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Is J.R. Smith a “punk” for his takedown of Leandro Barbosa?

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J.R. Smith was ejected near the very end of the Knicks’ loss in Indiana on Tuesday, for doing what he did to Leandro Barbosa in the video clip above. The loss was a brutal one for New York, considering the team led by as many as 17 points late in the third quarter, and has a very slim lead over the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The frustration level was understandable, but Smith’s actions on this play, a little less so. Equally puzzling was the fact that a writer for the New York Post took to Twitter following the game to express his displeasure with the play — and seemingly, with Smith as a person.

The tweet that followed seemed to indicate that in person, the takedown was much worse, because Smith was “baiting” Barbosa into the contact all the way down the court.

Barbosa is a high-energy player who can definitely annoy his opponent at times, and it’s especially true in this case, where he’s playing physical, full-court defense with the game having already been decided. I don’t know how much “baiting” was really going on here; Barbosa was just as much to blame for the contact as Smith … at least up until the point where Smith decided to throw him to the ground.

The play by Smith was clearly made out of frustration, and was definitely “unprofessional,” as his head coach Mike Woodson said about it afterward. But let’s be clear: this wasn’t Andrew Bynum laying out a player half his size in mid-air at the end of a playoff sweep. This came at the end of a sequence where two players were hand-fighting all the way down the court, and one player — Smith, obviously — had clearly had enough.

This was Smith’s take on the play, from Berman’s piece on the game.

“It was a tug-of-war,’’ said Smith, who came to the Knicks with a tough-guy rep. “The refs didn’t see it. They only saw the end of it. It happens. It’s just the frustration of the game. Bumping and the grinding, he was going at me, I was going at him. It was going on the whole game. Nobody really paid attention to it. I just got a little fed up with it.’’

The ejection was the right call, and if you’re the Knicks, you definitely don’t want to see one of your players going out like that at the end of a tough loss. But things like this happen. No one was injured, and Barbosa bounced up with glee after the play, knowing he was successful in getting into his opponent’s head.

Smith’s actions were indeed unprofessional. I would argue that the same could be said for a writer who covers the team resorting to very public, and very vague name-calling of one of the players he covers.

The word “punk” is a tricky one — I’m not going to get into all of the possibilities here, but let’s just say it’s more of a personal attack (or worse, the voicing of a personal perception) than is necessary when covering men who play sports. Say the play was dirty, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike, or anything else; this one was all of those things. But it’s the loud-mouthed fan’s place to throw out ambiguous terms aimed at hurting a player who he feels has wronged him or the game in some way — it shouldn’t be the media’s.

I will say this about the situation: Berman is not some faceless coward hiding behind an egg icon on Twitter, lobbing insults at someone whom he will never meet. J.R. Smith saw the comment, and retweeted it late Tuesday.

The Knicks play Thursday night in Orlando. The scene at shootaround when the team meets the media should be very interesting.

UPDATE: Marc Berman tweeted the following apology on Wednesday afternoon, which was great to see.

 

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

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