Jeremy Lin loves New York, Knicks weak transition defense. Rockets cruise to win.

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The obvious line is easy — Jeremy Lin has always been at his best when playing in Madison Square Garden with Carmelo Anthony out.

The reality is that Jeremy Lin and his Rocket teammates are perfectly suited to expose some of the Knicks weaknesses. And some new troubling Knicks trends.

The result was Lin, James Harden and the rest of an aggressive Rockets team ran right past the Knicks, exposed their transition defense, attacked the paint and eventually handed the Knicks their first home loss of the season. Easily. The final 109-96 score made the game look closer than it was.

Lin had 22 points, 8 assists and pushed the tempo early (he had 16 and 4 of those final numbers in the first half) and was key for the Rockets to pull away from New York in the second quarter. Lin had one of his best games of the season. James Harden chipped in 28. Carlos Delfino 16 off the bench on 4-of-7 from three.

On one hand, the Knicks can write this game off. Forget it. Flush it. No Carmelo Anthony (out with an ankle injury still), no Rasheed Wallace, no Marcus Camby. Just call it an off night and move on.

But there are a few things that the Knicks should take notice out of this.

One is transition defense — New York came into this game 27th in the NBA in points per possession allowed to the other team in transition. Which is a bad matchup with the Rockets who play at the NBA’s fastest pace (99.6 possessions per game, nearly two faster than second place Dallas).

The result was, just as did their first meeting, this game felt like a 1980s throwback where the fast teams ran on everything — makes, misses, turnovers whatever. It worked for the Rockets at first as they started out 7-of-10 shooting because they attacked in transition — 16 of their first 17 points came in the paint. Houston pushed out to a nine-point lead in a signs of things to come.

But two things turned it around for a stretch — the Knicks played a spurt of better transition defense, and more importantly J.R. Smith shot 5-of-5 in the quarter off the bench and had 12 points. It was 31-29 Knicks after one quarter, one where the Knicks shot 63.3 percent themselves. It felt like we were in store for another shootout between these teams.

But the Knicks start second quarter 0-of-6, they couldn’t sustain an offensive surge without Anthony.

Meanwhile the Rockets just kept attacking — 30 or Rockets first 42 points came in the paint. They pushed lead out to 45-34. Jason Kidd was on Harden for a while and that didn’t work for New York and the lead grew. It was 56-42 Rockets at the half, Lin and Harden each with 16 on a combined 11-18 shooting with six assists. By the end of the third quarter it was a 23-point Rocket lead.

This off night defensively was not some out of the blue fluke by the Knicks — they came into this having allowed 110.2 points per 100 possessions in their last five games (via NBA.com stats). That is 26th in the NBA over that stretch and well off their 102.6 season average.

The Knicks have not played great defense of late and the Rockets exposed it. This is the kind of thing you expect Mike Woodson and Tyson Chandler to work to fix in the coming weeks. Not let it grow, not let bad habits develop.

Knicks fans looking for a bright spot, there was 29 points on 19 shots and a lot of hustle from Chris Copleland. J.R. Smith finished with 17, Chandler had 14 rebounds.

For the Rockets, maybe this is a step forward for Lin, who has struggled this season. He did well when he was paired with Harden in this game and he attacked. Of course, the Rockets went on a 16-3 run when it was just Lin on the court in the second quarter, no Harden. But baby steps, this was better than it had been.

Or maybe Lin just plays his best in the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.