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.

Brandon Jennings no fan of the NBA’s new Awards Ceremony event

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Come June 26, Drake will be on stage in New York City, handing out the NBA’s awards — Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and so on. (We need to set an under/over on the number of players Drake hugs that night.)

The NFL does it. The NHL does it. And the NBA has decided to follow suit with a broadcast awards ceremony where everything — except the All-NBA Team — will be announced that night. It’s happening because the broadcast partners want it.

Brandon Jennings is not a fan. Here is what the Wizards’ point guard Tweeted:

Jennings took down a Tweet that said if he had won the award he would have wanted to get it with the organization and his teammates around him. (And no, he knows he’s not winning the award. If you were going to put that in the comments be more creative.)

There’s something to what Jennings is saying. The NBA award roll out was awkward at times in previous years, but it gave the fans a chance to celebrate the awards with their favorite player. Now, everyone will watch it unfold on television from a ballroom in NYC. That feels a little colder. Also, we will get to see the reaction of those who don’t win (particularly this season, where several players can make a strong case for MVP).

It will be interesting to see how this first year goes, and how the league tweaks it going forward. The more than two month gap between the end of the regular season and the awards could feel a bit awkward. But we’re not going to knock the idea until we’ve seen it in action.

Portland GM makes it official, Festus Ezeli will not be back with team next season

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This season the Portland Trail Blazers found their center of the future (and the present) in Jusuf Nurkic.

Which makes the next step fairly obvious: Portland will not pick up the option on Festus Ezeli for next season, GM Neil Olshay confirmed at the team exit meetings Tuesday.

Portland signed Ezeli on what they thought was a great contract (one-year, $7.4 million, with a team option for the second year) because he was coming off knee surgery last summer. However, Ezeli was never healthy, needed a second surgery, and never got on the court. After taking it slow over last summer he practiced with the team twice in mid-October, there was more swelling, so he pulled back.

This summer Ezeli will not draw any guaranteed money from teams, but some teams may take a look at him. Athletic bigs get a lot of chances in the NBA.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.