With no Amare Stoudemire (for a while) and no Jeremy Lin (for a night), there were the two things we said the Knicks needed if they were going to make the playoffs (and, in a dream scenario, make a run to the top of the Atlantic division).
First, a whole lot of Carmelo Anthony on offense. Second, really good team defense.
The Knicks got both of those things Wednesday night, and with them a blueprint of what they need to do from here on out. They also got an easy 108-86 win over the Magic. It certainly helped that Orlando pretty much rolled up into the fetal position and let the Knicks take the win, but still the blueprint is still there.
Anthony had 25 points and six assists, but it was how he got them that was key. With no Lin the Knicks largely went away from the pick-and-roll — they only had 9 shots by the ball-handler or roll man in that set. Instead they used Anthony more in the post and good ball movement (34 shots came on spot ups, 20 in isolations). Anthony in the post drew fouls, hit some turnaround jumpers and made smart kickouts. He made the offense go.
Defensively, the Knicks have the personnel to follow the book on the Magic — single cover Dwight Howard and stay home on the shooters. With Tyson Chandler on him Howard had just 12 points on 7 shots. Orlando’s game plan is to make you double inside and them beat you with deep shots, but the Knicks could stay home on the shooters and the Magic never got in a rhythm.
The Knicks got some other good play as well — Iman Shumpert had 25 points and played good defense.
It’s not always going to be that easy for the Knicks because most teams won’t roll over like that (it’s games like this that make you think the Magic will not impress in the plaoff. But the blueprint is there. And the Knicks are now 2.5 games ahead of the Bucks and solidly in the playoffs — and just 2.5 games out of the division lead.
Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.
Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.
Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.
“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”
He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.
The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.
Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.
He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.
“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”
All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.
New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.
JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.
He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.
But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.
This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.
I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.
At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.
But not right now. He remains silent.
This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.
In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.