Forgotten European duo forces Knicks to remember their talent

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LOS ANGELES — Mario Hezonja got playfully bodychecked by Enes Kanter as the Croatian forward conducted his postgame interview with MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow on the Staples Center court.

It was a giddy Hollywood night after the Knicks (10-29) broke their eight-game losing streak in front of owner James Dolan. Disgruntled Enes Kanter and the dusted-off Mario Hezonja came up big in the fourth quarter to close down the Lakers in a 119-112 victory Friday night.

“I got him happy, finally,’’ Hezonja crowed. “Enes Kanter is happy. It’s a great thing for us. When Enes is happy, we can go far. He was pretty mad.’’

The two Europeans are similar in that both face uncertain Knicks futures as free agents who may not be in the team’s plans for 2019-20.

Kanter has been vocal about his Luke Kornet demotion and afterward created more headlines by announcing he is not taking the London trip with the Knicks for the Jan. 17 game against the Wizards for fear of being killed by Turkish spies. Kanter is an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his passport is void.

Hezonja, meanwhile, has kept quiet about his own demotion. Entering the Lakers contest, Hezonja did not play in four of the past five games and played three minutes in the one he saw action.

The Knicks bypassed re-signing Michael Beasley to use their mid-level exception on Hezonja. Ironically, Beasley, who just rejoined the Lakers after being away for weeks to attend to his mother’s passing, visited the joyful Knicks’ locker room after having his own nice return to the lineup (six points, 12 minutes).

But it was Hezonja’s fourth-quarter burst that keyed the win. He scored 10 points in 13:30, hitting three of four shots and making a key steal and block in the final minutes. Fizdale only turned to Hezonja because Kevin Knox and Noah Vonleh each had four fouls late in the third quarter.

“I didn’t hesitate to go to Mario there,’’ Fizdale said. “He kept himself really ready. We don’t win that game without Mario.’’

His sharp play could make Fizdale rethink his rotation, though the Knicks coach said he will stick to a more defined rotation in the season’s second half. The Knicks hit the season’s midpoint Tuesday in Golden State in the trip finale.

“It’s not difficult when you practice,’’ Hezonja said of keeping the rust away. “We have an amazing staff. Fiz did a great job of picking people to develop us.”

During games, Hezonja has sat next to assistant Keith Smart, who points out the nuances of the game. In the locker room during this trip, he’s been seen reading the book, “Zero Sugar’’. Hezonja said he’s trying to pick up pointers on a healthier diet.

“I’m staying positive, working my butt off,’’ Hezonja said. “Talking to the coach’s during the game, seeing what is going on. I’ve learned couple of things being with Keith Smart, asking questions. He helped me a lot.

“That’s why I practice. We stopped practice [at UCLA] and he said, no, we’re going to play 5-on-5. That gets us involved. We practice our butt off and it shows on the court.’’

Hezonja’s future is unclear. Ironically, the Lakers and the Trail Blazers, whom the Knicks face Monday in Portland, both offered him two-year deals last summer but he chose the Knicks’ one-year, $6.5 million offer. He still has half a season to show it was worth it.

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