Raymond Felton is really the man who can revive New York basketball

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The Knicks are back.

Massive billboards in Times Square proclaim it, so it must be true.

And it would be good for the league, in the same way it is good for baseball to have the Yankees in the playoffs. New York is good for the league.

Amar’e Stoudemire has brought his high-flying dunks and amazing athleticism to New York to save Knicks basketball from the wandering in the desert, which is what recent seasons felt like.

Plus Knicks fans are falling in love with Timofey Mozgov as part of that revival. Knicks fans feel like they are finally getting a quality player everyone overlooked, as opposed to an overpaid player nobody wanted.

Then there are rumors of another savior — Carmelo Anthony — forcing his way out of Denver to New York. A forward who can light up the scoreboard with a 3-pointer or a post move. An elite scorer (although that can be up for debate) who would certainly change the future of the Knicks.

There’s a lot of hype about the saviors of the Knicks.

But as often happens with the trendiest restaurants and newest Broadway shows — the hype in New York has got it wrong.

If the Knicks are turning it around this season, it will be Raymond Felton who does it.

Stoudemire was a force in Phoenix, but he had Steve Nash feeding him the ball. Right now Carmelo has Chauncey Billups at the point taking pressure off him, and before that Allen Iverson taking shots away from him. Both of those amazing forwards have only known success with a strong point guard.

In the Mike D’Antoni system the point guard is king. And last season Chris Duhon didn’t wear the crown well, so the Knicks spent $7 million to bring in Felton to run the show. This was the less-discussed, less-hyped change that really will determine how the Knicks will play.

And on one level it made some sense — last season Felton was far better in transition offense than Duhon. In transition, Duhon shot 36.6 percent, Felton 66.4 percent. Duhon turned the ball over on 17 percent of his fastbreak opportunities, Felton 12 percent. Felton was also better in shooting percentage, points per possession and lower turnovers as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll last season than Duhon.

He was the man who could make it work.

Except that so far he hasn’t.

Through much of the preseason, Felton looked lost and unsure. He has looked a little heavy and slow. He has shot just 34.9 percent. Toney Douglas has outplayed him and has fans wondering if the backup shooting guard was really better off as the starting point guard.

Frankly, Felton has looked like the Felton from two and three years ago. The one that historically is no better than Duhon. Felton’s play has further fueled Knicks fans’ obsession with Chris Paul, but that doesn’t solve the now.

This has to be the biggest concerns for the Knicks — Stoudemire and Mozgov provide a good front line, and both are very good as the roll man in the pick-and-roll. Both can run the floor. There are some good shooters and role players on the roster. But that only works well if they have a point guard that can really set everyone up, who reads the floor well coming off a pick or can spot the lob coming on a fast break.

Maybe Tuesday Felton started to turn the corner, scoring 13 points and dishing out 11 assists against the Nets. (Of course, Douglas had 24 points and six steals, but don’t tell anyone). Also, no matter how he shoots, Felton is a better defender than Duhon — he fights over picks, doesn’t just sag under every single one.

Knicks fans had better hope the corner is turned. Go to church and light a candle, meditate on it, do whatever it is you do to bring good vibes to a situation.

Because for all the billboards and hype, it is Raymond Felton that is the savior of Knicks basketball. This year, anyway.

Rumor: NBA executives think Rockets have shot at signing LeBron James

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LeBron James is now rumored to be headed to about 29 NBA teams this summer when he can opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. Earlier this week, we heard rumblings that LeBron could be interested in sharing a Los Angeles Lakers roster with Dallas Mavericks center-at-large Nerlens Noel.

Now we’re hearing that NBA executives think the Houston Rockets have a chance of nabbing The King in the summer of 2018.

All aboard the Banana Boat.

According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, both the Rockets themselves and rival execs think Houston is a real landing spot for James thanks in part to how well they are playing this season. James Harden is having another MVP-caliber year, and Chris Paul has played beautifully in his return.

Via USA Today:

While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance. And once you really look at it, when you get past all the noise about the Lakers and even the compelling case for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, it makes all sorts of sense.

The only team we haven’t heard connecting rumors about is the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves. LeBron — whose family lives in LA — recently bought a new house there and all signs point to James heading to the Western Conference. Well, unless he goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, of course.

Then again it felt like a certainty that LeBron would head to the New York Knicks nearly a decade ago, an idea that seems hilarious in retrospect. The NBA is weird, and if LeBron dips from Cleveland expect it to get even weirder.

Sixers’ Robert Covington to miss at least one game after crashing into stands

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NBA fans love hustle from their players, but sometimes things go awry.

That’s what happened on Saturday night after Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington dove into the stands to try to save a loose ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The play came in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left and the Sixers down by just one point. Covington leapt into the far sideline just near the Cavaliers bench. He appeared to turn his ankle and land awkwardly on his back. The Cleveland floor has a small lip after the first row of seats that may have played a part in the injury.

Cleveland would go on to score on the play, and Covington had to be helped off the floor. The Cavaliers went on to win, 105-98.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will play Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, Covington will miss the game with a lower back contusion.

Via NBCSN Philadelphia:

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington’s injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

Back injuries can be a complete hassle to recover from, especially when you’re deep in the middle of the season. Let’s hope the Sixers get Covington back soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunked all over Rudy Gobert (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks a lot. The Milwaukee Bucks forward is big, strong, and aggressive when it comes to attacking the rim.

But he doesn’t typically dunk this hard or this emphatically over perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Rudy Gobert.

That’s what made this one special.

As time was winding down in Milwaukee’s eventual 117-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Antetokounmpo put the exclamation point at the end of the sentence for the Bucks.

Gobert took the brunt of it. Via Twitter:

Goodness.

Gordon Hayward on playing this season: “It’s definitely in the back of my mind”

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Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been going through some grueling physical therapy to aid his recovery from a horrible leg injury he suffered during his first game with the team back in October. Hayward wound up breaking his ankle, likely putting him out for the season.

Meanwhile, whether Hayward plays or not during the 2017-18 campaign is still up for debate. Hayward is making progress in his recovery — he recently was able to take his walking boot off and go for a smaller ankle brace.

For his part, Hayward has said that he is still thinking about the possibility of returning this season to the Celtics, who have earned themselves the top spot in the Eastern Conference in his absence.

Speaking to Adam Himmelsbach over at the Boston Globe, Hayward detailed not only his recovery routine but his thinking when it came to planning his return.

Via The Boston Globe:

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Hayward said. “I’m definitely pushing to get back as fast as I can, while making sure that I still have a lot of good years of basketball in me. And coming back early and hurting something else is not part of that plan. So I’m making sure that if I come back, I’m 1,000 percent confident in myself and my leg. I hope more than anything I can play this season. That would be awesome. But that’s not something I’m stressing about. I’m stressing about what I can do today to help myself get better.”

That’s smart thinking on Hayward’s part. Too often it seems like guys are jonesing to come back, and when they do it’s cause for concern that they’re damaging their long-term playing health.

Hayward is making some real progress — the Globe story details him doing tasks like picking up marbles with his toes and shooting baskets from a chair as part of his PT — but whether he’ll be ready this season is doubtful.

It doesn’t sound like Hayward wants to rush things, but you never know. His agent did say that his return this year is unlikely, but another report has said that his earliest return would be March. Just in time to make a run for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers?

We’ll have to wait and see.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story and the Boston Globe one was published on Sunday morning, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the team isn’t planning for Hayward to come back. The plot thickens!