The Warriors will make their annual visit to the Garden on Monday night, but it won’t quite be the same for Kevin Durant without Kristaps Porzingis in a Knicks jersey.
Porzingis is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee Feb. 6.
“It’s disappointing he got injured,” Durant said Sunday after the Warriors held a light practice at the New York Athletic Club. “He had a great season up to that point and was an All-Star. He’d been playing great.”
It was Durant who inadvertently gave Porzingis the nickname “unicorn,” when complimenting the 7-foot-3 baller from Latvia.
“He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend, he’s a 7-footer than can shoot all the way out to the 3-point line — that’s rare,” Durant said in early 2016. “And block shots — that’s like a unicorn in this league.”
The unicorn is sidelined for now, leaving the Knicks struggling to salvage something out of another lost season.
“When I saw the injury happen, I definitely felt for him and thought about him,” Durant said. “Hopefully he gets back soon and can move past this and continue to have a great career.”
Steve Kerr, who almost became the Knicks head coach before heading to Golden State, also is disappointed Porzingis won’t be on the floor Mondaynight.
“He’s the future of the Knicks, obviously,” Kerr said. “It’s such a shame when anybody gets hurt, especially marquee guys who people pay to see. He’s a brilliant talent and great player. We all wish him well.”
Kerr actually wishes the Knicks well, except for Monday night.
“The Knicks are so important to this league,” he said. “It’s such a great brand and such a great city for basketball. The better the Knicks are, the better the NBA is. I want the Knicks to rise and become a great team, and Porzingis will be a big part of that going forward.”
While the Knicks continue to develop for the future, the Warriors are positioning themselves for a run at their third title in four years. Golden State enters with a 46-14 record, a half-game behind the Rockets for the best mark in the Western Conference.
“We just want to go in the playoffs with good momentum and a good rhythm,” said Durant, who is averaging 26.0 points per game. “Guys are working on their game after practice, and we go hard during practice. There’s a good vibe around the team right now. We just want to continue to keep playing well and build some good momentum going into the playoffs.”
“This year feels different to me than the last two years in terms of trying to get to the end,” Kerr said. “I think we’ve paced ourselves a little bit more. We haven’t been as consistent with our effort of play. But I’m aware we’ve got a lot of mileage on us. I don’t expect us to be in top form night after night. I think the last couple of games have been good ones for us. It feels like we’re rounding into form, which I think is good timing.”
Make no mistake: The Warriors haven’t gone soft, as evidenced by the skirmishes during a 112-80 win over the Thunder on Saturday night in the Bay Area. Durant and Carmelo Anthony glared at each other at one point in the game.
“It was just basketball,” Durant said. “Nothing’s going to happen off the court. He’s not meeting me by the bus, and I’m not meeting him by the bus. He’s a physical offensive player. That’s what happens when you play ball. I’ve got nothing but love and respect for Melo. But in the heat of battle, that’s what happens.”
Too bad Porzingis won’t be part of the heat of battle Monday night.