NBA Playoffs: Knicks take one more swing at Celtics

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Let’s start with the injury report: No Chauncey Billups and maybe no Amar’e Stoudemire for the New York Knicks. No Shaquille O’Neal for Boston, but that has not mattered.

New York always had just a puncher’s chance in this series — they were less talented but if Stoudemire could take over one game, if Anthony took over another, if Billups drained some big late shots then….

Nope. The Knicks landed their haymakers in Game 1 (Stoudemire was brilliant, so the Knicks went away from him in the final two minutes) and Game 2 (‘Melo went off) and it didn’t matter. The Celtics withstood the blows, executed late and won. Billups has been out since tweaking his knee late in Game 1 and been a non factor.

Game 3? That was pretty much where the talent levels of these teams are at. Boston was up 9-0 to start the game and it never felt any closer than that in a blowout win.

No Stoudemire and Billups should mean New York gives the Celtics the Full D’Antoni and just tries to run the into the ground. Run on everything. Makes and misses. But that’s probably not what happens, the ball will stick when it hits ‘Melo’s hands, the Celtics will run a hard double team at him and we’ll see what Shawne Williams and Toney Douglas can do. And Jared Jeffries, don’t forget Jared Jeffries. Meanwhile Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo will continue to have good series.

Boston knows the Heat are next and the more time off (likely a week, rumor is next weekend is when that series will start) the better. Their old legs could use it. But the Celtics are fully capable of going through the motions and losing — remember last year’s playoffs they were up 3-0 twice and lost Game 4 both times — forcing a Game 5 on Tuesday. It really is a matter of how focused they are on defense.

Everyone, including Spike Lee, knows how this movie ends. Boston is the better team, the Knicks wanted to make the playoffs and generate some excitement this season and they did that. The only question now is how long it drags out. And that is a matter of focus from the Celtics and how many Knicks can be put out on the court Sunday.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

AP Photo/Darron Cummings
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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.