Knicks return to iso ‘Melo, get knocked out of playoffs by Heat

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This year was supposed to be different for New York, and it certainly was unlike any season you can remember — Linsanity, injuries, Mike D’Antoni out and Mike Woodson in, a return to ‘Melo ball not seen since Denver.

But it ended like every Knicks playoff series since 2000 — without the team advancing past the first round.

In Game 5 on Wednesday, New York returned to an isolation-heavy, Carmelo Anthony-focused offense against a Heat team that had proven three previous times they could beat that pretty easily. Anthony and J.R. Smith combined to take 60 percent of the Knicks’ shots, while LeBron James had seven assists to go with his 29 points, got teammates involved and the Miami Heat cruised to a 106-94 win and a 4-1 series win.

The Heat will face the Indiana Pacers in the next round.

The Heat were favored to win this series because they had too many athletes and too much talent for the Knicks to handle. When Iman Shumpert was lost with a knee injury and Amare Stoudemire had to miss a game after smashing his hand through a fire extinguisher glass case in frustration after Game 2, the Knicks’ fate was sealed.

Still, this Game 5 loss has to be frustrating for Knicks fans because the team went away from the formula that worked in Game 4. In that game Anthony and Stoudemire played off each other, all of the Knicks players got involved and they played smart defense.

But back in Miami for Game 5, it was like ‘Melo put on blinders and jacked up 31 shots and had just one assist. But at least he made 15 of his shots and scored 35 points — Smith was 3-for-15 but would not stop shooting or taking bad, selfish shots. Stoudemire fouled out with just seven shots and 14 points. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN points out that for the series Anthony and Smith took 200 shots, the rest of the Knicks combined for 121.

LeBron was the anti-Carmelo — he got teammates involved and racked up seven dimes. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played well and each had 19 points. Miami took away good looks for the Knicks from three (4-for-13) and after a close opening 18 minutes pulled away for an easy win.

The Knicks now face some offseason questions, starting with how serious an overhaul do they think they need? If they bring back a starting four of Shumpert, Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, then add a veteran point guard like Steve Nash (or Jason Kidd as a fallback) is that enough? Is it with Mike Woodson returning as coach? Or do the Knicks need to think bigger overhaul, like trying to move Stoudemire and bring in a different big name that meshes better with Anthony?

There are no easy answers, although my guess is next year’s Knicks look a lot like the Knicks we just saw with just a few additions. But now Knicks fans and management can debate the issue, they have time.

The Heat have bigger issues to focus on, starting with Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.