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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.

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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