Lin, ‘Melo together showed a lot of potential in first game

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Let’s be clear — there was a lot of uncertainty and plenty of rust in the Knicks first game with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin in the lineup together. It was far from pretty.

Stoudemire spent most of the game as the weakside option, something he will do more of but he needs to get more touches. Anthony and Lin had an awkward chemistry, as one should expect in a first game together. Fitting the successful Lin/Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll in the play rotation is not as simple as it sounds, either.

But there were some real signs of potential Monday.

The challenge is spacing — Stoudemire and Anthony prefer to work out of the same spaces on the floor. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com spoke to a scout on the issue and had this telling paragraph.

Here’s the other, and perhaps more important issue: Anthony likes to set up and call for the ball in an area that is between the low block and the 3-point line, a little wider than most mid-post isolation scorers want the ball. Anthony has been effective his entire career from that area, because he has so many options from there. But he also takes up a lot of space, thus killing the corner 3-pointer – so crucial to (Knick coach Mike) D’Antoni’s style – on that side of the floor, and also crowding out the pick-and-roll and wing penetration.

What the Knicks need to do is mix it up — ‘Melo wing isolations, Lin pick-and-rolls with Stoudemire and Chandler, much more — and go with whatever the other team can’t stop. It is what the Spurs have done so brilliantly during their 11-game win streak — adjust, find out what the other team struggles to defend then club them with it. Over and over.

The Knicks have some devastating potential options out there. Things we only saw flashes of in this first game as they struggled to adjust. Seeing Anthony in the post was one — he can be a beast there if matched up on a smaller defender. That also led to a monster dunk from Stoudemire who cut down the lane on one of those post plays.

We talk about Stoudemire as the screener (a role we know he thrives in), but the Knicks tried Anthony as the screener as well. And on a few plays they set staggered screens for Lin with Anthony and ‘Melo (or Chandler) which Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated loved.

Throw two dangerous screeners at Lin, and you’re bound to create an opportunity for someone — Lin, one of the screeners, or Stoudemire, lurking again on the weak side above the foul line.

Lin knows how to make good decisions, when he gets used to everything guys will get the ball in rhythm.

Knicks fans, I know it seems like all you’ve heard all season is “be patient.” Well, sorry, but you still need to be patient. The Knicks didn’t lose because of Carmelo Anthony being back, they lost because Deron Williams is very good and had a huge chip on his shoulder. You need give this time — the Knicks are not going to score just 91.1 points per 100 possessions like this for very long. It’s going to come together.

There is a lot of potential here, and you are just scratching the surface of it after one game.

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).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.