NEW YORK -- Kristaps Porzingis is intimately familiar with the winding hallways of Madison Square Garden. For the nearly four years he played for the New York Knicks, Porzingis would saunter up the ramp from the loading dock, walk down one dimly lit hallway and turn right into the Knicks' locker room. Thursday will mark the first time Porzingis will turn left and enter the sparsely decorated visitors locker room.
Porzingis has already faced the Knicks once this season, but Thursday will be the first time he has played his former team in his former home arena since the trade that sent him to the Dallas Mavericks. If Twitter is any indication of how fans will receive him, Porzingis said he expects to be booed.
"Social media is mostly negative," Porzingis said after the team's practice on Wednesday. "We will see. It is going to be a lot of emotion, that is for sure. I am excited to play. Playing at the Garden is always fun. It is going to be weird at the same time."
The Knicks drafted Porzingis in 2015 and fans booed him during the selection. Then, Porzingis became the face of the franchise. Years of losing took a toll on the young All-Star. Porzingis infamously skipped his exit meeting with former team president Phil Jackson and expressed discontent with the franchise's direction. President Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry traded Porzingis to the Mavericks ahead of the 2019 trade deadline.
Leaning up against the wall of the National Basketball Players Association gym -- the same gym where Porzingis once spent time rehabbing from a torn ACL -- Porzingis said he was uninterested in revisiting the contentious circumstances that led to his move to the Mavericks.
"It is in the past now," Porzingis said. "It happened. I am in a new place."
The Knicks, however, are in a familiar position. They have sputtered to a 2-9 record and have been blown out by the Cavaliers and the Bulls -- both teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. After their poor performance against Cleveland, which caused fans to violently boo the Knicks off their home court, Mills and Perry addressed reporters and voiced their discontent with the way the team has been playing. Porzingis has seen all of that unfold from afar.
"When I was there, the expectation was always high for us," Porzingis said. "It is a city that is hungry for success in basketball. And for them, for the fans, for the city to be going through this year after year, it has got to be tough. When things are not going right, there needs to be changes, and this year is no different for them again."
Having faced the Knicks in early November helped with his nerves, Porzingis said. Before that game, which the Mavericks lost 106-102, coach Rick Carlisle told Porzingis to "lose yourself in the team and don't get distracted by who we are playing." Carlisle said he plans to reiterate that advice.
"He did that in the first game and he had a very good all-around game [with 28 points]. We just didn't win," Carlisle said. "My advice this time is really the same. We got to make this about our team being in New York and competing to try to win a game, not about these other kinds of distractions."