Richard Jefferson, Danny Green, Tim Duncan

San Antonio Spurs defense suddenly their weakness

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When they were winning rings, San Antonio did it with defense. Sure there was Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but it was the defense that set them apart.

Right now, the Spurs defense is ranked 25th in the NBA.

They re giving up 103.7 points per 100 possessions, the league average is 99.8 (via Hoopdata.com). It comes down to this simple fact — opponents are shooting the ball very well against the Spurs — 46.6 percent on the season. Only four teams are worse. If you prefer something more sophisticated like True Shooting Percentage (which accounts for free throws and three pointers) the picture isn’t any better, they are still 25th in the league.

So far they have scored enough to keep their record at 7-4, but Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan pulled no punches about the defensive numbers to the Spurs blog of the Express-News.

“That just won’t get anything done,” Popovich said. “That will portend a very mediocre basketball season for the San Antonio Spurs.”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Duncan said. “We’ve got a long ways to go to get to where we believe the Spurs’ defense should be.”

When the Spurs were great they defended the paint and the three point line very well, intentionally giving you a little more room to take a long two-point shot.

This season they are allowing an average number of shots per game at the rim (22.9) but teams are shooting 68.7 percent on those — only two teams allow opponents a higher percentage at the rim. As for opponents at the three-point line, they are a little more middle of the league pack. Not elite, but not the biggest problem. With the long two pointer — the shot they want you to take — again the numbers are pretty much near the league averages (middle 10 teams).

Where teams are hurting the Spurs? Rotations, which used to be their strength.

For example, opponents are taking 14.3 percent of their attempts against the Spurs in isolation sets and shooting 45.8 percent — only one team in the NBA is giving up a higher percentage against isolations (stats via My Synergy Sports). Watch the plays and you seen the initial defender get beat and he gets a long way into the paint before the help arrives, leading to quality looks.

Another area is handling the roll man on the pick-and-roll — those guys are shooting 57.9 percent against the Spurs. On the video you see the big men show out hard to slow the ball handler but Matt Boner and Duncan and the rest of the Spurs bigs cannot recover fast enough to their man and the results are open layups or good midrange looks on the pick-and-pop.

The Spurs are still a good team. But with this defense it feels like last season, where they can get to the playoffs but then their flaws will be exposed and things will end quickly. This is a veteran team, there is certainly time to make adjustments and changes. The minds are willing. The question is do they have the bodies to do it?

Devin Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13:  Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns shoots in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest during NBA All-Star Weekend 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 13, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) The Phoenix Suns had more reason to feel good about their future, while the New York Knicks just missed a chance to escape their frustrating present.

Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Suns beat the Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

“It was just an excellent pass by (Eric) Bledsoe,” Booker said. “I’m thinking he’s going to come off the screen but I’m always shot ready. He made a perfect pass, hit me in the hands and I just shot it with confidence. Ended up being a big shot, the last points of the game.”

Carmelo Anthony‘s attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

“That was a tough one to digest right there,” Anthony said. “We got the play that we wanted, got the shot that we wanted, got the look that we wanted, did everything but went in.”

Bledsoe added 23 points, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points but was scoreless in the fourth quarter. Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14.

Rose made a layup to give the Knicks a 105-102 lead, but Booker responded by drawing a foul on Courtney Lee and sinking both free throws to cut the deficit to one. Rose missed a jumper from the top of the key, P.J. Tucker missed a point-blank layup and Ron Baker missed a driving layup to set up Booker’s 3-pointer from the wing.

The teams traded misses before Anthony took the inbounds pass after a timeout and launched a 3 that spun around the rim before falling out to give the Knicks their 13th loss in 16 games.

Anthony scored 12 points in the third quarter, which ended in a 90-all tie. The Knicks eventually opened a 103-98 lead, their largest of the game, but couldn’t hold on as Jeff Hornacek fell to 0-2 against the team he previously coached.

Anthony led all scorers at the half with 19 points, but Booker paced Phoenix with 15 and the Suns took a 61-55 lead into the locker room.

TIP-INS

Suns: Coach Earl Watson praised Tucker’s defensive ability. “The thing about defense is there’s no perfect technique. It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He plays with that every time he touches the court. He’s one of our best players. To me, he’s the most underrated defender in our league, especially on isolations.” … Derrick Jones Jr. was inactive.

Knicks: Hornacek reflected on the first half of the season. “It’s been an interesting year, I’d say. It was a tough beginning with Derrick Rose missing a bunch early, part of putting in the offense and getting a new group of guys together as familiarity and he wasn’t able to be there for a big part of that so we were trying to win those first few games on the fly, Joakim with his hamstring early. There have been some distractions that we’ve had to keep the guys kind of together, the losing, minor injuries here and there. Overall, I think the guys have done a pretty good job of staying together. We still look at it when we have all our guys we still have a good chance.”

LINE THEM UP

New York went back to its original starting lineup of Joakim Noah, Porzingis, Anthony, Lee and Rose for the first time since Jan. 12 against the 76ers.

CELEBRITY ROW

Actor Hugh Jackman and Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show” sat courtside during the game.

UP NEXT

Suns: Visit Toronto on Sunday.

Knicks: Visit Indiana on Monday.

Lakers G D’Angelo Russell out 1-2 weeks with knee sprain, calf strain

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 14:  D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Brooklyn Nets in the second half at Barclays Center on December 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell will be sidelined for one to two weeks with a mildly sprained right knee and a strained right calf.

The Lakers announced the diagnosis on Saturday night after their point guard had an MRI exam. He will be re-evaluated in one week.

Russell was hurt on the second possession of the Lakers’ victory over Indiana on Friday. His leg slipped while making a cut around teammate Julius Randle‘s screen, and he nearly did the splits while falling.

Russell is averaging 14.3 points, 4.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds during the second NBA season for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft. A sore left knee kept him out for 12 games earlier in the season.

The Lakers open a road trip at Dallas on Sunday.

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum carry Portland to OT win over Celtics (VIDEO)

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BOSTON (AP) Damian Lillard had a three-point play with 47 seconds left in overtime and finished with 28 points to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 127-123 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum scored 35 points to lead Portland, which lost in the closing seconds in Philadelphia on Friday night. Lillard added seven assists.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 41 points, his 14th time this season with 30 or more points. Marcus Smart and Al Horford each scored 17 for the Celtics, who have lost two straight after winning 13 of 16.

Late turnovers, dubious foul call on DeMarcus Cousins sinks Kings vs. Bulls (VIDEO)

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The Sacramento Kings committed a costly turnover during a tie game with just 14 seconds to go to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Thankfully, they were gifted with a missed Dwyane Wade layup to give them another possession!

Well, they would have been if DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t called for one of the softest fouls you’re likely to see this NBA season.

That gave the Bulls a chance to convert two free throws — of which Wade hit one — and then an opportunity at the other end to tie or win.

Unfortunately, Cousins lost the ball on the next Sacramento possession, which sealed the game for Chicago, 102-99.

Cousins was not happy with the outcome of the game, thrashing a garbage can in the hallway of the United Center and giving some interesting quotes to reporters.

Everyone set your mobile notifications for tomorrow’s L2M report.