Knicks get the better of Heat as LeBron misses down the stretch

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Talk about a turnaround. From losing to the Cavaliers to beating the Heat, welcome to the Carmelo Anthony era.

The Knicks did what you’d expect them to do for 3/4 of this game. They didn’t play defense, they took a lot of jumpshots, and they looked a step behind the Heat. Then all of a sudden, it came together all at once, and it was like some weird beam of contention sunlight came beaming in through the clouds. And it started with Chauncey Billups. For all the talk of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, Billups has been treated as a second-class asset, a throw-in, inconsequential and expired in terms of usefulness. But against Miami, he hit key shot after key shot, communicated on both ends of the floor, and set the tone. He was what sparked the Knicks.

Carmelo and Amar’e did the rest. Stoudemire struggled mightily in the first half against Chris Bosh, fought to a stand-still in the third, then took over in the fourth. It was his block — not his scoring, his block — on LeBron James that sealed it. It was Anthony forcing James into a maladjusted shot that enabled the block, not Melo’s stroke. Though both had it going on the offensive end as well. Stoudemire and Anthony combined to shoot 18-36 from the field, and they’ll take that any day of the week. The Big 2 are going to get their points, it just depends on whether they’re going to get them efficiently or not.

Meanwhile, the Heat?

We’ll keep asking until we’re blue in the face or they’re blown out of the playoffs. What’s it going to take for this team to play with intensity and focus? For as good as they would look early in both halves, they finished terribly, unable to get on the same page, unable to get the Big 3 involved, and unable to get the win against a playoff team. That’s losses to Boston, Chicago, and New York in the month of February.  And March? March brings a murderer’s row with Orlando, San Antonio, the Lakers, Chicago, Portland, Atlanta and the Thunder all in the same month. The Heat are running out of chances for statement games, and instead seem to wilt in the biggest moments. They have their win over the Lakers on Christmas. That was nice. And they have two wins over the Magic. But other than that, the Heat have struggled with statement games.

For as far back as the Knicks are in the playoff race, the Heat allowed them to make one tonight, by simply focusing and executing.  The Heat have proven time and time again this year that if you press, they’ll simply fall apart. If you withstand the firepower, you can overcome them on the ground.  The Knicks took the best of what the Heat could give. Then they returned the favor. The result?

The whole world has seen how far behind the Celtics the Heat are. After tonight they’ll be wondering how far behind the Heat the Knicks are.

Notes:

  • The biggest question when Melo was acquired was how he would fit into Mike D’s system, because that would determine how he fits in with Stoudemire. Instead, Anthony is integrating himself with Amar’e, working off of him in double-post sets at the elbow and block, and using it to free himself . D’Antoni has shown no impulse in trying to make Anthony into a part of his system, but instead is willing to let him use his unique talents to integrate those into the flow of the offense.
  • Moderate pace (95) tonight, which is higher but not super-high, especially for what these two teams are capable of.
  • How bad was the offense tonight for both teams, in terms of shooting? The Heat shot the best from the field at 43%. They lost.
  • The Knicks do not have a legitimate center. So Joel Anthony going -17 is pretty horrific.
  • Mario Chalmers had zero assists and 2 turnovers. Starting point guard, that.
  • Stoudemire and Anthony combined for 19 boards. It’s been a question for a long time, but those two are holding up their end of the bargain on the glass.

Report: Thunder signing Dakari Johnson two years after drafting him

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Two seasons ago, Dakari Johnson was the youngest player by more than two years on the D-League’s All-Rookie team. Last season, Johnson was the youngest player by more than a year on an All-D-League team – and he made the first of three teams.

Now, Johnson – who the Thunder drafted No. 48 in 2015 and whose rights they continued to hold – is finally moving up to the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Thunder have already used the full taxpayer mid-level exception, so presumably Johnson will get the minimum – $2,128,226 over two years. That, plus two years of meager D-League salary, will be Johnson’s return for granting Oklahoma City four years of his services.

He could have forced the Thunder’s hand either of the previous two years by signing the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum – a team must extend to retain a draft pick’s rights. Accepting the tender would have meant Johnson earning an NBA salary (and gaining a year of service) if Oklahoma City kept him past the preseason. Or, if they waived him, he would’ve been an unrestricted NBA free agent. He still could have developed with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate while available to any NBA team.

Instead, Johnson repeatedly rejected the tender, allowing Oklahoma City to maintain exclusive negotiating rights.

At least the Thunder helped develop him. A strong 7-footer, Johnson has improved his mobility and skill level. He’s still an old-school center in a league moving away from that style, but he’s now more equipped to keep up.

Whether he’s ready enough is another question. Johnson will fall behind Steven Adams and Enes Kanter on the depth chart. At just 21, Johnson is still a decent developmental prospect.

Johnson gives the Thunder 16 players on standard contracts, one more than the regular-season maximum. They could waive Semaj Christon, whose salary is unguaranteed, but I’d be leery of having only Raymond Felton behind Russell Westbrook at point guard. Nick Collison at least provides insurance at center.

So, there’s no guarantee Johnson sticks into the regular season. One thing working in his favor: His salary will be luxury-taxed at the rookie minimum, because the Thunder drafted him. Christon or any other player acquired through free agency would be taxed at the second-year minimum.

No matter how it shakes out, Johnson is at least finally getting significant money in his pocket.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey: DeMar DeRozan to play some point guard

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The Raptors gave away backup point guard Cory Joseph to save money. So, who will play behind Kyle Lowry?

Presumably, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet will each slide up a spot on the depth chart. The third-year Wright looks ready to join the rotation, and he deserves at least the opportunity.

But Toronto also has another – unexpected – option at point guard: DeMar DeRozan.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Bryan Meler of Sportsnet:

“DeMar DeRozan, have him handle the ball a bit more as a point guard, a facilitator, a passer. Kyle Lowry moving the ball a bit more, spacing up. We don’t want to give our whole ‘what we’re going to try to do next year’ away, but again it comes down to passing the basketball and better spacing more so, than we know, one-on-one play.”

“Everyone and their brother knows we want better ball movement,” said Casey.

DeRozan didn’t play point guard at all last season.* So, this is a pretty big shift.

*Defined as playing without Lowry, Joseph, Wright or VanVleet.

Known as an isolation player, DeRozan has quietly improved as a distributor. I don’t think his ability to run an offense is at a point-guard level, but I’m also not sure that’s the point.

The Raptors are trying to change their style and promote more ball movement. This could help in the long run.

I supported the Timberwolves playing Zach LaVine at point guard as a rookie even though it was clear he should be a shooting guard. Playing point guard was a crash course that helped him develop skills useful at shooting guard, skills he couldn’t have as easily developed while playing off the ball.

The same could be true with DeRozan. Some rocky minutes at point guard could better equip him to play with Lowry in better-passing units come playoff time.

It was more conventional to play a 19-year-old on a bad team out of position to focus on skill development than it is for a 28-year-old on a good team. But he we are.

The Raptors have achieved enough success in the regular season and not enough in the playoffs. Experimenting during the long regular season is a good plan.

Lakers meet with Derrick Rose, Ian Clark about backup point guard slot

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At a press conference this week introducing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Magic Johnson said that the Lakers wanted to find a backup point guard in the next week or so.

Thursday the Lakers took a couple of steps down that road, meeting with both Derrick Rose and Ian Clark.

Both men would serve as the backup to, and potential mentor for, Lonzo Ball. The questions come down to which man better fits that role, and of course money.

Rose put up solid numbers last season in New York — 18 points per game, a PER of 17 — and statistically appeared to be an average NBA point guard. However, he’s still a defensive liability, cannot space the floor as a shooter (21.7 percent from three last season), and he’s not versatile offensively.

Rose is thought to be choosing between the Lakers and Cavaliers, both teams offering one-year contracts (Chicago has been mentioned is a highly unlikely reunion). Cleveland can offer the chance to chase a ring and play with LeBron James, but only a veteran minimum contract of $2.1 million. The Lakers can offer the same minimum contract or the room exception of $4.3 million (it’s not known if the Lakers put that larger offer on the table, but it seems plausible to likely). Rose has to choose what he wants, what he prioritizes, in neither case is he going to start or be part of the long-term plans — this is a one-year choice.

Clark played for Luke Walton in Golden State, is younger and more athletic than Rose, shot 37.4 percent from three last season, and is coming off his best season playing almost 15 minutes a game and winning a ring with the Warriors. He’s not as good as running the offense as Rose, but last season he cut down on his turnovers and improved his defense, taking steps forward with both. If things work out, he could stick with the Lakers beyond this season, but they will only offer a one-year contract for now.

Los Angeles has other options out there on the point guard market — Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, Deron Williams — but the Lakers seem to have narrowed their choice down to Rose or Clark. Once they land the backup point guard, the roster will

Shaq calls his absurd light-up shoes the real Big Baller Brand

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Because 7’1″, 350-pound Shaquille O’Neal needed an impossible-to-ignore pair of light up shoes to call attention to himself…

Shaq posted a video of himself on Instagram wearing some outrageous light-up shoes — then in the comments decided to take another dig at Big Baller Brand.

Boy was shining wasn't he #whatarethose #shineonem #feetwork #shaqshoestherealbigballerbrand

A post shared by DR. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL Ed.D. (@shaq) on

So how much do those shoes cost? More or less than ZO2?

One of the things I enjoyed about Summer League was that as Lonzo Ball played better and better, the spotlight shifted more to his play and more away from his father. Think what you will of LaVar Ball — marketing genius or loud-mouthed dad — personally I’m just weary of him. I like Lonzo’s play, I don’t need the rest.

However, between Shaq and Charles Barkley, I think there’s going to be a lot of LaVar/Big Baller Brand talk on Inside the NBA next season. Those two can’t help themselves.