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Rookie Kristaps Porzingis prepares for NBA's 82-game grind

New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) battles

New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) battles for a rebound with Paschoalotto/Bauru forward Jefferson William (11) and guard Ricardo Fischer, right, in the second quarter of an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 7, 2015. Credit: Ray Stubblebine

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Kristaps Porzingis took the coaching and then the feeds from assistant Rasheed Hazzard, shooting turnaround jumpers again and again. Soon Porzingis was working with Sasha Vujacic, throwing behind-the-back passes against a wall with the guard and squaring off in shooting competitions.

The education of the 20-year-old, 7-3 Latvian rookie was in view Wednesday at Knicks practice and will continue Thursday night in a preseason game at Boston, Porzingis' final dress rehearsal.

Derek Fisher expects to start the fourth overall pick against the Celtics at power forward, along with small forward Carmelo Anthony, center Robin Lopez, shooting guard Arron Afflalo and point guard Jose Calderon.

Porzingis also is expected to start the opener at Milwaukee next Wednesday night, because Fisher said he wants to play the preseason finale "in a way that would be consistent with how we'll start the season in terms of rotation.''

Asked what he likes about those five, Fisher said, "The size, the strength, the length up front. They can score. They're a veteran group other than Kris.''

Fisher generally likes that Vujacic, an NBA and international veteran, has put a figurative arm around Porzingis' shoulders and is trying to help him along.

"I think there are a lot of things he can offer Kris, but I don't know about 7-foot-3 guys throwing behind-the-back passes off the wall,'' Fisher said. "But we'll see. Kris might pull it out and it might work.''

Porzingis has played in only three of the five preseason games because of minor injuries, averaging 7.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in 19.3 minutes, and shooting only 34.6 percent from the floor. He said his health is fine now, but that he wants to improve his conditioning.

His education is about more than on-court issues. After a schedule of about two games per week and playing 75 games total over three seasons in Spain's ACB League, he must adapt to an 82-game itinerary, including back-to-backs and stretches of three in four nights.

"I haven't heard anybody who's said, 'Yeah, it's easy, 82 games,' '' Porzingis said. "Everybody is like, 'You better take care of your body because it's a long season, 82 games and all the traveling and everything.' That takes a lot of energy.''

Some Knicks fans used their energy to boo his selection at the draft in June. It's still on his mind, "motivation'' he called it, fuel to play well every game.

"It's not easy to be great every game,'' Porzingis said, "but the most important thing is to play hard, play my heart out, and I know the fans will love me for that.''

Maybe Mets fans owe the giant-sized righthander some love. Porzingis threw out a first pitch with new teammate Jerian Grant at Citi Field the day after the draft.

"I'm not a baseball fan, but now that they're doing well because of my pitch, obviously . . . I'm following them a little bit,'' Porzingis said, smiling. "So hopefully they can win it all.''


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