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Porzingis fuels MVP hype after scoring career-high 38 points

Kristaps Porzingis is trying his best to ignore the growing buzz around his performances. He’s pretending not to hear the “MVP” chants that accompanied his career night at the Garden, and he’s invoking Kobe Bryant to stay on course.

“I watched a Kobe interview, the game he had 81, he said he never stopped to think, ‘Oh I got 50. I got 60.’ He just kept going,” Porzingis said. “That’s my mentality always. Whatever is going on I just keep being aggressive, keep playing my game, and once the game is over I check my stats.”

Porzingis didn’t quite drop 81 points on Monday night. But he was almost halfway there at 38, which represented a career-high for the Latvian in another victory for the surging Knicks, 116-110, over the Nuggets.

Suddenly, Porzingis’ scoring outbursts feel like more than just a hot streak. The 22-year-old was already the first Knick ever to score 30 or more points in four of the first five games. After Monday, he’s the first in franchise history to do it in five of the first six.

Is this the Porzingis we can expect moving forward?

“I’d like to think so,” he said.

His teammates weren’t so humble. Enes Kanter, who is progressing into the solid complementary frontcourt partner for Porzingis, took the hype to the next level.

Kristaps Porzingis showed he's a realistic MVP candidate.

Kristaps Porzingis showed he’s a realistic MVP candidate.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

“He’s obviously really, really young, but Derrick Rose got his MVP when he was 23,” Kanter said. “I think Kristaps will be part of the MVP conversation, definitely.”

That’s beyond a longshot while playing for a rebuilding team, but any more all-around performances like Monday will be hard to ignore. There were four 3-pointers from Porzingis, including one launched confidently from just inside the midcourt Knicks logo.

There was an alley-oop dunk caught from a seemingly impossible height, which preceded his emphatic rejection at the rim. The first half ended with a tidy encapsulation of Porzingis’ excellence. On one end, he nailed a difficult turnaround on the baseline. On the other end — just four seconds and a full-court sprint later — he blocked Paul Millsap’s layup attempt.

“I mean, he’s 7-3. What can you do, really?” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “He’s 7-3, can handle the ball, run the lane like a wing. You can’t really – I’m lost for words – you can’t really do much. Like I said we’ll get the ball to the big man all the time as long as he’s producing like this. It was great to watch and be on the floor at the same time he’s doing it.”

Monday’s matchup was hyped as a battle between two of the best Europeans in the NBA, but Denver’s Nikola Jokic couldn’t hold Porzingis’ unicorn saddle. As a result, the Knicks (3-3) are riding a three-game winning streak for the first time since Dec. 6.

It’s quite a turnaround after losing their first eight preseason and regular-season contests. They look like a completely different group than the one embarrassed by Boston just six days prior.

Kenneth Faried defends Michael Beasley.

Kenneth Faried defends Michael Beasley.

(Frank Franklin II/AP)

“I think the Celtics game was just a bad game. You have those every once in a while,” Jeff Hornacek said. “We’re shooting the ball better from the three-point line. Guys are getting more familiar with our plays, not thinking out there. They’re just running through them, making reads. They’re setting good screens. Overall we’re playing better.”

But Monday was not without drama. Having built a 22-point lead on Porzingis’ turnaround jumper just before halftime, the Knicks coughed it all up just five minutes into third quarter. Turnovers spread like an infectious disease (12 in the third quarter), and Denver held a two-point lead with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter.

That’s about when Porzingis caught Courtney Lee’s alley-oop and sent MSG into a frenzy.

“I feel like I threw it a little too high, but then I saw who I was throwing it too,” Lee said. “And he stuck his arm out like Inspector Gadget and he got it.”

‘Unicorn.’ ‘KP6.’ ‘Godzingis.’ ‘Inspector Gadget.’ Porzingis had a different nickname being shouted Monday from the Garden crowd: “M-V-P.” 

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