Former Jazz center Enes Kanter is playing the best basketball of his career —and still enjoys playing the villain

New York Knicks' Enes Kanter, center, shoots against Boston Celtics' Aron Baynes, left, and Jayson Tatum (0) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

New York • Utah Jazz fans won’t want to hear this, given the acrimonious way he departed a few years ago.

But here goes anyway: Former Jazz center Enes Kanter is playing the best basketball of his career. And along with star forward Kristaps Porzingis, he presented a big matchup problem for the Jazz on Wednesday night, when they face the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden.

Kanter still enjoys playing the villain. On Monday night, he and LeBron James engaged in a public dustup complete with postgame barbs tossed back and forth by both men after the Cavaliers edged the Knicks. But Jazz fans shouldn’t let that distract them from the fact that Kanter’s enjoyed a resurgence.

“He’s been great for us,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “He brings a physical attitude to the team. I was happy the other day he stood up for Frank in that thing with LeBron (James). He’s older and more experienced. He’s having fun.”

Since being traded to the Knicks in the deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City, Kanter is averaging 14 points and more than 11 rebounds per game. He has provided the Knicks with interior scoring and a tough and physical presence on the block. Knicks fans have taken to Kanter, who has become a crowd favorite.

“He’s a superior rebounder and offensive player,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He and Kristaps complement each other very well.”

On Wednesday night, Kanter scored eight points against the Jazz in the first half. He went 4 of 5 from the field, adding three rebounds.

Spacing the floor

Jonas Jerebko started for Utah for the second consecutive game and established a season-high in Wednesday’s first half, scoring nine points and going 3 of 6 from 3-point range.

Jerebko began the season out of Utah’s rotation, but has become more important in recent weeks, as the Jazz have been missing Rudy Gobert and Joe Johnson.

Approaching an anniversary

Hornacek is almost 16 years removed from having his jersey retired by the Jazz. The ceremony was Nov. 19, 2002, and something Hornacek originally didn’t want.

“I remember Larry (Miller) asked me to pick a date,” Hornacek said. “So a year went by and I didn’t pick a date. He picked one for me. It was definitely an honor and something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

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