GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Kristaps Porzingis admits it will be "weird" playing against Carmelo Anthony on opening night, and not with him.
But the 7-foot-3 unicorn is also anxious to try his hand at defending his former teammate when the Knicks open the 2017-18 season against Anthony and Oklahoma City at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"For sure, it's going to be weird," Porzingis said Tuesday after practice. "But I'm looking forward to that game. It's in OKC, great atmosphere as always. It's going to be a good challenge for us."
The NBA schedule-makers sure got it right when they set up this Knicks-Thunder game to start things off. But how did they know that Anthony would be dealt to the Thunder in September, and would then be facing his old squad on national television?
"The irony of this is ridiculous but that's what comes with the business," Knicks forward Lance Thomas said. "Things happen and you gotta adjust."
It figures to be an emotional night for all involved, with Anthony amped up to play his former team and show them what they're missing.
"I mean there's going to be emotions in there but he's such a competitor, once the ball starts bouncing, I think all that's going to go out the door for him," Thomas said
Thomas and Porzingis will check in with Anthony once they arrive in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, and may spend time with him before tip time.
"Maybe when we get there, if he has time for dinner or something," Porzingis said. "I heard KO (Kyle O'Quinn) say something. I'm not sure yet but it would be nice to get together with him before the season starts."
Anthony, of course, is just one-third of the Thunder's new "Big Three," along with Paul George and Russell Westbrook, who is coming off averaging a triple-double and winning MVP honors. The Thunder could be the biggest challenger to the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors in the West.
Porzingis knows his team isn't quite ready to compete with super-teams like the Warriors or the Thunder, or the Cavaliers and Celtics in the East. Fivethirtyeight.com projects the Knicks to go 30-52.
"We don't have that type of talent like they do," Porzingis said. "And obviously now with Golden State and Cavaliers and a few more teams they're trying to bring in stars and make the best team possible to try to compete with those two teams so we're pretty far away from that right now but we've got to keep going. We're a young team and hopefully in time we'll get to that."
That time begins Thursday night when both Porzingis and Thomas could spend time defending the 33-year-old Anthony, who averaged 22.4 points and 5.9 rebounds last season.
"He's been in the league for 13, 14 years," Porzingis said. "I think everybody knows what he's doing but nobody can stop him. It's going to be a challenge for me. I'm going to do my best."
Said Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: "Carmelo's a tough guy to play one-on-one. When that man has the ball, whoever it is, they got to do their best and then hope our team defense comes into play. KP obviously, with Melo playing the 4 spot, will be matched up against him. So, you know, he knows his game. So Carmelo knows his. It's going to be a good battle."
Thomas, meantime, played for the Thunder during the 2014-15 season and says he's familiar not only with Anthony's tendencies but with many of his new teammates' as well.
"I know a lot of their tendencies, one through five on that team," Thomas said. "I watch a lot of film and I was teammates with most of them except Paul so again I'm ready to go after all of them."
Hornacek said the team hasn't begun to really focus on a specific game-plan for the Thunder, but knows the Knicks will have their hands full.
"Obviously we're going to have to deal with Melo and his postgame, spreading out, Paul George and Russ's pick-and-rolls, how he's going to attack," Hornacek said. "So that still comes within our makeup of how we're going to play defense. It's going to be a heck of a challenge."
Even though they are no longer teammates, Porzingis is happy that Anthony is on a new team with a better chance at winning his first NBA title.
"For myself, I wanted him to stay," he said. "And to play with him and learn from him and so on. But from the other side I understand that he needed a new challenge in his career and he wants to win a championship one day so I'm happy for him. He's in an environment where he might be able to do that soon. So I'm happy for him."
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