No Carmelo, no problem. Knicks expose napping Heat defense in rout

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With New York, there is energy. There are guys willing to step up with Carmelo Anthony out. There is defense in the paint. There are guys making the extra pass and raining down threes.

In Miami I expect Jimmy Carter to come out and give a speech about malaise. Especially if he is talking about defense.

You would think that a couple of nights after the lowly Washington Wizards put up 105 points on the Heat and embarrassed their defense, they would come out on national television in full peak Ray Lewis mode — fired up and seeming to be everywhere. Nope. Not even close.

The result was Raymond Felton carving up the Knicks defense. There was Steve Novak and J.R. Smith and every New Yorker in the building not named Rasheed draining threes (he was 0-for-6).

The result was a 112-92 Knicks drubbing of the Heat.

These teams have played twice this season, the Knicks have thumped them twice. Only a fool makes a post-season prediction based on a Dec. 6 game, but those results should make the Heat take notice. There is no coasting to a repeat, and if you don’t spend the regular season building good habits the bad habits will end your playoff run.

The Knicks, with the best offense in the NBA coming into the game, put up a ridiculously efficient 117.4 points per 100 possessions number in this game — six better than their average coming in. The Heat came in with the 23rd ranked defense in the league, and it showed. The Knicks made threes and some tough shots, but they also seemed to get uncontested looks a lot.

The Heat are in a malaise on defense — we’ve seen this unit play it well before — and until they snap out of it teams that are playing well like the Knicks will thump them. The fact is the Heat play a defensive system based on using their athleticism and pressure to force turnovers and tough shots — they attack and force the offense to react. Or they are supposed to, that’s what they did last year. This year they are reacting. And if you play an aggressive style half-speed you pay.

Felton made them pay. The Knicks point guard took on the burden of creating shots, running a lot of high pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler, and the Heat couldn’t stop it. Felton slashed into the lane and got a lot of hockey assists as New York showed fantastic ball movement all night. Then Felton stepped back and hit 6-of-10 threes.

It was a barrage of threes in the third quarter — 8-of-12 in the first nine minutes of the half — that won the Knicks the game. That is when they pulled away. New York had six players in double figures. At the same time Tyson Chandler did his thing, shutting off drives and the Knicks owned the paint.

Miami had LeBron. He was monster — 31 points on 20 shots, 10 rebounds and 9 assists.

Heat players not named LeBron shot 37.5 percent. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were a combined 6-of-25.

LeBron took it on himself, getting in some late-game shooting and seeming to want to better himself after the Heat loss. That’s what leaders do. But this wasn’t on him.

The Knicks are for real. They are showing it. We can ask if they can sustain it and what happens when Amare Stoudemire returns, but don’t ask if they are legit.

The Heat will be legit, too. If they ever get around to it.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.