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Improved Knicks no match for elite Mavericks

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The Knicks have been playing winning basketball lately, but the set of circumstances they faced heading into Thursday night’s contest against the Mavericks was simply too much to overcome. Playing for the fourth time in five nights, in the second game of a back-to-back, on the road, against one of the league’s elite teams, New York looked to be a step slow from the start, and trailed by as many as 26 points before falling by a final of 127-109.

It was a tough spot for the Knicks, but let’s be honest: they probably weren’t going to beat this Dallas team anyway. The Mavericks are elite — stacked with talent, size, and a multitude of scorers. They move the ball as well as any team in the league to get open shots. And against a sluggish and shorthanded Knicks team that was playing without Chauncey Billups for the sixth straight game due to a thigh injury, Dallas took advantage from the very start.

Amar’e Stoudemire opened the game by hitting just one of his first eight from the field, Carmelo Anthony started off 3 for 10, and by halftime, the Mavs had put up 72 points while holding New York to a dismal 34.2% shooting.

Stoudemire’s 18-point third quarter helped cut a Dallas lead that reached as many as 26 points down to 13, but his team wasn’t able to get any closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

Speaking of Stoudemire, he picked up his 16th technical foul of the season in the second quarter, after getting tangled up with Brendan Haywood while the two were fighting for position. If it stands, it will result in a one-game suspension, but there’s a pretty good chance it won’t. This one was extremely questionable, and once the level-headed folks at the league office take another look at it in the next day or so, it’s more than likely to be rescinded.

Coming into this contest, the Knicks had won three straight, four of their last five, and had posted a record of 6-3 since making the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York city.  The team is certainly improved, and the circumstances may have conspired to make this already tough game in Dallas even tougher. But the bottom line is that the game may also be seen as a way to measure just how far away New York is from an overall talent standpoint to truly compete with the league’s top teams.

This gap isn’t what it once was when the season first started. It is still there, however, and it is still substantial.

Report: Video of night club incident shows Matt Barnes as assailant

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks on against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Kings forward Matt Barnes, according to one account, choked a woman and punched two other people during a nightclub fight early Monday morning. Barnes’ representatives said he was acting in self defense.

The truth?

That can be hazy, but apparently a piece of suggestive evidence exists.

A.J. Perez of USA Today:

Footage of the incident obtained by investigators appears to show Barnes was the assailant, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation who is not authorized to speak publicly because the investigation is ongoing.

This interpretation of the video might not be the only possible interpretation. This footage also might omit key details.

But in a situation with conflicting accounts by the involved parties, it’s something.

John Wall is frustrated with Wizards’ effort. Hard to blame him.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the Sacramento Kings at Verizon Center on November 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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There is no bigger disappointment in the NBA right now than the Washington Wizards at 7-13. They lost again Tuesday, this time to Orlando despite John Wall putting up a career-best 52 points.

There are a lot of places to point fingers with Washington. Their bench is one of the worst in the league. Their defense has been uninspired, especially if Marcin Gortat is not on the court. But after the latest Wizards’ loss a frustrated Wall went with something far more basic — effort. Via J. Michael at CSNMidAtlantic.com.

“Our job is to wake up and just play hard. Before you made it to the NBA or got a college scholarship, you played hard every day to get to where you wanted to,” said Wall, who had surgeries to both knees May 5. “To still be talking about playing hard, that’s something that you should be able to do after just waking up. Everybody has a job and they have to go work hard. Our job is to come here and play hard and compete. That’s the easiest thing that you should do without any contracts or any money, just come in and play basketball … if I had the answer we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Wall is having a strong season — 24.1 points and 9.3 assists per game, shooting 39.4 percent from three. Bradley Beal has played in 17 Wizards games and doing what you’d expect — shooting 41.5 percent from three, spacing the floor and giving them 21.4 points a game. Otto Porter has come into his own at the three spot and is averaging 14.4 points, and 7.9 rebounds a game, he has been sneaky good this season. Gortat has been what you’d expect.

After that it’s a disaster. Markieff Morris has been a disappointment after a strong end of last season. Tomas Satoransky shows flashes of promise, but he’s a rookie (one being asked to play a new position for him). The Wizards bench, in general, is one of the worst in the NBA — just ask Gortat. We can debate if Wall and Beal can really meld together, but it’s kind of a moot question right now with all that is wrong around them.

Throw in a lack of effort, and this is a roster that needs a shakeup. Maybe an organization that needs one. And considering they just gave Scott Brooks a five-year deal to coach, it’s GM Ernie Grunfeld who should feel his seat getting warm.

LeBron, can someone average a triple-double? “Westbrook can do it”

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 12:  LeBron James #27 (L) and Russell Westbrook #31 of the 2015 USA Basketball Men's National Team attend a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on August 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Through 22 games, Russell Westbrook is averaging 31 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.9 rebounds a night — the first guy to average a triple-double this deep into a season since Oscar Robertson did it for a full campaign in 1963. Westbrook has had a triple-double in six straight games.

The only question is: Can Westbrook keep this up? Can he average a triple-double for a season?

He’s got a backer in LeBron James. Here is what LeBron said at shootaround on Wednesday, as the Cavaliers were in New York to take on the Knicks, you can see his comments via ESPN.

“Westbrook can do it. He’s capable of doing it. He’s showing it. He’s like the Energizer Bunny, man. He just doesn’t get tired. He doesn’t get tired, and when you have that passion for the game, too, as well, it’s very doable. The game has definitely changed a little bit. It’s more, it’s almost feeling like back in, like, the 80s, you know, when teams were putting up 145 and 135 and more possessions and more shot attempts — obviously, they weren’t shooting as many 3s, but it was a lot of possessions. So with that being said, with his athleticism, him being able to get those rebounds, he handles the ball for the majority of the game for OKC so he’s gonna get the assists and I think he’s averaging nine free throws a game. He’s going to make seven or eight of those a game and obviously he’s going to get one bucket — he’s going to get 10 points. That’s the easy thing for him. So it’s very doable.”

I don’t think the question is can he do it? LeBron is right, he can. I think the question is will his body hold up? He’s a strong, well-conditioned athlete, but that is a lot of toll physically.

The Thunder need him to do this: Westbrook has 11 triple-doubles this season, the Thunder are 9-2 in those games. They are 5-6 when he fails.

Report: Donatas Motiejunas not reporting to Rockets over $6 million

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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Donatas Motiejunas — with his agent B.J. Armstrong — has backed himself into a bit of a corner.

The restricted free agent signed a four-year, $37 million offer sheet with the Nets, but it had a lot of favorable terms (the final two years are not fully guaranteed, for example) so as one would expect the Rockets matched it. However, under NBA rules the Rockets only had to match the base of the contract — $31 million worth — not the incentives. Which is what the Rockets did.

On Tuesday, Motiejunas did not report for his physical with Houston, and the $6 million is the reason, reports Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

Restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas won’t report to the Houston Rockets because of a difference of nearly $6 million from the offer sheet he signed with the Brooklyn Nets, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Last week, Motiejunas signed a four-year, $37 million offer sheet with the Nets. The Rockets on Monday opted to match that offer. However, based on the CBA, the Rockets only had to match the principle terms of the offer sheet, which came to $31 million. The $6 million difference was to be paid to Motiejunas via incentive clauses if he played for the Nets.

If you think this hasn’t happened before, go talk to Nicolas Batum. As Bobby Marks of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports noted on Twitter, earlier in his career Batum signed an offer sheet with Minnesota with incentives, Portland matched but not with the incentives, and Batum understood that’s how it works, showed hp and played for the Blazers.

Motiejunas may not like it, but the Rockets have almost all the power here. As of Thursday, the Rockets can pull the offer (even if they don’t, it will expire eventually on March 1), and at that point Motiejunas is a restricted free agent again. Right where he was before. The Nets can’t re-sign him to an offer now for another year. Other teams with the cap space aren’t interested (for example, Philadelphia has the room, but the last thing they need is another big man in the rotation). The Rockets would like him to play — as a big who can shoot the three he should fit well in the Mike D’Antoni system — but they are not going fail him on the physical and let him go for nothing (they can’t trade him until after the season, even if Motiejunas relents and signs the deal with the Rockets).

Motiejunas’ only play? Sit out. But at age 26, why is he wasting part of his short career window to make money playing basketball?