The Knicks are facing elimination Thursday night, trailing three games to one in their playoff series against the Pacers. New York hopes that returning to play at Madison Square Garden, where the team was 31-10 during the regular season, may help them snap out of their offensive funk and force a Game 6 back in Indiana on Saturday.
Hope is not a strategy, as they say, so Knicks head coach Mike Woodson is likely to shuffle his lineups in search of one that can shoot much better than the 35 percent his team showed in its last two losses. He also is approaching the game with a supreme level of confidence.
After today’s morning shootaround at Tarrytown, with do-or-die Game 5 on tap tonight, Woodson sounded very confident the series is heading back to Indianapolis.
“I’m expecting to win tonight,’’ Woodson said. “This has got to be a wakeup now. If we lose, we go home and none of us want to go home. I sure as hell don’t. I think we’re going to show a lot of pride.’’
The Knicks don’t need to show pride, they need to make shots.
New York has been a jump shooting team all year, with Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith both capable of getting hot from outside. The problem in this series against the Pacers has been Indiana’s defense, which has been immaculate at times — both in the way they’ve defended on the ball, and in their rotations and closeouts on the three-point shooters.
Woodson didn’t come close to making one of those silly guarantees, but his “expectation” might be enough if he was able to convey that to his team in time for them to bring an increased level of fortitude into what could potentially be the Knicks’ final game of the season.
League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant
Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.
However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.
“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”
“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”
One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.
“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”
Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.
But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.
Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver
That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.
Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.
What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.
Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.
By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.
Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.
How’s that going?
(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.