Knick show better poise, execution in clutch to beat Celtics

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If we told you first thing this morning that the team that executed better at the end, that showed the more poise under pressure — and after the whistle — was going to win the season opener between the Knicks and Celtics, we all would have thought it would be the veteran combo from Boston.

Nope. Carmelo Anthony drew the late foul (on a borderline call but the refs will blow the whistle on the reach from behind almost every time) and sank free throws, while both Marquis Daniels and Kevin Garnett missed good looks and the Knicks come away with the 106-104 win at Madison Square Garden.

The Celtics were playing without Paul Pierce, and they could have used his offense and shot creation against a spotty Knicks defense — there were moments at the rim with Tyson Chandler and other spots the Knicks looked good, then there was the whole third quarter where they looked like the Knicks of old.

This game pretty much summed up what we can expect from the start of this NBA season — sloppy and inconsistent. That’s what you get after shortened training camps.

To start the game the Knicks ball movement was spectacular — they had 34 points on just 24 possessions in the first, according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com. The Knicks were up 10 at the half and the Garden faithful were loving it.

Then in the second half the Celtics cranked up the defensive pressure and the Knicks were suddenly an ugly isolation team again. Meanwhile, Ray Allen found his stroke (he finished with 20) and Rajon Rondo was being aggressive like he will need to be all season for Boston (31 points and 13 assists).

The game was tied at 104-104 with just under a minute when the sloppiness impacted the game — first Carmelo lost the handle coming off an Amare Stoudemire screen and the ball rolled out of bounds. Then the Celtics were forced to pass to the open man — Brandon Bass three feet from the rim — but Chandler sent one ball back and Bass got stripped on the recovery.

Next time down the Knicks halfcourt offense was non-existent so Tony Douglas threw a dangerous lob to Carmelo, who caught it at the elbow and tried to spin toward the basket, only to have Marquis Daniels reach from behind, get almost all ball but also get the call. (Note to Celtics fans, that call is not why you lost, the first half might be a better reason for one.) Anthony drained two free throws.

Again the Celtics depth hurt them on their first try late in the game, the Knicks did a good job taking away a few options including Rondo’s drive so he kicked to Daniels for a wide open corner three, which he missed. Daniels was in because Pierce was out. But Rondo tracked down the rebound and Celtics got another chance with 4.4 seconds left.

And it was a good look and chance — Bill Walker of the Knicks essentially picked his own man (Chandler) off Garnett who had the ball (Walker was trying to track down Rondo). Garnett got a clean look from about 16 feet out, with Walker on a late close. KG missed.

Then this happened.

Nice poise, KG. Shouldn’t be any fines or suspensions on this one, but the Knicks are not going to back down from Celtics is the message. They are feeling good about themselves.

Carmelo had a game-high 37 points, Stoudemire had 21. Brandon Bass had 20 in a nice showing for Boston.

What a way to start the season, and it’s going to be fun when these two meet again.

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: ‘It would mean a lot’

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).