* Saturday on NBA TV: Thunder vs. Knicks (7:30 ET)
On Saturday, the New York Knicks will host the Oklahoma City Thunder in what will be Carmelo Anthony's first trip back to Madison Square Garden. As that game looms, current Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis says the city and fans ought to greet Anthony with a warm welcome.
Anthony was traded to the Knicks in late September as OKC went all-in on a run for a championship this season. The Thunder visit the Philadelphia 76ers tonight (7 ET, ESPN) and have struggled all season, posting a 13-14 record while ranking 24th in offensive rating, 25th in assist percentage and 20th in pace. By comparison, the Knicks are 15-13 and rank 13th, 16th and 18th in the same categories. Both teams are also No. 8 in the respective conferences.
To Porzingis and other teammates, Anthony is deserving of praise for how he handled the off-court trade chatter that swirled about him last season in New York, writes Ian Bagley of ESPN.com:
"I think he was as professional as he can be in his time here in New York, so I don't see why they would not receive him with love," Porzingis said Thursday.
"You've got to respect him being a professional, how he handled everything with the media last year," Courtney Lee said Thursday.
Lee said Anthony may receive a mixed reaction Saturday night.
"I think more cheers than anything," Lee said. "You can't fault the guy for going out there and playing hard and leaving it all out there on the court and just trying to help the team win. Whether it was the style that some fans wanted or didn't want, he competed night in and night out."
The Knicks' start to the season has surpassed that of most experts, with Porzingis showing flashes of future Kia MVP potential at times early this season. Although is status for Saturday's showdown remains unknown (Porzingis left Thursday's win against the Brooklyn Nets with a sore left knee), he was quick to refute talk that the Knicks' success has anything to do with being separated from Anthony.
"Not at all. He was here for a long time. For him, it was also hard," said Porzingis, whose availability for Saturday's game is unclear because of a knee injury. "He was trying to do the right things to win, but it was just not clicking. It was not the right pieces around him to make that happen.
"I know he wants to win. If he didn't want to win, he would have probably stayed here or went somewhere else besides OKC because he has an actual chance to win."
Lee pointed to the changes on offense, which have included less of an adherence to the triangle offense that Jackson preferred, as a reason for the Knicks' improvement.
"If Melo was here, we would have made that adjustment with him," Lee said. "We can't point at him and say, 'Well, he left.' We made these adjustments. We were going to have this style of play this year, a little bit different than what we were going to have last year, with Melo."
Anthony did not speak with reporters after the team's shootaround today, according to Al Iannazzone of Newsday.