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54° Good Afternoon

Mozgov starts, seeks to avenge Drago

Timofey Mozgov will start Wednesday night against the Celtics in a preseason game at the Garden. Mike D'Antoni made the inevitable official after practice today. Mozgov said his game plan was pretty simple:

"Run, run, run, defense and work, defense, defense," he said. "If I get the ball, shoot sometimes, maybe."

OK, so his English hasn't developed nearly as quickly as his game, but, really, if you're the Knicks, would you want it any other way? Shaq (hip) isn't playing for the Celtics tonight in Philadelphia and he might not be available for tomorrow night's game, either. But that doesn't mean it'll be any less stressful for the Knicks, because Mozgov maybe be their best option at center right now, but he's still a work in progress.

The main issue will be foul trouble, which is typical of any European big man who makes the move to the NBA. Mozgov succinctly explained the most important adjustment he needs to make is in setting screens.

"I get two or three fouls in the first game because I turn [into a defender] and take them back, like I do in Europe," he said, essentially admitting that moving screens mostly go undetected in the Euro-game. "I think I do OK if I try not to do that and turn. I stay and not touch anybody."

He'll also need to adjust to NBA referees. Mozgov did an awful lot of complaining to officials at the FIBA World Championships and was very demonstrative when he would look toward Russian coach David Blatt. In other words, he has a lot of David Lee in him, only without the ability to schmooze the refs. This year, with the NBA cracking down on any type of backlash toward officials -- Grant Hill, Mr. Humanitarian, was already tossed from a game for showing his displeasure with a call -- Mozgov not only has to figure out how not to get into foul trouble, but he also has to resist the tendency to plead his case.

In other words, he needs to find his inner stoicism, which was so much a part of the old Russia that he's too young to recall.

Even when I asked him to say, "I must break you," he couldn't help but laugh.

Have you seen Rocky IV?

"Rocky IV?" he asked.

Yes, the movie.


Then it clicked. He rolled punches. "Rocky?"

That's it. So you saw the one with the Russian?

"Drago," he then said. "Yeah."

Do you know the fans at the Garden started calling you that at Sunday's practice?

"The fans?"

Yes, the fans.

He smiled, laughed and shrugged.

It's only a matter of time before this becomes a feature on GardenVision:


* * *

* - Eddy Curry (hamstring strain) worked out on a side court along with Kelenna Azubuike (patella surgery), doing some light shooting. Curry is still about two weeks, at least, from being ready to play full-court. Azubuike is still being brought along extremely slow and was kept to very limited movements. It seems unlikely he will be ready for opening night, as Donnie Walsh initially suggested.

* - D'Antoni said the team will continue the tradition started last season of not holding morning shoot-arounds at home. It's really something that matters more to the media than fans, because it means we don't have to travel up here to the training center on game day in the morning. The idea is that the players are spread out between Manhattan and Westchester and it's too much, with New York traffic, to have the players make a trip either to the Garden or the training center on a game day.

But D'Antoni has made one adjustment to last year's plan. Last season he had the team meet at the Garden at 4:30 p.m. for a pre-game walk-through and then a team meal. But the coaching staff didn't see much of a benefit to that because after eating, most of the players would lounge around the locker room and take naps. So instead the players will be required to show up by the usual pre-game time of 6 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.

Still, it is expected that most of the rookies and non-rotation players will show up earlier -- around 5 p.m. -- to get in extra work, while others will come in early to get extra treatment. The training center will also be available to the players in the morning if anyone wants to get treatment or get up extra shots and do individual work.

The team will still hold morning shoot-arounds on the road. The Knicks aren't the only team that went away from home shoot-arounds. The Celtics are another team that does not hold a shoot-around for home games.



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