GREENBURGH, N.Y. — By the time that Enes Kanter was expressing his displeasure postgame Monday with his role, it had already changed again.
Kanter, who was upset after Knicks coach David Fizdale explained to him that the team was going to prioritize the development of Mitchell Robinson and Luke Kornet and actually was the fourth center into the game Monday, likely has his starting job back in time for Wednesday’s game against the Houston Rockets. An MRI performed on Kornet’s left ankle confirmed a sprain and also a bone bruise, an injury that likely will sideline him for weeks.
"Right back in the mix,” Fizdale said, referring to Kanter's situation. “That’s just how this game works. Even when I told him, I said, ‘I know you’re not going to be happy about it, but stay ready and I’m going to constantly find minutes for you one way or another.’ Right now — he was ready [Monday] which I was really happy about and I commended him after the game about it. But now with Luke going down, we’re right back where we were. That’s just how this league works.”
Fizdale said that with Kornet, who has started nine of the last 10 games, sidelined he likely was turning back to Kanter because Robinson is still plagued by foul troubles. The rookie fouled out in just 15:32 Monday.
For Kornet, the injury shuts him down as he has begun to establish himself in the NBA. After going undrafted out of Vanderbilt, he spent much of last season in the G League and was back there to start this season. In those last 10 games he has averaged 11.8 points, hitting 47.3 percent from three-point range.
“Of course I want to play,” Kornet said. “You never want to be hurt. I thought I was playing well and building some momentum. It’s part of basketball and have to deal with it. I’m just trying to get back to being healthy and back on the court. I’ve got to deal with it.
“I’m very grateful for the path that it’s been. I feel I’ve been playing better, playing well and to have that opportunity here and produce in that way — of course you want to have results, more wins —- but you feel like you’re doing some things that can help winning. I think it’s a good step forward in that personal aspect. There’s still a lot of room for growth.”
None of the Knicks' centers are likely to make a difference in slowing the Rockets, who arrive at Madison Square Garden with James Harden scoring at a historic rate. Harden has scored at least 30 points in his last 20 games and is averaging 42.3 points per game in that span. He now meets up with the Knicks, who rank second to last in the NBA in defensive rating.
“He’s kept getting better and driving his team to higher and higher levels,” Fizdale said. “And he keeps doing things that the league’s never seen. It’s a credit to his work ethic and the way he’s approached his game and the way he views himself as a top player in this league. He just continues to grow and do things that make you go, ‘Man, I’ve never seen somebody do this before.’
“I’m not really into that 'Let him get his stuff.' I felt like if you’re really working hard defensively you can impact a player and make it tough on the other guys. So I’m constantly preaching that to our guys. Obviously our numbers don’t show it that we’re a good defensive team. But we still have to keep building the habits that will lead us to that.”