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.

Clippers make changes, but progress?

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Chris Paul is fantastic, the best point guard between Magic Johnson and Stephen Curry.

Paul’s departure might also help the Clippers – in the short- and long-term.

The same unrelenting unacceptance of anything less than perfection that drives Paul to personal greatness can also grate those around him. J.J. Redick spoke openly of a loss of joy. After six seasons together, Paul’s message might have worn especially thin on Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. This could be a breath of fresh air in the locker room.

L.A’s return in the trade with the Rockets – Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and a first-round pick – certainly softens the blow. That’s 1.5 starting-caliber players, 3.5 rotation-caliber players and a first-rounder – a very nice return if Paul were leaving anyway.

Long-term, it’s easy to see how committing $201 million over five years to a 32-year-old could backfire. The Clippers reportedly balked at that five-year max offer, but even the four-year max would’ve meant paying Paul $43 million at age 35.

There was a fine case for the Clippers to get younger and leaner (and happier) without Paul. Maybe they could’ve even ridden their Paul-built prestige, unprecedented in franchise history, and the L.A. market to chase the biggest free agents in the next couple years.

Except they didn’t do that.

The Clippers fell right back into win-now mode with risky bets.

They re-signed Griffin to a five-year max contract worth more than $171 million. They signed-and-traded for Danilo Gallinari, guaranteeing the forward nearly $65 million over three years and flipping the Houston first-rounder (while also shedding the overpaid Jamal Crawford).

Griffin, Gallinari and Beverley – the centerpiece of the Paul trade – are all nice players. But they all also carry significant injury risk. The 28-year-old Griffin has missed 83 games the last three years. The 29-year-old Gallinari has missed 203 games the last seven years, and he already hurt his thumb punching an opponent while playing for Italy. The 29-year-old Beverley has missed 78 games the last four years.

Injuries could derail any season with that trio leading the team, and whether the Clippers can shift courses anytime soon is out of their control. They have more than $49 million tied to player options for DeAndre Jordan ($24,119,025), Austin Rivers ($12.65 million), Milos Teodosic ($6.3 million) and Wesley Johnson ($6,134,520) next summer .

Even just the likeliest of those four, Austin Rivers, opting in would leave L.A. without max cap space. I’d also bet on Johnson, who has fallen into Doc Rivers’ doghouse, opting in.

Will the Clippers want Jordan and Teodosic to opt in or out? Those are mysteries – a particularly high-stakes one with Jordan, a premier center who will turn 30 next year.

Jordan’s situation will be especially tricky given Griffin and Gallinari. Griffin might be best at center, and Gallinari is certainly optimized at power forward. Does Jordan add more talent or create more of a logjam on this team?

At this point, I would’ve rather just maxed out Paul and Griffin for five years and hoped the franchises problems stemmed from bad luck. Foolproof? Hardly, especially because even if luck were the culprit, the people involved believing otherwise could’ve had lasting destructive effects on their mindsets.

It’s also worth noting that the Clippers didn’t necessarily have that choice. Paul might have left for James Harden and the Rockets even with a five-year max offer from L.A.. Re-signing Paul could’ve also pushed out Griffin.

There’s no choice but to grade the Clippers moves with some guesses at the counterfactual.

At least they clearly did well on some smaller moves.

Teodosic, who starred in Europe, is an intriguing 30-year-old rookie. Willie Reed appeared to be nice value at the minimum, but a domestic-violence charge is concerning. Kudos to owner Steve Ballmer for spending to acquire second-rounders Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell.

Still, all these smaller additions must be weight against the smaller departures: Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton and Crawford. Those are several contributors heading out the door.

One key person staying? Coach Doc Rivers, who was stripped of his presidency after a lousy front-office tenure.

But how much did the Clippers really learn from the Rivers era? They put Lawrence Frank, another coach with no front-office experience before arriving in L.A., in charge of roster construction.

At least Frank can focus on only one job, not the two Rivers was handling. And Jerry West, Michael Winger and Trent Redden will provide a depth of front-office expertise this franchise was sorely lacking.

With lots of new faces and titles, the Clippers are in a more captivating place – but one that doesn’t look substantively different enough to be preferable to their old place.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: Kyrie Irving trade came together when Cavs stopped asking for Jayson Tatum

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We knew that Boston and Cleveland had talked previously about a possible Kyrie Irving trade, but the talks had gone nowhere because early on the Cavaliers were asking for recent No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum, along with a veteran player and a pick. Boston GM Danny Ainge had just traded the No. 1 pick and taken Tatum after that step back, no way he was going to move the Duke star.

What changed and got the deal done was the Cavaliers stopped asking about Tatum, said Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in an interview on NBA TV.

“The big discussion point with Boston and Cleveland over the past several weeks on a potential deal has always been about Jayson Tatum’s involvement. The Cavaliers coveted him greatly. I think if Tatum was involved the first day these talks transpired, this deal would have been done weeks ago.”

What Cleveland got by opening their mind to other possibilities was an All-NBA point guard in Isaiah Thomas, a 3&D guy they needed in Jae Crowder, and the highly coveted unprotected Brooklyn Nets pick for the next draft.

You can see why the Cavaliers wanted Tatum, at Summer League he showed an ability to knock down shots, including difficult ones. He’s a guy who can walk into the NBA and score, which would have helped the Cavaliers now and going forward. But what they got in this trade was better — guys who can help them win now and flexibility for the future (they can keep that Brooklyn pick, or it could be traded for a veteran to help keep LeBron James in Cleveland).

Sixers’ Ben Simmons fully cleared to play basketball

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Finally, some good news on the health front for Philadelphia.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick a year ago, has been fully cleared for basketball activities about a month before training camp opens, reports Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times.

Simmons was healthy enough to dominate a random pickup game in Australia against a bunch of 5’10” guys this week. We’re desperate enough for good signs that we will take that as one.

Also, Markelle Fultz is expected to be fully healthy for training camp after his ankle sprain.

So much for the good news. There is no updates on the status of Joel Embiid, which is concerning only in that all health news about Embiid feels concerning.

The source said center Joel Embiid hasn’t been cleared for fullcourt scrimmaging “as of yet.” Embiid, who is from Cameroon, worked with children as part of the NBA Africa Game earlier this month, but didn’t play in the Aug. 5 game.

For the sake of the game, we need the Sixers healthy this season and starting to show us how a team with so much promise and potential starts to pay off. Please let us see it. The Basketball Gods need to smile more fortune and the feet and ankles of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Report: Cavaliers called Warriors about Kyrie Irving-Klay Thompson trade

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The Warriors rejected a Klay ThompsonPaul George trade offer from the Pacers.

What about Thompson for Kyrie Irving, who’s younger than George and locked up for an additional season (the same amount of time as Thompson for a similar price)?

Apparently, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman inquired before sending Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

It would be hard to believe that Altman could have landed a better trade than the Boston one. He did call the uninterested Warriors about Klay Thompson, a source said.

I’m not sure what this trade would’ve accomplished for either team.

The Warriors obviously already have a point guard in Stephen Curry. Though Irving isn’t the best distributor, his handles and defense push him to point guard. Curry and Irving would have been a tough fit together. Golden State knows Curry and Thompson are a championship-caliber pairing.

Thompson would have been a big upgrade at shooting guard in Cleveland, but the Cavs would have been woefully undermanned at point guard. Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder wouldn’t cut it. At least the Cavaliers have decent options at shooting guard with J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver.

The Warriors would’ve never said yes, which is fortunate for the Cavs. They did better in their trade with Boston, anyway. Thomas can step in at point guard while Crowder still provides much-needed wing depth – plus Zizic and that sweet, sweet Nets pick.