Knicks continue impressive start by taking care of Sixers

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A tip-off time of 12 noon in the NBA can often be trouble for both teams. It’s a quirk in the schedule for a league whose players are used to gearing up to perform at their peak sometime after 7:30 p.m., so the broken routine can result in some rough basketball during those early afternoon starts.

That certainly wasn’t the case Sunday afternoon for the Knicks.

New York seemed to pick up right where it left off after its season-opening blowout win over the Heat, and got big performances from Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith on the way to a 100-84 victory over the Sixers — one that really seemed to come fairly easily.

Anthony was aggressive on both ends of the floor from the very start, scoring efficiently from inside and out while busting it on defense at the same time. He had a vicious blocked shot early on, and was seen diving into the stands to chase down loose balls.

The Knicks had excellent ball movement on offense, thanks to Jason Kidd playing alongside Raymond Felton in the starting lineup. And when they needed a little extra firepower, there was J.R. Smith lighting it up from deep off the bench.

Anthony had 15 points by halftime, and finished with 27 on just 18 shots. Smith had 20 points and nine rebounds, and drained four of his five attempts from three-point distance.

The ball movement, spacing on offense, and team defense — all of which have been great for New York consistently through its first eight quarters of the season — are pleasant surprises from a team that hasn’t showed positives there regularly in even one of those categories in a very long time.

The absence of Amar’e Stoudemire due to injury has helped Anthony’s efficiency so far, as he has the space to operate on the wing from mid-range without having a power forward who demands touches on the low block getting in his way. Yes, right now the Knicks are better without Stoudemire, but if he can return as a healthy contributor, Mike Woodson will find a way to integrate him into the offense.

On the Sixers’ side, maybe this was just one of those tough early starts where they were out of sync, or maybe the talent level of the Knicks, along with the energy level they brought this afternoon was too much to match for them at this point. It didn’t help offensively that Jason Richardson left the game just two minutes in with a sprained left ankle, and did not return. Jrue Holiday kept this from being a complete blowout with his 27 points and seven assists, while hitting five out of his six three-point attempts.

Philadelphia will improve greatly whenever Andrew Bynum is able to get back on the floor, but there’s no telling when that might be. In the meantime, these same Sixers will get another crack at the Knicks Monday night at home in Philadelphia to complete the home-and-home series, where it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see a similar result.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.