Which team is more likely to come back: Celtics or Lakers?

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Right now, you don’t want to be the Celtics or the Lakers.

History tells us the teams that have won the last three NBA titles are in a lot of trouble. Watching the games and how they’ve been outplayed makes it feel worse. Heading into a playoffs filled with flawed teams — there was no juggernaut — it seemed logical to guess that the two most veteran, battle tested teams would be the ones that figured out the answers first.

Nope. Both have been thoroughly outplayed in the first two games of the second round and both are down 0-2. Both are facing long odds to even get to the conference finals because in both cases the team they are playing is peaking at the right time.

But which one is more likely to find a way out of their hole?

It’s hard to see how Boston could pull it off under any circumstances.

What Miami has done is rip apart Boston’s strength — it’s defense. Miami has been the more physical team (to go with their superior athleticism). Miami has used great ball movement to the weak side, players cutting and diving without the ball, dibble penetration and transition to rip apart the defense that made the Celtics the Celtics. It’s not a lack of effort for Celtics, it’s an inability to stop what the better athletes of the Heat are doing. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have been able to get theirs and the Heat have drained the three. Boston has no easy answers.

Going back to the Garden and having a long layoff for a veteran team may help, and maybe Rajon Rondo can finally start to dominate Mike Bibby and the rather sad Heat point guard rotation like he should. Maybe at home the Celtics bench will feel more comfortable and start to outplay the Heat bench.

But the fact is the two best players in this series are Wade and LeBron, and they are finally playing off each other in a way the league feared they would figure out someday. Even if the Celtics get Rondo going and get better bench play, if Wade and LeBron keep going like they are it’s hard to envision the Celtics taking four of five.

As for the Lakers, you can kind of see how they get it done. You just can’t see them doing it.

Dallas deserves credit — they have found what the Lakers are not doing well and pounded away on it. When midway through the fourth quarter of Game 2 they saw how poorly the Lakers were defending the high pick-and-roll, they ran J.J. Barea off it mercilessly. Dallas has fed Dirk Nowtizki because the Lakers have not been able to defend him. The Mavs bench has destroyed the Lakers bench.

But the dynamic here is different than the Heat/Celtics series — when Los Angeles makes a mistake Dallas makes them pay. Credit Dallas for doing that, but it still feels like the Lakers are their own worst enemy, that there is a potential they are not reaching because of themselves, not because Dallas is holding them back. The Lakers last season were able to frustrate Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo on the way to a title and now Barea is ripping them apart? That’s not Dallas, that’s Los Angeles.

So in a sense, you can see how the Lakers could flip a switch and still beat Dallas — Pau Gasol could find his legs and return to being the most skilled big man in the game, the Lakers threes can start to fall, they could decide to start feeding Andrew Bynum, they could try harder on defense. Kobe could go nova.

But what gives you any belief that these Lakers even know where that switch is, let alone know how to flip it.

All season long the Lakers have battled fits of boredom and fatigue, never really honing their execution. They got by on superior talent. Now that lack of execution is costing them because they are up against a talented team that is executing. All the credit in the world to Dallas, who is uniquely qualified to exploit it the Lakers mistakes.

Maybe one of these teams can come back from 0-2. The Lakers stand some chance. But really, it’s hard to see how either of them last past Game 6.

Knicks shut out Carmelo Anthony in 2nd half, beat Thunder 111-96

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden was much like the 6 1/2 years he spent playing for the Knicks.

A video played on the overhead scoreboard as part of a huge welcome from the fans and franchise, followed by a fast start that gave Anthony hope he could have everything he wanted.

Then things fell flat until the finish.

The Knicks shut out their former All-Star in the second half and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-96 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me, coming back here knowing the goal that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” Anthony said.

Michael Beasley tied his season high with 30 points in place of injured Kristaps Porzingis, and Doug McDermott, acquired with Enes Kanter for Anthony, added 11 of his 13 after halftime to help the Knicks break open the game.

“This game was kind (of) about him and I thought we did a really good job of not letting that distract us and just focus on winning the game,” McDermott said. “And it felt great, especially being a part of the trade (with) Enes.

Anthony scored 12 points in the first half but was 0 for 5 after, perhaps low on energy after the Thunder’s three-overtime victory at Philadelphia a night earlier.

He made a 3-pointer for the Thunder’s first basket of the game after refocusing following a video tribute that caught him off guard, but finished 5 of 18 from the field as the Knicks played with passion and precision they lacked in Anthony’s final years in New York.

“You got to beat the best to be the best,” Beasley said. “He’s one of the best of our era.”

Russell Westbrook had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who were trying to sweep a three-game trip that began with Paul George‘s winning return to Indiana on Wednesday.

But they couldn’t deliver a victory for Anthony back at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks playing without leading scorer Porzingis because of a knee injury.

“I think the guys just, they were ready for tonight’s game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And we caught them after a triple-overtime game so that probably helped us too, but our guys played hard all night which probably wore them down.”

Anthony received a pair of loud cheers during pregame introductions, before and at the end of a video tribute showing his highlights on the court and his charitable efforts off it that was played after the first four Thunder starters were announced. But the boos became more noticeable once play got underway, and soon they were coming every time he touched the ball.

“That was expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me, I’m on another team.”

Later, the cheers were all for the Knicks, who after trading their leading scorer on the eve of training camp are a surprising 16-13 – better than Anthony’s new team (14-15). Anthony was booed one last time as he was removed with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Beasley had a hand in 12 of the Knicks’ final 15 points of the third quarter, scoring nine himself and assisting on Ron Baker‘s 3-pointer. That turned a two-point lead into an 80-73 advantage over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the period.

The Knicks pushed it into double digits in the fourth behind five straight points from McDermott – originally it was six by a 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after review – and he later made it 100-87 with a 3-pointer with 6:02 remaining.

The Thunder played without starting center Steven Adams because of a concussion.

 

Manu Ginobili game-winner caps 13-0 closing run to rally Spurs past Mavericks

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — At 40 years old, Manu Ginobili‘s refusal to slow down in his 16th season with the Spurs has been a source of inspiration to the team’s young core.

The man and the mantra helped propel San Antonio to an improbable victory over Dallas on Saturday night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Spurs scored the final 13 points of the game, rallying for a 98-96 victory over the Mavericks.

Aldridge’s fall-away, 11-foot jumper tied the game at 96 with 23.4 seconds remaining and Ginobili’s driving layup with 3.1 seconds was the game-winning shot.

“He’s our grandpa,” 21-year-old Dejounte Murray said, chuckling afterwards. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”

Ginobili’s layup off the left side of the glass gave the Spurs their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 16 points.

“We did a lot of good things, but the ending is unforgiveable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Maxi Kleber had 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for Dallas in the final regular season matchup between the Southwest Division rivals.

Kleber’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 96-85 lead with 4:11 remaining, but the Spurs held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

The Mavericks drought included a turnover when Wes Matthews was unable to inbound the ball with 23.4 seconds remaining. Mathews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a 5-second violation, but the Spurs gained possession when the ball ricocheted off Matthews just as he stepped inbounds.

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki said. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds. Letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Aldridge had his 12th double-double of the season to help offset the absences of starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Coming off a 15-point blowout in Houston on Friday night, San Antonio was able to avoid its third straight loss.

“We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now and I don’t think we got anything out of it,” Ginobili said. “So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would’ve been a tough one. We are proud of this win.”

The Spurs missed their first five shots, all short jumpers from Aldridge and Pau Gasol, on their way to shooting 30 percent in the opening quarter. The Mavericks took advantage, charging to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter.

San Antonio’s reserves reversed the team’s fortunes in the third quarter.

Davis Bertans finished with 13 points and Ginobili added 12 off the bench.

 

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.

Carmelo Anthony standing ovation in return to Madison Square Garden

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Knicks fans may have had their frustrations with Carmelo Anthony, but they know how much he has meant to the franchise over the years. He pushed to be a Knick and chose to stay, he carried the franchise for years.

Saturday night he returned to Madison Square Garden in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform after a trade this summer, and he was welcomed with a retrospective video followed by a standing ovation from the crowd (you can see all of it above).

Well done Knicks fans. Well done.