Spurs go ice cold, Knicks win big at home

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Against a San Antonio Spurs frontcourt that features two incredibly productive 7-footers in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson had no choice but to go big. It was finally time to provide the answer to all the questions the New York media has been pestering him with. It was time to dust off a player who hasn’t started a game all season. It was time to turn to a guy the Madison Square Garden crowd has a long-standing relationship with. Woodson had to go with…

Marcus Camby.

You weren’t expecting someone else, were you? With all the fuss over who starts and who sits, Woodson played the matchups with 38-year-old Marcus Camby, having Amare Stoudemire come off the bench and shake off the rust in his second game back.

And guess what? It worked beautifully, as the Knicks went big and won big in a 100-83 victory that snapped San Antonio’s seven-game winning streak.

Camby may actually be made of rust at this point, but the guy knows how to defend the basket. Wall him up next to Tyson Chandler, and that’s length that can block out the sun. Although the Knicks offense was a bit gummy with some spacing issues, the defense completely shut down all paths to the basket. Everything was pushed outside, and the Spurs gladly drifted there. As a near 40 percent 3-point shooting team on the year, it didn’t take much convincing.

Problem was, the Spurs couldn’t hit a shot. With absolutely noting falling from the perimeter (9-for-34, 26.5 percent), the Spurs were stymied offensively. But more importantly, on a night they scored just 83 points, only 12 of those came in the paint.

That a really impressive number for the Knicks’ 20th ranked defense. Although the Spurs got quite a few open looks on the perimeter (if you don’t count waitress defense), going with more size shut down any post game from San Antonio. Every trip down for the Spurs seemed to be one-and-done, as they collected a paltry seven offensive rebounds despite all the misses. In an incredibly half court oriented, slow-paced game, the Spurs were deprived of any easy chances at the rim almost entirely.

While Camby, Stoudemire and Chandler may have scored only 22 points in a combined 69 minutes, the beauty of the Knicks roster is that there are very, very defined roles for each player. J.R. Smith (20 points) came in and gave a big boost as a slasher, Pablo Prigioni did an excellent job running the pick-and-roll (9 assists) and creating turnovers, and the Knicks still functioned reasonably well as an offensive unit, even with Carmelo Anthony (23 points) spending a decent amount of time on the perimeter.

Where the game completely turned, however, was when the Knicks went small to start the fourth quarter. It was like the Spurs were playing an entirely different team. Already leading by 9, the Knicks rattled off a 15-2 run that included two Steve Novak 3-pointers to really put the game on ice. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich responded by pulling all his starters, something you get the impression he might have wanted to do anyway with the Spurs playing their fourth game in five nights.

Outside of tonight’s big win, it’s an interesting exercise to look at the Knicks in the scope of a title contender. They play about as well at home as any team in the league. They can shoot themselves into any game. They have a star who can control a game late.

But the big question, of course, is that 20th ranked defense. That’s just not the trait of a title contender, despite everything else that may point you there. There is an awful lot of data that shows you that top-10 defenses in efficiency are the only teams that go on to play for the title. Sometimes the 11th or 12th ranked defense will sneak in, but never the 20th. While it’s hard to imagine Stoudemire helping at all defensively, but Woodson has shown the ability to play matchups pretty well. That may not be enough to allow Jason Kidd to stay with lightning quick guards, for example, but scheme can often hide personnel.

And as the Spurs can attest to tonight, manufacturing and making open threes can do an awful lot for you as well — no matter whether you’re big or small.

LeBron James: “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs”

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Cleveland’s defense was pathetic Saturday and the Thunder routed them because of it. The Cavaliers gave up 148 points, allowed the Thunder to shoot 58 percent, and basically were little more than traffic cones for Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the rest of the Thunder to dribble and pass around. The Cavaliers have lost 8-of-11 and coach Tyronn Lue’s seat is getting warm.

Can the Cavaliers even get out of the East? LeBron James wasn’t even asking that question after the Saturday loss, he wants his team to get to the conference finals first. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Playoffs? We can’t even start thinking about that, not the way we’re playing right now,” James said. “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs if they started next weekend. Haven’t even began thinking about the postseason.”

It’s January, it’s far too early to write LeBron and the Cavaliers off — his teams have won the East for seven straight seasons in a row for a reason. Cleveland’s mid-season malaise is a thing and they snap out of it, Isaiah Thomas will find his legs and play better, but this season has shown some troubling structural flaws in the Cavaliers. Ones that could bite them in the playoffs. Ones they are active in the trade market trying to address, or at least shore up a little.

Nobody around the league is comfortable picking against a LeBron team in the East — he has been to seven straight Finals for a reason (and how impressive an achievement that is gets overlooked). But this seems to be the weakest LeBron team since he bolted Cleveland (the first time?), and a second-round matchup vs. Toronto is no gimme anymore. LeBron is right to be concerned.

Former LSU star, Trail Blazer Tim Quarterman arrested after leading police on high-speed chase

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If you missed Tim Quarterman’s cup of coffee in the NBA nobody can blame you. The 6’6″ point guard was a star at LSU who went undrafted but got a chance to earn a roster spot in Portland. He bounced between the NBA and D-League last season playing in 16 games for the Trail Blazers, but then this summer was traded to Houston for cash, and the Rockets quickly waived him. He had signed to play in China but never got there due to visa issues, he did not play a game there.

Now he has some big trouble stateside. From Tupelo, Miss., television station WTVA (hat tip to the Times-Picayune):

Master Sgt. Ray Hall with the Mississippi Highway Patrol says the incident began sometime near 10:50 p.m. when troopers attempted to stop a 2018 Dodge Ram pickup truck for traveling eastbound on Highway 278 at a high rate of speed.

Quarterman failed to stop and led officers on the pursuit… The Mississippi Highway Patrol says the pursuit ended near (a family’s) home when Quarterman intentionally rammed a Pontotoc police officer causing both vehicles to crash.

Both Quarterman and the police officer were taken to a local hospital with minor injuries.

This led to charges of aggravated assault and felony fleeing, according to the report.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: “We are better than them”

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Houston’s home win Saturday night against Golden State was much more important for the Rockets than the Warriors. Not in terms of the standings (Golden State is still 3.5 games up there), but about confidence — the Rockets needed to know they can beat the defending NBA champions. This game fueled their belief that they have a shot against the Warriors.

Houston big man Clint Capela was trying to say that… then took it a step too far.

Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them,” Rockets center Clint Capela told ESPN. “We’ve got to keep playing. We know that they’re going to come back if we have the lead, and we’ve just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready. I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on defense — all the switches, the weak side — and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.

“We are better than them.”

It goes without saying that January games are poor predictors of May playoff series. That said, I have two quick thoughts here:

• The Rockets are the team best built to have a legitimate shot at beating the Warriors. (They can score with Golden State, and they have good switchable defenders on the wing, the two things needed to have a chance.)

• I want guys to say this. I want teams going up against the Warriors to believe — that is the first step to actually doing it. You think the Cavaliers feel confident like this right now? The Rockets have the swagger and are over the intimidation factor, that’s step one.

Chris Paul scores 33, Rockets topple Warriors 116-108

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden felt closer to normal after struggling in his first game back from a hamstring injury, and the Houston Rockets got a big game from Chris Paul to down the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.

Paul scored 33 points with 11 rebounds, Harden bested Stephen Curry twice in the final seconds and the Rockets held off the Warriors 116-108 to snap their 14-game road winning streak.

The victory gives Houston a 2-1 series advantage over Golden State after the reigning NBA champions had won the series the previous three seasons.

“Obviously they’re a championship caliber team for the past four years … and that’s what we’re trying to build our way up to,” Harden said.

Harden stepped back from Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left, then blocked Curry’s 3-point attempt after a timeout.

Harden finished with 22 points. Paul added two free throws with 28 seconds left.

Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston.

“It’s been a good streak, disappointing end to it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “But we didn’t deserve to win tonight. We played pretty poorly, did a lot of things to hurt ourselves and we’re playing a great team. Can’t get away with it.”

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni raved about the performance of the 32-year-old Paul .

“The guy is a winner, he’s been a winner, he’s going to win,” D’Antoni said.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts and 6 of 20 overall. It was just the sixth time in his career that he’d attempted 20 or more shots while making six or fewer.

“It was just one of those nights where I personally didn’t have the right vision on the floor,” he said. “So I’ve got to take that responsibility for that one. It was pretty bad.”

The Warriors were wrapping up a five-game road trip and had won the first four games to tie a franchise record for consecutive road wins. But they struggled from the outset Saturday and trailed by double digits for most of the first half.

It was Harden’s second game back after missing seven with a strained hamstring. He was in a much better rhythm than in his return Thursday night, when he scored a season-low 10 points. He had eight assists, two steals and two blocks Saturday.

The Rockets got the victory despite missing Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green, who were both serving the second game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with the Clippers. Clint Capela added 18 points for Houston on a night when top reserve Eric Gordon went 0 for 9 from 3-point range and finished with just six points.

Golden State led by four before Houston went on a 9-2 run, with the first five points from Paul, to take a 109-106 lead with about three minutes left.