‘Melo vs. Garnett sideshow is dull, Knicks’ hard-fought win is not

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Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett played nice. In fact, in the third quarter Garnett went to the floor trying to complete an alley-oop and it was Anthony who was there to lend a hand and help him back up. There were no fireworks, no ejections, nothing. They may not be going out for a beer together afterwards, but the sideshow turned out to be nothing special.

But the game itself was special. Or at least a lot of fun.

If Rasheed Wallace were there with New York, he would have said “both teams played hard.” There was nearly the passion of a playoff game from both teams.

The Knicks just played a little less sloppy and hit their shots down the stretch, so they came away with an 89-86 win.

That would be five straight losses for the Celtics, who drop two games below .500 but remain the eighth seed in the East. The second seed Knicks improved to 26-14 on the season.

Anthony got his points but the improved Celtics defense made it rough on him — ‘Melo had 28 points but was just 11-of-28 shooting on the night. Without Raymond Felton (still out with a broken finger) the Knicks end up resorting to a lot more ‘Melo isolation late in the clock and that is just never efficient. Wasn’t in Denver, wasn’t last season, isn’t now. The Celtics defense as a whole looked active and energetic, holding New York to 38.6 percent shooting.

Their offense just couldn’t do anything about it.

Rajon Rondo is trying to get the offense moving, and he had 23 points (on 19 shots), 11 assists and 10 rebounds — his fourth triple-double of the season. But take him out of the equation and the rest of the Celtics shot 36.8 percent. Rondo is the straw that stirs the Celtics drink, but there is only so much he can do to bring everyone along.

Look at their possessions in the final four minutes and you see how it is all Rondo: Rondo hits an elbow pull up jumper; Rondo drove and drew a foul from Amare Stoudemire; Paul Pierce passes up good look 18 footer to tie it instead passing to Avery Bradley for a corner three he missed; Garnett misses a contested midrange jumper; J.R. Smith reaches in and tips the ball on a handoff to Rondo and it goes out of bounds off Boston; Rondo nails a step-back 17 footer; Pierce boots the ball out of bounds as he is hounded by Smith.

Smith also had a key three late. It was a true gunner’s shot — he was 2-of-15 on the night when he caught the ball but he let it go without hesitation or memory of the past misses and he drained it.

This was the kind of ugly, defensive-minded game the Celtics won in recent years. Their defense would carry them through their offensive lulls. This year it’s just not working, the offensive lulls are too long, the defense isn’t consistent enough.

The Knicks, they are winning ugly. And in a game that felt like the playoffs they will take it.

76ers second-rounder Jonah Bolden signs in Israel

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Jonah Bolden – No. 16 on my draft board – slipped all the way to the 76ers at No. 36 in the NBA draft. An impressive summer league has raised his stock significantly.

But Philadelphia won’t reap the rewards this season.

Bolden signed a three-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the team announced. The club also said the deal contained NBA outs and the 76ers helped facilitate his move from his previous team, Red Star in Serbia.

This is a helpful arrangement for Philadelphia, which is running out of roster spots. Bolden will develop elsewhere while allowing the 76ers’ to maintain his exclusive negotiating rights.

Bolden must get stronger and more adept at handling physicality. The athletic stretch four can also continue developing his burgeoning perimeter skills.

Then, next year, maybe the 76ers will have room to sign him themselves.

Anthony Davis does #DriveByDunkChallenge (video)

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If you’re not up with what the kids are doing, the cool thing this summer is the #DriveByDunkChallenge – driving to random houses, running out of a still-running car, dunking on their basketball hoop, running back into the car then driving off.

It sounds like a lot of fun for those who can dunk (and don’t get accosted by startled homeowners). An example:

Pelicans star Anthony Davis took his turn:

Report: Thunder signing Dakari Johnson two years after drafting him

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Two seasons ago, Dakari Johnson was the youngest player by more than two years on the D-League’s All-Rookie team. Last season, Johnson was the youngest player by more than a year on an All-D-League team – and he made the first of three teams.

Now, Johnson – who the Thunder drafted No. 48 in 2015 and whose rights they continued to hold – is finally moving up to the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Thunder have already used the full taxpayer mid-level exception, so presumably Johnson will get the minimum – $2,128,226 over two years. That, plus two years of meager D-League salary, will be Johnson’s return for granting Oklahoma City four years of his services.

He could have forced the Thunder’s hand either of the previous two years by signing the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum – a team must extend to retain a draft pick’s rights. Accepting the tender would have meant Johnson earning an NBA salary (and gaining a year of service) if Oklahoma City kept him past the preseason. Or, if they waived him, he would’ve been an unrestricted NBA free agent. He still could have developed with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate while available to any NBA team.

Instead, Johnson repeatedly rejected the tender, allowing Oklahoma City to maintain exclusive negotiating rights.

At least the Thunder helped develop him. A strong 7-footer, Johnson has improved his mobility and skill level. He’s still an old-school center in a league moving away from that style, but he’s now more equipped to keep up.

Whether he’s ready enough is another question. Johnson will fall behind Steven Adams and Enes Kanter on the depth chart. At just 21, Johnson is still a decent developmental prospect.

Johnson gives the Thunder 16 players on standard contracts, one more than the regular-season maximum. They could waive Semaj Christon, whose salary is unguaranteed, but I’d be leery of having only Raymond Felton behind Russell Westbrook at point guard. Nick Collison at least provides insurance at center.

So, there’s no guarantee Johnson sticks into the regular season. One thing working in his favor: His salary will be luxury-taxed at the rookie minimum, because the Thunder drafted him. Christon or any other player acquired through free agency would be taxed at the second-year minimum.

No matter how it shakes out, Johnson is at least finally getting significant money in his pocket.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey: DeMar DeRozan to play some point guard

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The Raptors gave away backup point guard Cory Joseph to save money. So, who will play behind Kyle Lowry?

Presumably, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet will each slide up a spot on the depth chart. The third-year Wright looks ready to join the rotation, and he deserves at least the opportunity.

But Toronto also has another – unexpected – option at point guard: DeMar DeRozan.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Bryan Meler of Sportsnet:

“DeMar DeRozan, have him handle the ball a bit more as a point guard, a facilitator, a passer. Kyle Lowry moving the ball a bit more, spacing up. We don’t want to give our whole ‘what we’re going to try to do next year’ away, but again it comes down to passing the basketball and better spacing more so, than we know, one-on-one play.”

“Everyone and their brother knows we want better ball movement,” said Casey.

DeRozan didn’t play point guard at all last season.* So, this is a pretty big shift.

*Defined as playing without Lowry, Joseph, Wright or VanVleet.

Known as an isolation player, DeRozan has quietly improved as a distributor. I don’t think his ability to run an offense is at a point-guard level, but I’m also not sure that’s the point.

The Raptors are trying to change their style and promote more ball movement. This could help in the long run.

I supported the Timberwolves playing Zach LaVine at point guard as a rookie even though it was clear he should be a shooting guard. Playing point guard was a crash course that helped him develop skills useful at shooting guard, skills he couldn’t have as easily developed while playing off the ball.

The same could be true with DeRozan. Some rocky minutes at point guard could better equip him to play with Lowry in better-passing units come playoff time.

It was more conventional to play a 19-year-old on a bad team out of position to focus on skill development than it is for a 28-year-old on a good team. But he we are.

The Raptors have achieved enough success in the regular season and not enough in the playoffs. Experimenting during the long regular season is a good plan.