Enes Kanter expects to play on Thursday night in Brooklyn, but that doesn’t mean the Knicks’ chatty center is operating at maximum capacity.
Kanter’s balky back and sore hip essentially kept him on the bench for the entirety of the fourth quarter and overtime during Tuesday’s win over the Lakers, Jeff Hornacek acknowledged, but both player and coach indicated there are no current plans for a shutdown.
“Mentally, I’m good, real good. We got a real good win yesterday, so have to keep playing like that. Physically, I’m getting there. I’m over 40-50 percent,” Kanter said following practice Wednesday in Westchester. “I remember the year I got traded to OKC (from Utah in 2015), we lost the playoff spot by a half-game. So, I mean, every game, every possession counts. I’ll get rest in the summertime.”
The Thunder actually missed the 2015 playoffs in a tiebreaker for the No. 8 seed with New Orleans, but the point is well-taken with the Knicks, at 14-13, beginning play Wednesday’s action in a four-way tie with Washington, Philadelphia and Detroit for the final three playoff positions in the tight Eastern Conference.
Kanter, who sat out three games in late November with back spasms, is averaging 13.4 points and 10.3 rebounds in 26 minutes per game since arriving in the preseason Carmelo Anthony trade. He tweaked his left hip, he said, in a collision on Saturday in Chicago.
“It’s still bothering me even when I walk sometimes … but I think I’m fine,” he said. “I don’t feel it as much. I don’t need crutches anymore and stuff, feel OK.”
Hornacek admitted that the Lakers “going small” late in Tuesday’s game, leaving center Brook Lopez on the bench, made the decision to hold out Kanter easier.
“I don’t know what he told you, but I’ve seen Enes. I saw him when he was a rookie, I saw him at the beginning of this year. The way he’s running up and down the court right now, you can tell there’s some back things going on,” Hornacek said. “But he’s a tough kid, he wants to play through it, he wants to help this team in any way he can. If that’s 75 percent, that’s what he wants to do.”
Asked how he balances a player’s desire to gut out an injury with getting him healthy for the long-term, Hornacek added: “The more rest we can give him, it’s a long season. When he’s flying up and down the court that’s huge for us because now everybody has to suck back into the lane. Now we can get some kick-out threes. We need him to get healthy.
“I think back to me playing back in the day, there’s times you go a couple of weeks, and you’re banged up and then all of a sudden you’re better. You get through it. That’s our hope for Enes. I think that’s what his hope is. That’s why he continues to play. We’ll try this. If it lingers on for a month or something like that, then we have to look at it.”
In the meantime, Kanter plans to be in the lineup Thursday against the improving Nets, who have won four of six to improve to 11-15, just 2.5 games behind the Knicks.
“It’s going to be a good game. Obviously, they’re a pretty good team, they’re in the 11th spot, I think, in the East,” Kanter said. “I look at (the standings) a lot. Of course. If you are like a team where we’re just playing the season for nothing, I wouldn’t care. But right now, we’re playing for something, man, that’s really important.”