Frank Ntilikina does not sound happy inside Knicks’ doghouse
26th December 2018

This has been a trying month for Frank Ntilikina, with his French hometown of Strasbourg making international headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Ntilikina’s mother, Jacqueline, flew to New York earlier this week to be with her son and watch him play on Christmas Day at the Garden against the Bucks. The terrorist attack on Dec. 11 at the tourist enclave called the “Christmas Market” in his hometown had shaken him.

But in an odd maneuver, Knicks coach David Fizdale put a lump of coal into Ntilikina’s Christmas stocking, as the Knicks’ 2017 lottery pick received his season’s fourth DNP.

Yes, Ntilikina was slumping, but the Knicks’ two other point guards, Emmanuel Mudiay (5-of-14, five turnovers) and Trey Burke (1-of-7, 2 points), were playing erratically. And Fizdale had plenty of opportunity to get Ntilikina in the contest with the Knicks trailing by 14-plus points across the entire fourth quarter.

Just on Friday, team president Steve Mills, in his sitdown with Knicks writers, said the franchise has to “allow [Ntilikina’s] confidence on the offensive end of the floor to sort of live within him all the time.”

After the loss, Ntilikina dressed slowly and quietly in the Knicks’ locker room and, for once, there were no French reporters to record his thoughts. Ntilikina, who received three DNPs earlier this month, spoke more softly — and somberly — than usual.

“I don’t know how long it will be [this time],” Ntilikina told The Post. “I can’t predict each and every game in the future. One thing I can do is get ready for each and every one — which I will do. Practice hard, get ready physically and mentally for the next game.”

After he made his last return from Fizdale’s doghouse, Ntilikina came back with fire and played three electric games. But he fell back into his offensive lethargy and was 6-of-27 from the field in the past five outings. He was scoreless in the prior outing, Friday against Atlanta. Though known for his defense, Ntilikina’s production needs to improve from his 6.3 scoring average on 34.8 percent shooting.

“Did I know that I would not play today?” Ntilikina said with an edge. “Coach makes his decision during the game. So you don’t know. You know that, right?”

So the DNP was a surprise. Fizdale explained it was time to restart Burke, who had been a DNP the past two outings after he came back rusty from spraining his knee. The Knicks face the Bucks again Thursday to kick off a murderous six-game road trip, and Fizdale has a French decision to make.

“Frank is very important to us, and we just have to find a way to just get that confidence back for him,” Fizdale said.

Fizdale explained Ntilikina was “struggling,” and he needed to jump-start Burke. But it was a head-scratching time to not attempt to spotlight Ntilikina on the NBA’s showcase day if he’s regarded as a key cog for the future.

“That’s kind of what I’ve been doing with these guys,” Fizdale said. “When one guy hits a certain amount of gas where he’s struggling, next guy up. Let’s give them a look. It’ll never be a permanent thing.”

Last week in Philly, Fizdale said he sensed Ntilikina loses his mojo when he misses his first shot or two.

“I’ve got to get more confidence when I’m on the court,” Ntilikina told The Post. “It will get better.”

Ntilikina wouldn’t say if his formerly strained shoulder is bothering him or if he’s feeling mental fatigue from the Strasbourg attack. When, in Cleveland, he learned of the attack, Ntilikina sounded OK, saying he had contacted his mother and two brothers, and everyone was safe. But he recently revealed in the New York Times it was a rough experience.

“I was really worried,” Ntilikina said. “I was watching this on my phone trying to follow what was happening, calling all my family and friends. Thankfully, I had news from everyone. It’s something that touches your life.

“You think, you don’t want this to happen. Then you think, you don’t want this to happen to your friends or family. Then you think, God, this could have been me because I was there all the time.”

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