”
Hornacek played on some consistently great teams with Utah when he was in the league, but he doesn’t remember a team like these Warriors.
“Probably not, because back then every team had at least one center,” Hornacek said. “They go with Draymond at the five, all of a sudden it’s like four wing guys and a guard.”
The Knicks are playing younger and with more energy, which they will need while chasing Curry and Thompson off and around screens. Backup guard Trey Burke has been a big spark, scoring 26 points in back-to-back games.
Hornacek made a Kyrie Irving comparison after Burke’s 26-point, eight-assist game in Saturday’s loss to the Celtics, but Curry and the Warriors present a far different challenge.
“It’s exciting,” Burke said. “Another challenge that we’re all looking forward to. Obviously, a lot of the younger guys on the team are playing right now. We’re looking forward to that. Those guys are All-Stars. Those guys won a couple of championships, but we’ll be ready for the challenge and we’re looking forward to getting the win.”