NEW YORK — Coming off arguably his team’s most important win of the season, Carmelo Anthony makes his return to Madison Square Garden at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night for the first time as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On Friday, the Thunder edged Philadelphia in a triple-overtime thriller, with Anthony scoring 24 points — his highest-scoring output in more than a month — in a 119-117 win. The victory sets up a crucial battle between two hot teams, as Oklahoma City has won three of four and six of its last eight games, while New York has won three straight and four of five.
One prominent Knick might not be part of Anthony’s welcoming party: leading scorer Kristaps Porzingis exited the team’s 111-104 win at Brooklyn on Thursday night with a knee injury. He is listed as day-to-day with knee soreness and is questionable for the matchup.
Even if an absent Porzingis takes away some of the thunder from the game, Anthony and his new squad should make up for it. Anthony told Thunder reporters earlier in the week that he was eagerly awaiting his MSG return.
“I’m excited to go back and play in the Garden,” Anthony said. “Play in front of those fans. Play in front of my family, my friends. But at the end of the day, it’s business to me. But I’d be lying if I said I’m not ecstatic to be going back and playing there. Like I said, I got a different feeling with New York. A different relationship, different bond with the city, with the fans, with the people. It’s a little bit special for me.”
The Knicks expect a warm reception for their former team captain, who was traded to Oklahoma City in September for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick.
“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 told ESPN on Thursday.
Asked if he expected the MSG crowd to boo Anthony, who helped lead New York (15-13) to its first division title in 19 years in the 2012-2013 season and averaged nearly 25 points per game in his six-plus-year stint with the Knicks, forward Lance Thomas said he was not anticipating jeers.
“I don’t think they will (boo Anthony),” Thomas said. “I don’t think he deserves to be booed. But you never know.”
Knicks fans may just be happy enough with the haul they got back from the Thunder (14-14) to harbor any ill will. McDermott has been a valuable bench player for New York, and Kanter has been downright terrific, averaging 13.4 points and 10.3 rebounds with 12 double-doubles on the year. His gritty defense in the post has freed Porzingis to take more risks, and Porzingis ranks third in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.08).
After showing up to the team’s 111-107 win over Atlanta on crutches — and leaving on crutches, as well, the after-effects of a knee to the hip two days prior — Kanter drew rave reviews from his teammates.
“He’s the first guy I’ve ever seen come to a game on crutches and still start the game and he’s about to leave on crutches,” Jarrett Jack said. “I’ve never seen that before in my 13 years in the league.”
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