New York’s pick-up game defense neutralizes improved offense

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Win three in a row, lose three in a row. Beat the Heat, get swept on a home-and-home by the Pacers.

Getting a read on the New York Knicks with Carmelo Anthony is hard because they are so erratic. They are 6-6 since the trade drama ended and have looked both like the team nobody wants to face in the first round and have looked like a team that will be swept right out of the playoffs.

Why? Their defense.

John Schuhmann over at NBA.com broke down the numbers and found that since the trade the Knicks offense has improved from 107.6 points per 100 possessions to 109.6. The problem is the defense went from giving up 106.1 points per 100 possessions to 109.2.

Since the break, the Knicks have the fourth-best offense in the league, but the 24th-best defense. And it’s not like they’ve been playing some offensive juggernauts in that stretch. In fact, eight of their last 12 opponents are in the bottom half of the league offensively. They allowed the Pacers to shoot 54 percent over two games in the last few days, after Indiana shot just 41 percent over their previous six games.

He went a step farther and noticed when Amar’e Stoudemire and Anthony are on the court together, they allow 110.9 points per 100 possessions. The offense is at 110.5. So, essentially it’s a wash. We’ll add that the Knicks still have done the best when just Stoudemire is on the floor.

I hear the Knicks fans argument now — we traded away our depth to get two stars together. The defensive players can be put in place around them, but getting two stars had to be the priority. That is how you win a title. Plus, Chauncey Billups has been out for a number of those games.

Valid points. But the numbers are showing what our eyes have already seen — the Knicks have their stars but still have a long way to go to be contenders for anything. And that fixing the defense has got to be the off-season priority.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?