Knicks' Anthony celebrates in the win over Heat in Game 4 of their NBA Eastern Conference basketball playoff series in New York

Can Knicks be more than one-and-done against Heat?


The last two games, the Heat did not bring their “A” game, and they still won one game against the Knicks and lost the other by two points. Conventional wisdom says Miami comes home Wednesday night, crank up the defensive pressure again and just run away and hide from the Knicks.

That could happen.

But the Knicks showed a few signs of life in Game 4, snapping their 13 game playoff losing streak. If all those things can repeat themselves and actually improve while away from Madison Square Garden the Knicks have a shot. Yes, I know the odds of that.

Here’s what has to happen.

• Mike Bibby has to play well. He’s the starting point guard, but really in name only — Carmelo Anthony has the ball in his hands most possessions, J.R. Smith will get some turns and Bibby will spend much of the game working off the ball. The Heat don’t fear him, as evidenced by Dwyane Wade’s comments (via the Sun Sentinel):

“We know Mike has made more shots in this series than he made all last year (with the Heat),” Wade said. “Send that to Mike.”

Bibby doesn’t have to do much, but when he does something he needs to be efficient — knock down the shot, don’t turn the ball over.

• Amare Stoudemire needs to have another big game. He was the unexpected boost for the Knicks in Game 4 — he was back from his hand’s run in with a fire extinguisher and really produced with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Even though he was one handed and couldn’t go left. This was the best Anthony and Stoudemire have played off each other in a long time and they will have to repeat and improve on that to win in Miami.

• Carmelo has to go off again. He had 41 on Game 4 and he’ll need similar numbers again. What I don’t get is why the Heat stick with Shane Battier as his defender most of the time — Anthony is shooting 52 percent against Battier this series. Anthony attacks and goes at the smaller Battier every time. Anthony likes isolation sets, LeBron is as good an isolation defender as there is in the league. Look for the Heat to be more aggressive in how they defend Anthony and he’s still going to have to produce.

We could from here get into a debate on how the last Miami Heat shot should be handled. But if Miami plays up to its potential, it can be Dexter Pittman because he’s in for garbage time. The Knicks need a lot of things to go right for them, they have no margin for error.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.