Carmelo Anthony

It’s not pretty, but Knicks solidify playoff standing with win

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It looked like a game where both teams were battling for the right to be the eight seed — the winning team shot 35.1 percent and had 23 turnovers. Tom Thibodeau is not reviewing this tape and getting nervous.

But a gritty win counts the same as any other kind and the Knicks outhustled the Milwaukee Bucks on the way to an 89-80 win Monday night. It’s a win that moves the Knicks 2.5 games ahead of the Bucks for the final playoff spot in the east — giving the Knicks a good chance to move on (both teams have 17 games left).

The Knicks did it without Amare Stoudemire — who is now out indefinitely with a bulging disc in his back — and Jeremy Lin. That’s a lot of missing firepower.

Scarier yet, Carmelo Anthony pulled up with a sore right groin muscle in the fourth quarter — the same injury that kept him out seven games not that long ago. No word yet on the severity, but Anthony was able to play through it at the end of this one.

The Knicks won this ugliness because they were the aggressors. They attacked. They got to the free throw line 35 times, led by Anthony who was 12-12 from the stripe. They had Tyson Chandler grab five offensive rebounds as the Knicks kept balls alive and got themselves second chances all night. It wasn’t pretty but they worked hard.

I keep saying this game was ugly, let me explain:

• Knicks point guard Baron Davis shot 3-12 with nine turnovers
• J.R. Smith was 1-10 from three
• The Knicks as a team were 7-31 from three
• The Bucks were 6-24 from three
• The Knicks shot 35.1 percent, the Bucks 36.5 percent
• Monta Ellis was 2-14 shooting
• Brandon Jennings was 6-22 shooting
• The Bucks had 19 turnovers to 17 assists
• The Knicks had 23 turnovers to 16 assists (and loved their isolations)
• I can’t even count the blown layups by both teams combined.

Maybe the only guy who had a really stellar game — and certainly the only reason the Bucks were even close — was the shooting of Mike Dunleavy. He hit 10 of his first 11 for 26 points, including 5-8 from three. But by the end of the game even he could not lift the lid off the basket.

But the Knicks made plays — Iman Shumpert with a key three down the stretch and a steal from Brandon Jennings minutes later, and Tyson Chandler owning the paint on both ends. Anthony finished with 28 points on the night.

The Knicks, if everything clicks, are the kind of team nobody wants to play in the first round of the playoffs. Problem is, they are a long way from everything clicking (especially if Stoudemire is out for the season). But they can’t be a threat in the playoffs if they don’t make it and now they are a lot closer. It’s not a done deal — Knicks next two games are Magic and Hawks, and that starts a stretch where the Bucks have the easier schedule. The Bucks have three more home games while the Knicks play three more teams over .500.

But for a night in Madison Square Garden, the Knicks outworked the Bucks to get a key win. Good teams win ugly games. We have yet to see if the Knicks are actually good, but they got one of those wins Monday when they needed it most.

The time Kobe Bryant tried to recruit Dirk Nowitzki to the Lakers

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 05:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks greets Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers after a game at American Airlines Center on November 5, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.   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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — Kobe Bryant has been loyal to the Lakers for 20 seasons (if you ignore some “trade me” tantrums along the way). He’s also been über competitive.

Those same qualities are what he most appreciates about Dirk Nowitzki.

Kobe talked a little Dirk during his All-Star media availability Friday.

“Dirk and I have always had a great relationship because we’re both extremely competitive. Also both extremely loyal to our teams,” Bryant said.

“I’ll tell you a story about Dirk. He was up for free agency, and I knew what his response was going to be. But out of respect, everybody’s looking around at all these free agents, I felt I’d shoot you a text, if you want to come to L.A. He goes, ‘I would love to play with you, but Dallas is my home. This is my team. I’m not leaving here.’ So he and I think a lot alike in that regard.”

Nowitzki’s last couple free agencies have been mere formalities, nobody around the league thought he would leave Mark Cuban or Dallas. The only questions were money and years — in 2014 the Lakers reportedly offered the max to Nowitzki, who took three-years, $25 million from Dallas so the Mavs could rebuild their roster. It’s all part of that loyalty — and it’s worked out, Nowitzki and Cuban have a ring.

Kobe’s respect for Nowitzki was clear when Dirk nailed a game winner against the Lakers this season, Kobe just nodded his approval from the bench.

One of the best things the past couple seasons about Kobe, and especially this season with just about to retire Kobe, is that he is giving honest answers. He doesn’t care what people think. That leads to honest moments and great stories.

Watch Kristaps Porzingis drop 30 at Rising Stars Challenge (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Knicks’ fans were in full throat at the Air Canada Centre Friday night. Kristaps Porzingis was the second most popular player in the Rising Stars Challenge (behind Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins).

Porzingis didn’t disappoint, dropping 30 and sparking a World Team comeback against the USA that just fell just short, with the USA winning 157-154.

“Not great defense, but it’s about having fun, I guess” Porzingis said. “And I think we had fun out there. In the second half we got more competitive, as both teams wanted to get the win, and we fell a little short.”

Kobe Bryant basks in All-Star spotlight one final time

Kobe Bryant All-Star
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TORONTO — Kobe Bryant is the center of attention one last time.

To get to his final All-Star Game in his final season in the NBA, Kobe received more fan votes than Stephen Curry or LeBron James or any other player. Now that he’s at the 2016 All-Star Game, more people want a piece of his time. More media were crowded around him on Friday than any other player at the NBA’s equivalent of media day. Even the other All-Stars could count on getting peppered with Kobe questions (to their annoyance at times).

Kobe is at peace with his decision to walk away from the game. This weekend he wants to savor being in the All-Star spotlight one final time.

“I’m happy,” Kobe said. “This is pretty cool. I’m looking around the room and seeing guys that I’m playing with that are tearing the league up that were like four during my first All-Star Game. It’s true. I mean, how many players can say they’ve played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It’s not sad at all. I mean, I’m really happy and honored to be here and see this.”

Does that mean Kobe has plans to chase the All-Star MVP one last time?

“Zero…” Kobe said. “But, no, I’m really just enjoying this whole thing, being around these players and talking to them one more time, going out and practicing and enjoying that moment in the game and enjoying that moment. So competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something or prove something, that’s gone.”

What is Kobe’s best All-Star memory?

“My first one in Cleveland was pretty special because you had all the top 50 players,” Bryant said. “I think in ’98 (it was), it was pretty special too, being in my first All-Star Game and being in the locker room with greats, like [John] Stockton and [Clyde] Drexler and all those guys, that was pretty cool too.”

Kobe has a hectic schedule for his final weekend, but much as he has since he announced his retirement he is trying to soak in and fully enjoy this last go around in the NBA. He understands that the life he has known for two decades is about to change. He hasn’t given much thought to his first day of retirement.

“I’ll probably wake up and have some coffee and go back to sleep,” Bryant said.

I don’t think he understands why you drink coffee, but he’s got all of his retirement to figure that out. For now, he just wants to bask in the spotlight one last time.

Zach LaVine wins MVP, Kristaps Porzingis puts on show in Rising Stars Challenge

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TORONTO — Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins was the rock star of the night. “An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few dunks) leading a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

“An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few huge dunks), sparking a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

His Minnesota teammate Karl-Anthony Towns was going to have none of that.

“I gotta see Andrew Wiggins for a long time and I want to rub this in,” Towns said.

He got his wish, the USA beat the World Team 157-154.

It was a glorified pickup game for three quarters, and the level of defensive intensity will make Sunday’s All-Star game look like Tom Thibodeau teams are playing. That led to a lot of high scorers.

Zach LaVine — the other teammate of Wiggins and Towns — led the USA with 30 points and was named the game’s MVP, and said he wanted to steal Wiggins’ thunder at home.

“That’s what I was going for,” LaVine said.

Also from the USA, Jordan Clarkson (Lakers) had 25, Devon Booker (Suns) had 23 and was 5-of-8 from three, D'Angelo Russell (Lakers) had 22, and Towns chipped in 18 points and 7 boards.

Knicks sensation Kristaps Porzingis was the second most popular player in the building, and he had 30 for the World team.

“Not great defense, but it’s about having fun, I guess,” Porzingis said. “And I think we had fun out there. In the second half we got more competitive, as both teams wanted to get the win, and we fell a little short.”

Also for the World Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets) had 30 points, Wiggins had 29, and Mario Hezonja (Magic) had 19.

The intensity and defense did pick up in the end, although one wouldn’t call it a thing of beauty. What matters is the crowd in the Air Canada Centre enjoyed it, even if their team didn’t win. It’s an exhibition, and they got a show.