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Will slap across face from Knicks finally wake Heat up?

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The Knicks are legit, give them their due. In Miami Thursday night, even without Carmelo Anthony, they were the aggressors. Raymond Felton attacked and he Heat tried to react. It’s early, but New York is positioning itself to be the threat to Miami in the East.

But let’s be honest — Miami has looked awful. Pretty much all season. Specifically their defense, which is now 23rd in the NBA in points surrendered per possession. They are coasting, acting like they can flip the switch, and they are finding the couple times they do that in games the opponent pushes back. Miami looks like a team not used to having the target on its back.

Maybe the Knicks coming down to Miami and essentially slapping them across the face will get their attention (because somehow losing to the lowly Wizards didn’t.). We think the Heat can turn it around because we’ve seen pretty much this exact roster defend in the past, but they are not doing it now.

After the game the Heat were saying the right things. LeBron went out for an extra workout and to get up some shots after the loss (even though he was one assist away from a triple double and wasn’t the problem) then told this to the Palm Beach Post:

“We’ve got work to do,” James said. “We can’t act like, OK, let’s just sweep this under the rug. We’ve got a lot of work to do. New York is a real team, they’ve got some real good players, and we understand that.”

Udonis Haslem — the elder spokesman for the Heat — was more direct speaking with the Palm Beach Post, saying the Heat need to get back to playing angry, like they did when everyone seemed to hate them with a white-hot passion.

“You watch teams on film, and they play a certain way, and then they come in against us, and it’s completely different,” Haslem said. “Teams are going to play at a high level when you’re the defending champions. We’ve got to understand that. We can’t come out and play cool, we can’t just accept the fact that they are making shots. You’ve got to understand that the hardest thing you’re ever going to do is defend this title, and people are going to play their hearts out against us, and we’ve got to play our hearts out. And we haven’t done that for four quarters yet. We have yet to see four quarters of angry, hatred basketball like we used to play when people hated us. And that’s partly my job as a captain. And I carry a chip on my shoulder, and I’ve got to get it back, and it’s going to have to translate to everybody.”

Chris Bosh went a step further, saying the Heat’s style — what Erik Spoelstra calls “space and pace” — may need to be slowed down. From Tom Haberstroh at ESPN’s Heat Index:

“It’s a lot of possessions,” Bosh said. “We should really slow down some and really put pressure on teams. I think sometimes we get into this place where we try to force things by trying to play too fast. Sometimes it is good but it has to be a balance….

“I think we had a lot of success when we were just taking our time,” Bosh said. “We don’t have to put it in our heads to just go. We’re a good team, we can pick you apart, whatever way you want it. If you want to play halfcourt, we can play halfcourt. If you want to play fullcourt, we can play that too. But we haven’t been in situations – I don’t even recall any this year – where we were just like, ‘Boy this is a slugfest out there, this is a heavyweight bout.'”

I’m not sure I agree with Bosh. With defense it’s about effort and energy — last year Miami used their athleticism and length to make you adjust to how they came at you on defense. They pressured you. This year they are reacting. Which means fewer turnovers and fewer easy buckets in transition (Miami is 11th in pace in the league, they are not lighting it up).

At some point this team will wake up. We’ll see if the Knicks were the alarm clock or if Miami just hit the snooze bar again.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

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