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Kristaps Porzingis powers Knicks past Hornets with 29 and 11

On draft night, they booed Kristaps Porzingis.

On Tuesday, they chanted his name as the soundtrack to a victory at the Garden.

It was Porzingis’ night in Manhattan, a validation of what has been building into a Latvian storm of hope for the Knicks. He dropped in a career-high 29 points, making it look easy at times, hitting shots from near and far to barbecue the Hornets in a 102-94 victory Tuesday.

The pre-draft projections looked off by a few years, even if Porzingis never doubted he was NBA-ready.

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Kristaps Porzingis goes for a career-high 29 points as the Knicks beat the Hornets at the Garden – which chants the rookie’s name – on Tuesday night.

“Yes I was. Everyone said I was a project, a few years,” Porzingis said. “I will get better in a few years, but I’m ready to play right now.”

He certainly showed it in a performance that was much more than the putback dunks and flashy plays that, up until Tuesday, had highlighted his NBA career. Porzingis, 20, hit 10 of his 17 shots with 11 rebounds, ending the game at the free throw line with a final round of adulation from the fans.

“M-V-P,” they shouted.

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After an and-1 layup in the fourth quarter to put the Knicks up by 10, they erupted in their first organic chant of “Por-Zing-Is.”

“Sooner or later (I thought they’d be chanting my name),” said Porzingis, who also nailed both his 3-point attempts. “I wasn’t expecting it to be right now.”

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Carmelo Anthony scores 18 points, grabs 11 rebounds and adds 5 assists in the win.

When coach Derek Fisher had Porzingis on the bench and the Knicks nearly blew their late lead, the crowd pleaded for his return.

“It is still a learning process for him but it was a big game,” Carmelo Anthony said. “I am sure it is going to be the first of many.”

There’s a balance to Porzingis’ quick success, and a warning from Fisher that this can’t be a nightly occurrence, not for such a young player so early in his career. But most of what’s been settled in the opening three weeks – both from Porzingis and the Knicks as a whole – has been encouraging.

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Porzingis sets the Garden in motion the way Hornets guard Jeremy Lin once did.

The Knicks (6-6) are already two months ahead of last season’s pace, having failed in Fisher’s first year to win their sixth game until Jan. 19. That team started 5-36. It was also pre-Porzingis, with Anthony operating on a balky knee.

These Knicks have exceeded the early expectations, navigating a tough schedule before an easier December. They won Tuesday despite poor shooting from Anthony (6-for-18), who, while assisting Porzingis display his offensive versatility, took on a secondary role in stride.

Anthony dished out five assists – including two to Porzingis – with 11 rebounds and one successful dive for a loose ball. During one especially selfless play from Anthony at the end of the third quarter, he passed up a 3-pointer to swing the ball to Langston Galloway in the corner. Galloway hit the shot at the buzzer and the Knicks went into the fourth quarter leading 80-72.

The night also marked the return of Jeremy Lin, the Hornets guard who scored 13 points off the bench and used to have his name chanted at the Garden. For one night Tuesday – and for what figures to be many more – he was replaced by a 7-3 forward from Latvia.

“It is tough playing in New York, especially for a guy who has never done it, doesn’t know anything about New York,” Anthony said of Porzingis. “I want him to succeed here.

“It felt good to hear his name being chanted in the arena,” he added. “I’m proud of him.” 

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