HOUSTON – First LeBron James, now James Harden.
He has gone from the absurd to the surreal when Mario Hezonja starts as the point guard on Friday against the Red Rockets and faces the brilliant defense team of Harden and Chris Paul.
The 6-9 striker has been changed to attack the offense and defend Harden because the four Knicks guards on the 15-man roster are now out and out of the game. Emmanuel Mudiay hit the shelf with persistent pain in the shoulder. Harden scored 61 points in the last meeting at the Garden in January.
Hezonja, who came off his personal record of 29 points in Wednesday's loss to the Magic, was put on the defensive when asked about this challenge, as he is not a natural setter.
"How do you know?" Said the eccentric Croatian. "Do you see basketball?"
Hezonja said he played for the last time as a point guard in his rookie season in Orlando with former coach Scott Skiles and had played in Europe. The troubling part is how he handles Harden, who averages 36 points per game this season and always delivers for the Knicks.
But you may not want to underestimate Hezonja in a great place, judging by his last second block in a James driving three weeks ago at the Garden, his highlight of his career.
"One of the best players in the world, obviously," Hezonja said of Harden. "But it's not a different mentality from LeBron, (Ben) Simmons, Giannis (Antetokounmpo) It's the NBA, you can protect a superstar every day."
Is Harden different from LeBron?
"Everyone is unique, but they are on the same superstar level," said Hezonja. "It's picking up your poison, I'll try to do my best and see how it goes."
When asked if he has the confidence to do well against Harden after his magical moment against James, when he annulled him in the final stretch, the 24-year-old said "absolutely".
Hezonja did not flinch at the point because on David Fizdale's offense "without a position", he has raised the ball on occasion, and he did a lot in Orlando on Wednesday.
As a free agent this summer, Hezonja said he would be welcome as a point guard in the future, even though he has been accused of making bad decisions during his career and trying too hard.
There was no place for Hezonja at the time with the Knicks, until this last wave of bad luck occurred.
"It's just that we had a lot of guards on the team," Hezonja said. "I'm not going to steal someone's work because I can play in various positions."
Mudiay was the last one to stand up and will rest with a persistent pain in the shoulder that left him out for a prolonged period before the All-Star break. They have already potentially made for the season Frank Ntilikina (groin), Dennis Smith Jr. (back) and Kadeem Allen (concussion). Only Ntilikina has been officially ruled out for the year.
The Rockets (18-4) have the best record in the NBA since the All-Star break, while the Knicks have the worst record since the break (4-16).