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Knicks practice notes: Mario Hezonja is back, but Dennis Smith Jr. hurt his back

Those and other updates from today’s practice session

NBA: New York Knicks at Detroit Pistons
Returning from a leg injury, Mario Hezonja has 14 games left to prove his worth.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

There are a number of news items to report on in the wake of Thursday’s Knicks practice in San Antonio, including Mario Hezonja’s impending return, Dennis Smith Jr.’s sore lower back, and Frank Ntilikina’s mysterious but improving groin injury.

The Knicks play the Spurs tomorrow, a team the ‘Bockers have beaten every single time they’ve played this season. Unfortunately, that achievement isn’t actually very impressive when you realize the teams have only played each other once. Hopefully Mitchell Robinson improves upon his stats from the late February 130-118 Knicks victory over the Spurs, when he posted 15 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks.

Anyway, the Knicks practiced on Thursday, and there is information to provide.

Say hello to Hezonja

The NBA’s version of Super Mario looks like he is on the verge of returning after missing a month. Hezonja hasn’t played since Feb. 13 because of a bone bruise in his left leg. The 24-year-old is now probable to play against the Spurs. It remains to be seen how much run David Fizdale will give him.

Hezonja was pleased to report his imminent return:

With only 14 games left in the season, the soon-to-be free agent must now show why someone should pay him a bunch of money to play for them next year. The 6’8” small forward clearly has athleticism and potential, but besides a few preposterous posterizations, his performance as a Knick has left a lot to be desired this season.

Hezonja is averaging 7.6 points and 3.7 rebounds on just under 40 percent shooting and roughly 28 percent from three. He also posts about 3.7 rebounds per game, and not much more.

Say it ain’t so, Dennis!

Smith Jr. is apparently questionable for the game against the Spurs because of a sore lower back, the cause of which is not totally clear.

Against the Indiana Pacers this past Tuesday, the 6’3, 21-year-old point guard played 25 minutes and put up 7 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists, but according to the various Knicks beat reporters, he’s got a back issue that will likely keep him out at least one game.

Earlier this season, in January — aka before he was traded to the Knicks — Smith Jr. missed four games, three of which were said to be related to a problematic back. That entire situation was strange though, as Smith Jr. was completely away from the team for a few days, and the whole thing happened while his name kept popping up in trade rumors.

It’s not totally clear what the deal is with his back, but perhaps his absence means that Kadeem Allen will get called up from the G-League for tomorrow’s game. Or maybe the Knicks will just go with only Emmanuel Mudiay as an available point guard. It’s their prerogative!

Regardless, here’s hoping the Knicks have a terrific chiropractor on staff so that Smith Jr.’s back pain doesn’t become a lingering issue.

So, about Frank…

As with most of the recent updates regarding a certain 20-year-old Frenchman, there’s not much new to say. Ntilikina has missed the last 20 games with a sore groin.

According to Chris Iseman of, Ntilikina “did a little more controlled contact during Thursday’s practice, but will still be out Friday.”

We already knew Frank was not going to play in San Antonio, as the Knicks recently informed us that Ntilikina will be re-evaluated after the team’s current road trip.

If for some reason the use of the term “re-evaluated” is giving you the heebie jeebies, it’s because in December the Knicks used that very word when talking about the recovery of Kristaps Porzingis.

Coach speaks about what owner said

You may have heard that James Dolan recently indicated the Knicks are very confident that they’re going to sign major free agents this summer. Fizdale was asked about those comments, and he unsurprisingly believes that the team he coaches is an attractive destination for really good basketballers.

“All of the feedback that we’ve gotten is young kids have gotten better, our guys compete their butts off,” Fizdale said after practice, according to Newsday’s Steve Popper. “We set ourselves up big-time for a great future and that’s what I’m listening to when I talk to my friends around the league and the feedback that I’m getting.”

This summer is certainly going to be something, that much you can definitely say. Enjoy your evening, everyone!