Off-the-ball move gave Ntilikina ‘some clarity’

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DALLAS — No, the Knicks didn’t win the Frank Ntilikina-Dennis Smith Jr. scoring battle, but they didn’t need to in their 118-106 victory at American Airlines Arena on Friday night.

Ntilikina had an off shooting night (2-for-8, 0-for-4 from 3, seven points), sat some of the fourth quarter for Emmanuel Mudiay, but also had seven assists and was a plus-7.

Smith put up 22 points but also had an embarrassing airball free throw when he could have given the Mavericks more momentum entering intermission. Smith, who had six turnovers, was fouled at the buzzer by Mitchell Robinson after an errant 3-pointer but he missed two of three free throws keeping the Dallas lead at 3.

It was good timing for Ntilikina to face Smith now that new Knicks coach David Fizdale believes in him as a starting point guard.
Fizdale said he felt the original move for Ntilikina to off the ball “gave him some clarity.’’

“The biggest thing I was trying to accomplish was just take that weight off of him,’’ Fizdale said of his original decision to start Ntilikina off the ball. “I felt it as soon as I got the job, I just said, ‘Let’s just pull him away from that for a minute and just let him be a player.’ And I really think it gave him some clarity. By taking that time for him to just being a wing out there. He saw different things on how the team functions, he saw how he can be effective. But when I put the ball back in his hands, I think he felt a lot more at ease and not as much, ‘I have to be this.’ ”

Ntilikina and Smith will forever be linked. Former Knicks president Phil Jackson took Ntilikina at the eighth spot in the draft. The Mavericks reportedly celebrated in their war room and snatched Smith, the former North Carolina State stud, at No. 9.

According to sources, the Mavericks would have been happy with Ntilikina at No. 9 as he was next on their board. Owner Mark Cuban didn’t fly to Europe to meet Ntilikina as a smoke screen.

“I know there’s going to be comparisons because we’re in the same class, but I just compete against whoever I’m going against every night,’’ Ntilikina said following Friday’s morning shootaround. “I’m going 100 against every point guard in the league. He’s a very talented guard. We’re in the same class. But all the point guards in this league are very talented, so I have to be sure I’m 100 percent each game.”

Ntilikina prefers point guard but said: “I think that experience helped me. I know I feel more comfortable than last year playing basketball. I know I’m good at other positions.’’

Fizdale also praised Smith, calling him “super quick, bouncy, nice-looking shot, super competitive.”

Knicks GM Scott Perry passed over Ntilikina when he was Sacramento’s No. 1 decision-maker in the 2017 draft. Perry took point guard De’Aaron Fox at No. 5 out of Kentucky. Fox posted his first triple-double (31 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds) Thursday night and has helped key Sacramento’s surprising start.

Fizdale praised Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, head of the coach’s association, for being one of the first to call after he got fired by Memphis.

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