Surprisingly it’s Pacers offense that is too much for Knicks in Game 1

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A lot of the focus in the Indiana vs. New York series was strength on strength — could the very good Pacers defense slow the very good Knicks offense? And they did slow it, they frustrated Carmelo Anthony, but the Knicks still got their points.

However, it was the other end of the court that was key for Game 1 — the Knicks could not stop the Pacers offense. Indiana worked the ball inside-out, worked it from the strong-side to the weak with good passing, and New York couldn’t catch up and contest shots.

Indiana shot the ball better, got to the free throw line more, and grabbed more offensive rebounds on their way to a 102-95 Game 1 win in in New York. The Pacers lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Tuesday night in New York.

The concern for the Knicks is that the Pacers are in some key structural ways a better version of the Boston Celtics — a defense-first team that can be limited on offense. But the Pacers have better athletes (Paul George) as well as big men who can score (David West had 20 points, Roy Hibbert 14) than Boston did. The Pacers are not going to take the long offensive siestas the Celtics did in the first round. The Knicks are going to have to play better at both ends than they did much of Game 1.

New York got some good looks early running side pick-and roll action so the game was close through the first quarter. But the Knicks got away from that in the second quarter and the Pacers started to find their groove — Indiana shot 68.8 percent in the quarter, went on a 10-2 run late and won the second 30-19. Indy led by six at the half.

The Pacers got an unexpected offensive bump in the game from D.J. Augustin, who had 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting including 4-of-5 from three on the game.

The Pacers pulled away in the third and a lot of that had to do with Hibbert — he outplayed Tyson Chandler all night. The Knicks need to do something to pull him out of the paint because when he gets set up back there he blocks and alters everything around the rim. The Knicks struggled with that, or containing him on offense (Chandler eventually fouled out of the game.

The Knicks tried to exploit mismatches like David West on Carmelo Anthony at points, but Melo finished with 28 points but on 27 shots.

Melo’s advantage against West is speed, need to run him off screens/make him the screener to get West moving before Melo attacks.

In the third quarter the Pacers started to pull away, extending the lead up to 16. The Knicks made a push late in the fourth but could get it no lower than 5.

The Pacers are going to defend like this all series — Paul George did a good job limiting Anthony and J.R. Smith (who had 17 points on 4-of-15 shooting on the night). The Knicks will have better offensive games, but it’s not going to be easy against the size and length of the Pacers. New York needs more Raymond Felton side, pick-and-roll, they need plays that force Hibbert out and away from where he can protect the rim.

But the Knicks will score points. The issue is the other end, where the Pacers had an offensive rating of 110.3 (points per 100 possessions), well above their 101.6 average from the regular season.

Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony need to have a better defensive night — Indiana’s front line of Hibbert, West and George had 53 points and 14 rebounds. The Pacers won the points in the paint battle 46-32.

New York is going to have to change that to win this series, one in which they have now given up home court advantage.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.