After sleepy start, Carmelo, Knicks defense wake up to beat Hornets

3 Comments

Like you, the New York Knicks were feeling a little lazy on Sunday morning. Sleeping in, needing a little coffee to get going.

Except they had some work to do — the New Orleans Hornets were at Madison Square Garden for a noon tipoff game. And after three straight losses the Knicks looked at this game as a chance to get back in a groove.

The first quarter the Knicks kept hitting the snooze bar but in the second quarter Carmelo Anthony (who finished with 27 points) and the Knicks defense woke up, the result ultimately being a 100-87 Knicks win.

Maybe it wasn’t just woke up, maybe it was getting something to eat — Carmelo Anthony said he had been on a fast the past 15 days. Mid-season the professional athlete decided not to eat. Think that might explain the slow starts?

The other guy that woke up — Mike Woodson. For the previous three games he had started Marcus Camby or Kurt Thomas, which had basically moved Carmelo back to the small forward rather than the power forward. They lost. Sunday Chris Copeland started and was the three, Carmelo was back at the four and… what do you know? What worked at the start of the season continued to work. Shocking.

One final thing that mattered was the Knicks got back to playing some defense… eventually. The Hornets shot 40.2 percent for the game and had an offensive rating of just 90.2 points per 100 possessions (they had averaged 102.2 the five previous games). That’s the kind of win the Knicks needed.

But the first quarter of the game looked like everything that had gone wrong with the Knicks recently. The Hornets led most of the way early with Eric Gordon looking strong, working off the ball and with it, and scoring 12 first quarter points (he was 1-of-5 from three, that part of his game has not quite come back yet).

It could have been a lot worse for Knicks, the Hornets missed a lot of open looks. New york hung close thanks to Copeland, who had 11 first half points.

Then Anthony, who had started the game shooting 1-of-10, finished the half 6-of-7 to push the Knicks into the lead with 18 second quarter points. That was more than the Hornets scored in the quarter, just 12, as they shot 22.2 percent for the 12 minutes. The Knicks were more aggressive in the second quarter, not coincidentally when Austin Rivers entered the game for the Hornets. He is struggling, had a couple turnovers and the Knicks were on a roll

In the second half the Knicks pulled away to win comfortably. Amare Stoudemire probably had his best game since his return — 12 points and three rebounds in 23 minutes, plus he was attacking and getting to the line.

For the Hornets, they look better than they did early in the season. Anthony Davis shows flashes of the athleticism and length that made him the No. 1 overall pick, he’s starting to figure it out. Gordon had 22 and is finding his grove, and you are starting to see some flow to their game.

They were just not the better team Sunday. Once the Knicks woke up.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

Dave Reginek/Getty Images
Leave a comment

DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

Getty Images
1 Comment

With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.