NEW ORLEANS — The irony is Mavericks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. likes Frank Ntilikina a lot. On and off the court.
Forever inextricably linked, Smith and Ntilikina were in the same city again Friday as they were on draft night in June.
With the Pelicans facing a Mavericks-Knicks back-to-back, Smith lit up the Big Easy on Friday with his first career triple-double (21 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds) to lead Dallas to an upset over New Orleans. Then it was Ntilikina’s turn Saturday. He didn’t post flashy numbers (eight points, four assists, five rebounds) but got the win, too, over New Orleans.
The first Ntilikina-Smith showdown is in one week, Sunday in Dallas. As LeBron James so eloquently pointed out, Knicks president Phil Jackson bypassed Smith at No. 8 for Ntilikina, who is excelling most on defense.
“Me and Frank are actually cool,’’ Smith told The Post on Friday in New Orleans. “At the draft — I’ve been playing with a lot of those draft guys since middle school — but I probably talked to Frank more than anybody else other than Markelle Fultz, then at the rookie photo shoot, too. Frank and I are cool.”
“We’re going to go out there and compete,’’ Smith added of the showdown. “I wouldn’t expect anything else from him. No beef between me and Frank.”
Ntilikina posted his career-high 11 assists in San Antonio on Thursday and will have his Tony Parker rematch Tuesday at the Garden. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek hinted Saturday Ntilikina could possibly start later this season.
“He’s a really good player. He’s smart on both ends, and he’s a really, really good defender,” Smith said.
James stirred the pot last month with his headline-making remark: “The Knicks passed on a really good one, and Dallas got the diamond in the rough. He should be a Knick.’’
Ntilikina wound up shoving James two days later, when the Knicks faced the Cavaliers. Enes Kanter delivered several supportive rants.
“Shouldn’t they have been upset?” Smith said. “I’ll holler at [Ntilikina] before we play them. That’s my guy. He’s a cool dude.”
Smith viewed it as more a compliment to him than a shot at Ntilikina. (James claimed it was a shot at Phil Jackson.)
“The best player in the league, he’s giving you any kind of praise, you appreciate it,’’ Smith said. “I think people got blown up. That’s what he said. But LeBron has been a big brother to me for years. He’s supposed to look after me like that.”
Ntilikina told The Post he has nothing against Smith. The James remark was independent.
“He was a very good guy during the draft process,’’ Ntilikina said. “It was short moments, but we talked a lot.”
Entering draft night, Smith still thought the Knicks would take him. A handful of Knicks scouts loved Smith’s explosiveness. As Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of the triple-double, “It’s the first of many. You get a triple-double in an NBA game as a rookie point guard, that’s a big deal.”
“I thought they liked me a lot,’’ Smith said. “Everything happens for a reason. I’m happy for him and his success.”
In mid-June, Smith dined with Jackson but never worked out. Smith claimed the Knicks went back on their word.
“Something was established — I was going to work out, but just no physicals,’’ Smith said. “They kept saying, let’s get a physical, let’s get a physical. It was going back on your word, so I was saying no.”
Does he wish he would have been on a bigger stage than with the 12-25 Mavericks?
“I don’t regret nothing, especially something I couldn’t control,’’ Smith said. “I’m where I’m supposed to be. Knicks fans were mad at me because they didn’t pick me. They’re trying to start drama with me. I didn’t do anything.’’
Against the Pelicans, Smith hit 5-of-7 3-pointers, but also committed seven turnovers in becoming the third youngest to post a triple-double.
“That’s something I can do – there will be a lot more in my future,’’ said the N.C. State product. “It happened in college twice for me. It’s a great feeling since we won. I almost had a quadruple, had a lot of turnovers. My teammates picked me up, told me to keep playing. Coaches said the same thing. They showed they believed in me through mistakes.”
One weakness for Ntilikina is his penetration — at which Smith thrives.
“They were trying to press up at first, so I could get to the rack whenever I wanted,’’ Smith said. “So when my floater went down, everyone started backing off. My jump shot was falling tonight, and that opened the offense for everyone else.’’
Next Sunday in Dallas should be delicious. Maybe even James will watch.