Enes re­turns tough­ness, but Knicks gotta fin­ish

New York Daily News - - SPORTS - FRANK ISOLA

LeBron James beat the Knicks this week as eas­ily and as of­ten as a turn­stile jumper beats a sub­way fare. From tak­ing a sub­tle dig at poor, un­sus­pect­ing Frank Nti­lik­ina to declar­ing him­self, via In­sta­gram, the undis­puted King of New York, LeBron won both the mind games and the bas­ket­ball game. (It also helps that Kyle Korver caught fire in the fourth quar­ter of Cleve­land’s 104101 vic­tory and that Kristaps Porzingis missed three crit­i­cal free throws in the fi­nal 3:18).

On Tues­day, the sim­mer­ing LeBron vs. Enes Kan­ter feud took a silly, al­most ju­ve­nile turn when Kan­ter re­sponded to James’ In­sta­gram post by play­fully say­ing “We’ve al­ready got a king; it’s Kristaps Porzingis. Sorry about that.”

One night ear­lier, Kan­ter’s trash talk­ing game was sharper when he said: “I don’t care ... what you call your­self. King, Queen, Princess, what­ever you are. You know what, we’re go­ing to fight and no­body out there (is) go­ing to punk us.”

LeBron’s re­but­tal was cel­e­brated as a drop the mic mo­ment when in fact it sounded a bit corny.

“I’m the King, my wife is the Queen and my daugh­ter is the Princess,” he said. “So we got all three cov­ered.”

The NFL wishes it could have this much in­no­cent con­tro­versy.

Ku­dos to Kan­ter for stand­ing up for Porzingis the morn­ing af­ter he rushed to phys­i­cally de­fend Nti­lik­ina by go­ing nose-to-nose with the self-pro­claimed best player on the planet. Those mo­ments help to unify a team.

Kan­ter won the hearts of Knicks fans that still yearn for the days of Charles Oak­ley and the no layup rule … even if cur­rent own­er­ship doesn’t ap­pre­ci­ate what Oak­ley meant to team and the city.

Kan­ter en­joys play­ing this role of the vo­cal body­guard. Last sea­son, he mem­o­rably traded in­sults with Kevin Du­rant, who sec­onds ear­lier was yap­ping with Rus­sell West­brook. Kan­ter, dressed in street clothes that night, didn’t hes­i­tate to stick up for his pop­u­lar team­mate in a very pub­lic man­ner. No­tice the sim­i­lar­i­ties?

Kan­ter has now gone af­ter LeBron in var­i­ous ways — so­cial me­dia, faceto-face, and main­stream me­dia. It’s re­fresh­ing to see that there are some play­ers who don’t care whether LeBron in­vites them to the next wine tast­ing or ba­nana boat trip.

In the post-Carmelo An­thony era, the Knicks ros­ter is now thank­fully de­void of a LeBron sur­ro­gate.

But be­fore we in­duct Kan­ter into the Tough Guy Hall of Fame, let’s just re­mem­ber that the Knicks failed to fin­ish the job on Mon­day. The real sign of tough­ness, both men­tal and phys­i­cal, is hold­ing onto a 23-point thirdquar­ter lead against a team that has been lack­ing in the ef­fort depart­ment all sea­son.

Cleve­land was go­ing through the mo­tions for nearly three quar­ters, forc­ing Ty­ronn Lue to bench his starters, in­clud­ing LeBron. The Cavs re­sponded by scor­ing 43 fourthquar­ter points, the most by any team this sea­son in the fi­nal pe­riod. But it wasn’t just LeBron’s of­fense that picked apart the Knicks in the fourth. His de­fense on Porzingis was ex­cep­tional.

And you want to praise the Knicks for show­ing grit and tough­ness?

LeBron, in a very Michael Jor­dan type of way, in­vented a lit­tle drama on the eve of his first game at his fa­vorite arena and by the end of the night Cleve­land had won for the third time in four games and im­proved its record to 7-7. That in­cludes a 1-1 record against the Knicks. This is be­com­ing a fun ri­valry again.

There is one prob­lem, how­ever. The Knicks and Cavs don’t play again un­til the fi­nal three days of the reg­u­lar sea­son: April 9 at the Gar­den and two days later the sea­son fi­nale in Cleve­land.

That’s poor sched­ul­ing for the fans but per­haps fa­vor­able to the Knicks. The last two games are when LeBron is usu­ally rest­ing for the play­offs.

But here’s an in­ter­est­ing sce­nario to con­sider: What if the Knicks need to win one of their fi­nal two games to clinch a play­off spot. HKan­ter Would LeBron play? e’d cer­tainly have in­cen­tive to do so. He’ll re­mem­ber what said about him. Next time, the King won’t have to man­u­fac­ture any drama.

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