HOUSTON – Limping toward the finish line, this is what the historically bad Knicks season looks like – nine available bodies, fewer practices and Mario Hezonja starting at point guard.
Hezonja is a 6-foot-8 power forward under normal circumstances, but was thrust into the lead guard role Friday against Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets. It was the product of every other option being injured and sounded absurd on the surface.
But apparently Hezonja played the position growing up and sometimes as a rookie with the Orlando Magic. He didn’t like the suggestion from a reporter that it’s not his natural position.
“How do you know?” Hezonja said. “Do you watch basketball?”
Confidence is Hezonja’s calling card. He’s unafraid of the big challenge, and already owns the two best highlights of the entire Knicks season with his dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo and his game-winning block of LeBron James. Adding Harden to his belt would be quite a feat, especially since The Beard torched the Knicks for 61 points in January.
“They’re all unique, but they’re at the same superstar level,” Hezonja said. “It’s pick your poison. I’ll try to do my best and see how it goes.”
“It’ll be good to have a bigger body on James,” coach David Fizdale said. “We’ve got multiple bigger bodies we can put on James that can at least challenge hopefully and make it a little tougher on him.”
At last count, the Knicks had seven players injured and one (DeAndre Jordan) shut down for the rest of the season because there’s no reason to play. Frank Ntilikina is also out until next season and will be probably be joined by Noah Vonleh and Allonzo Trier. In the last two months, they bought out two players – Enes Kanter and Wes Matthews – who are now starting on playoff teams.
Always the player’s-coach, Fizdale said he didn’t want to play Emmanuel Mudiay (sore shoulder) on Friday because it could jeopardize the point guard’s free agency. Beating the Rockets was far down the list of priorities.
“I think about these guys’ careers from the standpoint of, we’re not going to the playoffs, this kid has now established himself and put himself in position to have an offseason where multiple teams are going to want to talk to him,” Fizdale said. “I don’t want to risk that after that he’s done so much to get to where he is. With his sore shoulder and sore hamstring, we all thought it was just better and it’s the right thing to do by him to give him a game off.”