New York Knicks coach Woodson reacts during Game 1 of their first round NBA Eastern Conference playoff against Miami Heat in Miami

Report: Knicks working on contract extension for Woodson; coach denies

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UPDATE 2:40 pm: As should have been expected, Mike Woodson denied that these talks are going on. From ESPNNewYork.com:

“That’s not true, not at all,” he said after practice Tuesday.

As we have discussed before, what has been officially discussed and what has been actually discussed via second and third parties to smooth the way for a deal are very different things. That is just how deals get done in the NBA. This one may or may not come together, but the idea of there being talks through back channels should not be shocking.

And, of course, Carmelo Anthony again gave a ringing endorsement to Woodson as coach. Also just as shocking. ‘Melo likes the guy who runs 75 percent of the offense through him? Who saw that coming?

10:19 am: Phil Jackson who?

Apparently one playoff win — plus how the Knicks closed out the season playing defense and going 18-6 to make the playoffs — was enough to convince New York Knick owner James Dolan and the Knicks front office to take the interim tag off Mike Woodson and keep him as coach.

So reports Frank Isola at the New York Daily News.

The Knicks have initiated talks that would keep Woodson as the team’s head coach for the foreseeable future, the Daily News has learned. The talks are only in the preliminary stages but it is clear that Madison Square Garden management is convinced Woodson is the right man for the job and will not pursue either Phil Jackson or Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

It was expected that Dolan wanted the big, splashy name to swoop in as head coach. However, on the court the team has responded well to Woodson — well, at least Carmelo Anthony has and plays hard for him in a way he wouldn’t for Mike D’Antoni — particularly on the defensive end.

Woodson got the team to close out the season playing well. In the playoffs the Knicks have struggled with the Heat, something that would have happened regardless of coach considering this injury-riddled roster — but they did end their 13-game playoff losing streak with a win Sunday.

In fact, Garden chairman James Dolan met with Woodson in the head coach’s office for 45 minutes prior to the Knicks’ emotional Game 4 victory over the Heat… Woodson has the support of several key players, most notably Carmelo Anthony. He also has a strong ally in GM Glen Grunwald, his former college teammate at Indiana. Both Grunwald and Woodson are long-time friends of former Knicks president Isiah Thomas, who serves as a de facto adviser to Dolan.

Ironically, it’s not the ties to Isiah that worries Dolan (although it does Knicks fans) rather it’s his ties to Larry Brown. Dolan and Brown clashed plenty in the year Brown coached the Knicks and Woodson both worked under Brown as an assistant for years and adopted some things from Brown’s style.

Keeping Woodson is a solid move. But now GM Grunwald needs to work in concert with him to reshape the roster. Right now, even when healthy, this Knicks team is not going to beat the Heat or Bulls, regardless of who is coach. They have questions to answer this summer, like should they try to trade Amare Stoudemire or go after free agent point guard Steve Nash (certainly a point guard upgrade but he would take the ball out of Carmelo’s hands and make him work off the ball).

But clearly the team they have has responded to Woodson.

Report: Rockets return Donatas Motiejunas to restricted free agency, working on new contract with him

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Rockets had Donatas Motiejunas in a bind.

He was beholden to them on a four-year, $31 million deal and unable to sign with other teams. Motiejunas’ choices: Report for a physical or wait in limbo.

But apparently Houston has allowed him out of that constraint.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This means Motiejunas can’t sign with the Nets, who signed him to the original offer sheet, for one year.

I bet it also means Motiejunas and Houston have agreed to a new contract. Otherwise, why release him from the offer sheet? The Rockets would be giving up a tremendous amount of leverage out of the goodness of their hearts – unless this is just a prelude to a new deal with Houston.

John Wall pushes down Jusuf Nurkic from behind in retaliation (video)

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John Wall didn’t like how Jusuf Nurkic bumped him, so Wall shoved the Nuggets center from behind and sent him to the floor.

An overreaction to the bump? Probably. Wall got hit with a technical foul.

But I’m mostly just impressed Wall was strong enough to push over Nurkic.

DeMar DeRozan throws down massive dunk against Timberwolves (VIDEO)

derozan
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DeMar DeRozan is having one of those seasons for the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors. During Thursday night’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, 124-110, DeRozan scored 27 points while adding eight rebounds, five assists, and shooting a whopping 13 free throws.

DeRozan also sealed the victory in the final minute with a huge put back dunk.

The Raptors led by 9 points with a minute left as they were inbounding the ball. A long pass from the baseline to a streaking DeMarre Carroll resulted in a blocked layup, but DeRozan was there to clean up the mess.

Via CJZero on Twitter:

Three things we learned Thursday: Memphis, Marc Gasol just win every close game

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) shoots between Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu, from left, center Mason Plumlee, and forward Jake Layman (10) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Here’s what you missed Thursday around the NBA while you were drinking homemade glow-in-the-dark beer with jellyfish genes in it (no, you try it first, I insist)…

1) Don’t play Memphis in a close game, they just find a way to win.
Last week, when Mike Conley went down with a back injury and was going to miss six weeks (give or take), we questioned if Memphis could keep their heads above water. They promptly went out and lost to a very good Toronto team.

Since then they have won five in a row, capped by an impressive 88-86 win over Portland Tuesday. Impressive because:

• Memphis is now 12-0 in games that were within 3 points in the final minute. You get in a close game with Memphis, you lose. (Statistically, we know some of that is luck, that there will be some regression to the mean, but that stat has propelled a team has been outscored by nine points this season, one that should be 12-12, to the 16-8 record they have.)

• Memphis trailed Portland 79-68 with less than five minutes to go, and still won.

Marc Gasol had 36 points and has been an absolute beast since Conley went down, doing whatever it takes to win.

• Toney Douglas — a guy the Grizzlies just picked up off the street this week, basically — comes in and is clutch down the stretch for them, including hitting the game-winning free throws with 0.5 seconds left (Damian Lillard tried to argue the call, to no avail).

The schedule gets tough for Memphis the next couple of weeks — Golden State, home-and-home with Cleveland, then Boston and Utah looming not long after — but do not doubt the Grizzlies. No team is as resilient as this bunch.

2) Bulls prove Spurs aren’t perfect on the road. It was bound to happen, the San Antonio Spurs were 13-0 on the road, they were going to stumble at some point. That point turned out to be Thursday night in Chicago, where the Spurs came out of the gate like they went out and had a big pregame meal of Lou Malnati’s pizza — 32 points on 30.6 percent shooting in the first half for San Antonio. The Spurs didn’t defend poorly, for example Kawhi Leonard held Jimmy Butler to no first-half points — in fact, midway through the first quarter Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez had scored almost all the Bulls’ buckets — but the San Antonio offense was dreadful. Throw a little credit to the Chicago defense if you want, but this was more San Antonio stumbling than a Chicago return to the Thibodeau era.

The Bulls were up 12 at the half and were able to hang on despite a strong second 24 minutes from Leonard (17 of his 24 came in the second half) and get the win. Dwyane Wade had 20 points and hit a couple of key buckets late to stabilize Chicago. For a Bulls team that is going to be in a playoff battle all season — they are the seven seed right now, one game ahead of the Pacers in ninth — these kinds of wins at home can prove huge.

3) What is it with Minnesota and second half? On the road, the Minnesota Timberwolves had played the Toronto Raptors even for the first 24 minutes — it was 59-59 at the half. And yet, there was a sense of dread for Timberwolves fans because all season their young team has just come apart in the third quarter — and then Toronto opened the second half on an 11-2 run. Minnesota, to their credit, crawls back into it, but midway through the fourth the Raptors go on a 17-4 run sparked by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and the Raptors pull away for the 124-110 win. The Timberwolves lost another game because they can’t defend well.

Minnesota shows flashes of the kind of brilliance that has everyone thinking they might be a contender in a few years. But we all expected too much too soon from this group. Those impressive stretches are followed by ones where they play like a young team, they don’t defend well, and they throw those good efforts away. Not that they were going to beat a good Toronto team on the road, but the Timberwolves can be frustrating to watch. Patience is hard, and Minnesota fans are being asked to show a lot of it. We can debate if it’s time to bring Ricky Rubio off the bench and let Kris Dunn sink or swim, but that’s not the core problem. Ultimately, the Timberwolves are young and playing like it. They don’t know how and aren’t putting in the effort to defend well yet. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, they can be the core of a contender eventually, but there is a lot of learning to do along the way. Tom Thibodeau can teach them. But it’s going to require patience.