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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns pleased with success of Kristaps Porzingis

The two young big men came in the league together in 2015, and Towns is happy his Knicks couterpart has proved the doubters wrong

The Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns, right, tries to get

The Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns, right, tries to get past the Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis in the second half on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, in Minneapolis. Photo Credit: AP / Jim Mone

Karl-Anthony Towns has kept tabs on what Kristaps Porzingis has done since the two young big men came in the league together in 2015, and is happy the Knicks’ franchise player has proved the doubters wrong.

Porzingis has cooled off since his fast start this season that had people touting him as an MVP candidate. Towns outperformed him by a wide margin in the Timberwolves’ 10-point over the Knicks Friday, finishing one assist short of a triple-double. Porzingis missed 13 of 19 shots.

But Towns remembers being in Brooklyn the night the two were drafted one and four respectively, and hearing the boos when Porzingis was picked by the Knicks. Towns, a New Jersey native, believes the Knicks are extremely lucky that Porzingis fell to them at four

“I’m just happy to see him develop into the player that few ever thought he would be,” Towns said. “I’m just glad he found success because being that from that area, it’s very hard to earn the love of fans and earn their respect. For him to do what he’s done,I told Kristaps that’s a huge accomplishment in anyone’s career to be in New York and find success and earn respect of the fans and the love of the fans and admiration.

“It just speaks to how talented of a player he is and how great of a person he is off the court. I think the Knicks are very, very, very, very fortunate to have made the right decision, and very fortunate to have him.”

Towns and Porzingis developed a friendship during the draft process, and continue to text each other.

“He’s doing a great job back in my homeland of really just ruling over the kingdom,” Towns said. “I’m super happy that he’s found some success early in his career.”

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for either since joining the NBA.

Towns was the Rookie of the Year, and has shown to be a far better player. But his first two years in the league the T-Wolves were a combined 44 games under .500. Now, Minnesota owns the West’s fourth-best record and the NBA’s sixth-best mark.

Porzingis and the Knicks have had their ups and downs, and now they’re in another down period. The Knicks have lost 9 of 11 and Porzingis’ play has dropped off.

But the Knicks hope Tim Hardaway Jr.’s return after missing 20 games will take some attention away from Porzingis, and perhaps keep him fresher late in games since he appears to be wearing down.

Porzingis was just 2-for-11 with seven points in the second half Friday. The T-Wolves have some strong, physical defenders, and Porzingis didn’t react well when they sent help. But his late-game struggles have been common lately. The thought within the Knicks is this is all new for Porzingis and he still needs time.

“We can’t be too hard on KP,” Jeff Hornacek said. “This is all a learning process with that. Come five, six years down into his career those probably won’t be problems. But right now he’s going to learn from it.”

Fragile Cavs

The Cavaliers are going through their annual swoon where now everyone waits for LeBron James to publicly say they need different players or he fires off a tweet with a hidden message.

But James said the Cavaliers are “so fragile” after a 34-point loss to the Raptors, who were without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. They’ve lost seven of their last nine games. Let’s see how Cleveland responds Monday against the reigning-champion Warriors.

Ball off the mark

Looks like the Lakers want to play for Luke Walton after all.

They have won four straight, including an impressive 12-point victory over the Spurs, after LaVar Ball told ESPN that Walton lost the Lakers. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle credited the win streak to “great coaching.”

Carlisle, the president of the NBA Coach’s Association, publicly supported Walton after the ESPN article. Carlisle and Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy admonished ESPN for running the story and threatened to give one of the NBA’s partners less access. ESPN is scheduled to air the Pistons-Wizards game Friday.

“I’m not meeting with their announcing crew before the game, I’m not doing the in-game interview,” Van Gundy said. “I’m not going to participate in the thing.”

Van Gundy also e-mailed NBA commissioner Adam Silver to let him know he was upset and inform him of his intentions.

Bad dad

TNT analyst and Hall of Fame guard Reggie Miller believes Lakers president Magic Johnson should use his voice to quiet LaVar Ball, the outspoken father of Lakers guard Lonzo Ball. The Lakers have asked LaVar to not speak disparagingly about the coach, the team or anyone. It hasn’t worked.

But Miller believes Johnson should “come close to almost threatening” LaVar and tell him “shut up, fall in line” or the Lakers will trade Lonzo. Miller said this on The Dan Patrick Show.

There’s no telling if that would work, or what market there would be Lonzo. He’s talented, but he comes with a built-in, major distraction that teams many teams won’t want.

Ball has made a name for himself and his Big Baller Brand by being speaking his mind without regard for anyone else. But he should have a little more regard for his son, Lonzo.

The rookie guard is and will continue to be the one who has to take the heat for all of his father’s remarks.

Lonzo has to see Walton, Lakers management, and his teammates every day. He has to answer to whatever his father says. NBA players are coming after Lonzo because of how his dad boasts about him.

LaVar has helped Lonzo get to this level. But Lonzo has to let his father know the effect his words are having on him and his future. LaVar is not helping Lonzo’s career now.

A first for Popovich

Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge has enjoyed a resurgence this year. Coach Gregg Popovich said it’s because the veteran forward requested a trade over the summer. A very candid Popovich was floored because he said no one had ever asked him to be traded, and he needed to change his approach.

“It became apparent to me that it really was me,” Popovich said. “He’s been playing in the league for nine years. I’m not going to turn him into some other player . . . Total overcoaching. So, we took care of it, and he’s been fantastic.”

In the Stars

The NBA will announce the starters for next month’s All-Star Game on Thursday. Voting concludes Monday. Here are our picks:

Eastern Conference: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid

Western Conference: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis

The reserves, selected by the NBA coaches, will be announced Jan. 23.

Fast breaks

Great news that former Knicks assistant and Adelphi head coach Steve Clifford has been cleared to coach the Hornets again. Clifford was on medical leave since Dec. 4. He will return to the bench Wednesday against Washington . . . The temps were below zero when the Knicks played in Minnesota Friday. Michael Beasley, who spent two years with Minnesota, said “you get used to the weather pretty quick. You can’t wait until 20, 25 degrees come around — start wearing my sandals.”

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