Carmelo Anthony leads Knicks to complete destruction of the Lakers

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There were some who wondered whether the Lakers had hit rock bottom after losing in Cleveland to the 5-18 Cavaliers on Tuesday.

The answer? Nope.

Rock bottom officially came on Thursday in New York, where the Knicks absolutely destroyed L.A., leading by as many as 26 points on the way to a 116-107 victory, which dropped the Lakers to 9-14 on the season.

The reasons for this loss being as bad as any the Lakers have suffered this season are many, but it really boils down to the fact that the Knicks are a team playing like everything that L.A. aspired to be.

New York is a deadly offensive machine, one that plays together as a cohesive unit for the only result that matters, and that’s winning basketball games.

There’s a confidence and assertiveness in the Knicks’ game that we’ve only seen in brief stretches from these Lakers this season, and having it used against L.A. to blow them out in front of a national television audience, while showing the team just how far they have to go to reach the elite level that some teams, including the Knicks, have already reached at this early point in the season, will make this loss sting more than most.

The most disheartening thing for the Lakers might just be the fact that this game was essentially over as soon as it got started.

The Knicks lead the league in made three-point attempts per game by a relatively wide margin, so it doesn’t take a genius to decide to focus your defense on stopping New York from beating you from the outside. In fact, common sense would dictate that for the struggling Lakers to even have a chance at beating the team at the top of the Eastern Conference standings on its home floor, eliminating the momentum-swinging, game-changing shots from distance should be at the top of the defensive priority list.

The first two baskets made by the Knicks on the night? Wide open three-pointers, courtesy of Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks’ leading scorer had his way in the first quarter against the Lakers, largely due to L.A.’s poor defensive effort and rotations, but equally due to Anthony’s prior relationship with Mike D’Antoni.

Anthony had something personal to prove on this night, and the Lakers should have known better.

Instead, they let Anthony carve up their defense at will, while scoring 22 first-quarter points, on 8-of-9 shooting, including making all three of his attempts from three-point distance.

By the time Anthony was finished, the game had already been decided.

The Knicks put up 41 points by the time the first quarter had ended, while shooting almost 74 percent from the field in the process. New York led by 14 when all was said and done, and was never truly threatened the rest of the way.

Kobe Bryant tried to keep pace, and did so for a bit with 13 first quarter points of his own. But as is always the case in these types of games, when the Lakers act like they don’t know what they want to do offensively, Bryant takes complete control to try to make things happen.

There was plenty of hesitation from Bryant’s supporting cast, with a lack of sharp off-ball movement being the most glaring issue, and without players making moves to create space, or cutting with purpose to predetermined spots, the offense stagnated on more possessions than it did not.

Anthony finished with 30 points in just under 22 minutes of action, and was forced to sit out the bulk of the second half after suffering an ankle sprain. Word is that it isn’t anything serious, but with the game so out of hand, even with the Lakers getting within seven at one point, there was no reason to risk it.

It’s worth reminding that the Lakers were once again without Pau Gasol, and are still without Steve Nash. The horrific Darius Morris experiment at the starting point guard position was mercifully halted, at least for one night, while Chris Duhon got the start with Morris getting the DNP-CD.

But reserve big man Robert Sacre got some minutes, and Devin Ebanks played almost 34 of them, which further shows just how depleted this so-called team of superstars truly is at this stage of the season.

The Knicks keep on winning, but for the Lakers, it was the team’s sixth loss in its last seven games. The effort defensively is what’s most troubling, followed by the fact that offensively, Bryant will simply take matters into his own hands while abandoning the system entirely once he believes his teammates aren’t capable of providing the necessary support on a given night.

This was indeed rock bottom for these Lakers, given the quality of a Knicks opponent showcasing its talents against a team that was favored by many to be a championship contender. How long it takes for them to dig out of this hole, or whether they can do so at all, remains to be seen.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge: “Who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team?”

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Isaiah Thomas is the best and most popular Celtics player, leading his team to the No. 1 seed in the East and the Eastern Conference Finals — both significant steps forward for an up-and-coming team.

Yet, from the moment the Warriors landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the talk about Thomas has been about his future with the Celtics: If/when they draft Markelle Fultz, will the Celtics want to pay Thomas max or near max money next summer? Do they want to be locked into four or five years with an undersized guard who will start that contract at age 29? Do they extend him this summer at a likely better price? Trade him?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge doesn’t understand all the talk. He certainly didn’t sound like someone looking to trade Thomas this summer speaking to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“All I’m saying is those are things I have to worry about that even I don’t like to think about. And I know that those are going to be difficult decisions at some point. But we want to keep Isaiah.

“All I know is that he’s had an amazing year, and who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team? Like, you’ve got to be kidding me…

“Why do the fans need to worry about how much money he makes?” he said. “I can understand if Isaiah and his wife and his agent are worried about that, but I don’t understand why that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the media.”

Two things I want to unpack from all that. First, that’s a “get off my lawn” take from Ainge that completely misses the mark with where sports fandom online has shifted. It’s not that he’s wrong at the core of his argument — we all should appreciate the season Thomas just had, Celtics’ fans in particular. Thomas is a joy to watch play and one of the good guys in the league on top of it. Name anyone in the NBA who has gotten more out of his natural abilities than Thomas — the man has put in the work to rise way past expectations. He needs to be appreciated and lauded for that.

But here’s the thing: Fans more than ever like to play GM, and they now have the tools to understand the tough financial decisions that fall on Ainge and others in his shoes. Let me explain it this way: The NBA Finals start June 1, but as a website, the NBC NBA page will draw way more traffic around the NBA Draft at the end of the month, then free agency in July will blow that away. Always does. Player movement — including both rumors of trades and talk of free agents and moves teams should make — is a much bigger draw than the games themselves. That’s not just the NBA, it’s true of the NFL and MLB and NHL and the Barclays’ English Premiere League and on down the line.

Second, Ainge may not like the speculation, but the questions are valid — he and the Celtics have some hard decisions coming up. At the core of them is the question of patience: Push their assets into the middle of the table now, get a couple of players ready to win next season, and make a run at LeBron James and the Cavaliers, or be patient and build to be better than Cleveland in three years (then sustain that for five or more years beyond that)? Ainge has been on the patient side of that equation from the start, and likely will be again — don’t expect him to trade that No. 1 pick or do anything but bring Thomas back. He can be a decision for the summer of 2018.

Then again, he has shopped Thomas before. Ainge is as good or better than any GM in the league of keeping his cards close to his vest, he’s impossible to read.

That said, the smart money is on him being patient. There’s no need to trade Thomas now, that’s the kind of rash overreaction that got the Knicks where they are over the last decade plus. Ainge can wait things out.

 

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.