Small ball, no George Hill, enough for Knicks to win, stave off elimination

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The Knicks didn’t solve the Pacers defense Thursday night. New York made some good little runs — with George Hill out for Indiana Raymond Felton was getting into the lane and making things happen more often, plus Chris Copeland showed why he should get more run — but overall the Knicks scored a pedestrian 85 points and shot just 41 percent. They had 12 assists on 32 baskets, so it wasn’t amazing ball movement.

But it was enough.

It was a night when the Pacers went cold — a lot of that had to do with Hill’s absence, but the Pacers were 19-of-33 at the free throw line, too —and the Knicks went back to small ball, which worked. Solid Knicks defense and a few more made baskets led to a comfortable 85-75 Knicks win in Game 5.

That makes the series 3-2 Pacers heading back to Indiana Saturday night for Game 6. That will be the Pacers stand — they do not want a Game 7 in Madison Square Garden (it would be Monday night).

Hill, the Pacers starting point guard, was a surprise scratch with a concussion, something he suffered in the first quarter of Game 4 (he played through i shooting 9-of-14). Hill’s status is up in the air for Game 6. Under NBA concussion policy he has to pass a series of tests after increasing levels of physical activity. The team doctor has to consult with a league neurologist before he is cleared to play.

If he can’t play Saturday it could be rough because the Pacers offense is not the same without him.

D.J. Augustin got the start and was 3-of-9 with zero assists. Gerald Green got some run at the point and he was a mess. It really all fell to Paul George, who had a respectable 23 points and 6 assists.

However, as a team the Pacers shot just 36.2 percent and had 19 turnovers. Credit some of that to a Knicks defense playing with the desperate energy of a team that didn’t want to be eliminated. J.R. Smith had a chasing down Augustin on a breakaway, Tyson Chandler not giving away dunks, there was good all around energy from the Knicks. But the Pacers just missed a lot of shots they can usually make (David West has been doing that all series).

New York got some better offense from key guys. J.R. Smith started out 3-of-5 shooting (but went 1-of-6 after that). Carmelo Anthony hit some key buckets and had 28 points, but needed a very Carmelo 28 shots to get them. Felton was much improved without Hill harassing him.

But Chris Copeland was the star off the bench. Why coach Mike Woodson went away from him at times this series is a mystery because they are just better when he is on the floor — 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting, 3-of-4 from three. He’s called “I Get Buckets” for a reason.

The Knicks also showed some fight missing before in this series. In the second half the Knicks would have a lead around 10 and the Pacers consistently would push it down — and each time the Knicks made a little run back. The lead was down to three, New York went on an 8-2 run. The lead came back down to 4 and the Knicks ran off six straight.

Everything worked a little better for the Knicks… well, except Jason Kidd. It’s nine straight games since he scored (since before the NFL draft, to give you a time frame) and he was 0-for-1 in this game when he missed a layup.

Back home in Indiana Saturday, expect the Pacers to shoot a little better at home — they will put up more points, with or without George Hill. We will see if the Knicks have another level in their offensive game to come back home for a deciding game.

Eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard: “I have a lot left in the tank”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At 31 and entering his 14th NBA season, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard says his best basketball is ahead of him.

Wearing a teal suit with black trim, a smiling Howard insisted Monday he can return to being a dominant center with the Charlotte Hornets, where he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford and play for one of his childhood heroes, team owner Michael Jordan.

“A lot of people have written me off, which is great because it’s going to make me work even harder,” Howard said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just looking forward to this opportunity because I have a lot left in the tank.”

This will be Howard’s third team in three seasons.

The Atlanta Hawks, his hometown team, traded him to Charlotte one year into a three-year, $74 million contract. Howard said he has no hard feelings, adding that “sometimes things just don’t work out.”

But he’s confident Charlotte is the right fit.

“I think I’m a lot healthier than I have been in the past five years and I think this is going to be my best time,” Howard said. “I’m a lot wiser now, stronger mentally and physically, and I’m in the right place with a great coach, a great GM and the GOAT (greatest of all time). So I think this is the perfect opportunity.”

Much of Howard’s optimism stems from being reunited with Clifford.

They worked together for seven seasons in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the 6-foot-11 three-time Defensive Player of the Year loves Clifford’s defense-first mentality. He’s also confident Clifford will put him in the right situations to succeed on offense.

“He understands me,” Howard said. “… He was always there for me and not once did he turn his back on me or talk bad about me. He was very positive and he was somebody that I have always trusted in.”

The feeling is mutual.

Clifford said he’s never coached a player smarter than Howard when it comes to understanding defensive coverages. While Howard has incredible athletic ability, Clifford said, he’s never been given the credit he deserves for playing a “thinking man’s game.”

“Smart always wins in the NBA,” Clifford said.

Howard is expected to start in Charlotte alongside All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, guard Nic Batum and forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Cody Zeller, last year’s starting center, is expected to come off the bench for the Hornets but still see significant minutes.

Howard said he’s learned a lot over the past 13 seasons.

“Over the years a lot of things have been said and I’ve not said anything back,” Howard said. “Somehow things that weren’t true kept getting stirred up, and that gave a lot of people wrong opinions about who I was as a person. I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that.”

In Charlotte, Howard becomes the second big-name athlete to be known as “Superman,” joining former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Both are from the Atlanta area and have met a couple of times but aren’t close friends. Howard said he’s eager to connect with Newton and get to know him better.

“We have the same attitude; we love to win, but we want to have fun,” Howard said.

 

As expected, Timberwolves waive Jordan Hill

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Last summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves took a $4 million flier on veteran big man Jordan Hill, hoping he could give them some backup minutes behind Karl-Anthony Towns. Didn’t work out that way, he appeared in just 47 minutes across seven games. Cole Aldrich was better (though not great), and so in the draft the Timberwolves took Justin Patton hoping he can give them some minutes next season.

Which means Hill’s time in Minnesota has come to an end.

Hill will be 30 years old next season, but I’m not sure that there’s another NBA contract in his future. If so he may have to earn it through a training camp invite.

Report: Nets, Sixers to try and land J.J. Redick as free agent

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Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get all the headlines as the big Clippers’ big free agents, but there is another Clipper going to get paid this summer:

J.J. Redick.

One of the best snipers in the NBA, he shot 42.9 percent from three last year. However, he’s become much more than just a shooter. No player works harder off the ball to get open than Redick, he’s got enough game to put the ball on the floor and create if he gets closed out on, and he’s a solid team defender. He has remade his body and his game since his days at Duke, and now he’s going to get paid.

Maybe by Brooklyn or Philadephia, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Multiple league sources I’ve spoken to expect the Sixers and Nets to make a hard push at Redick. Were he to go to either of those teams, Redick could receive an opportunity unlike anything he’s had before. He is one of the greatest 3-point shooters in league history, and is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high six 3-point attempts per game. That’s a lot of triples, but it’s not enough. Even Sixers swingman Robert Covington averaged more last season, at 6.1 per game, and he shot only 33.3 percent. A gunslinger of Redick’s caliber should be averaging about 8.5 treys, in the same range as Klay Thompson or Eric Gordon. Had Redick taken 8.5 3s last season and posted the same 42.9 percent clip, he would’ve averaged 18.2 points per game. Redick could receive those chances with the Sixers or Nets, all while living within close proximity to his home in Brooklyn.

Redick will have options, the question is what does he want? Does he want to be close to home in Brooklyn? Does he want to both help on the court and mentor off it the up-and-coming Sixers? Would he take a little less money, and a couple fewer shots, to chase a ring? Does he want to stay a Clipper?

Redick has earned the right to have options, his skill set could help any team. He may be flying under fans’ radar, but not front office executives. They see Redick’s value. Which is why he will have options come July 1.

Report: Nuggets plan to make free agent run at Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap

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Denver likes its young core. As it should. Nikola Jokic looks like a franchise cornerstone piece at center. Young guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are clearly part of the future. Emmanuel Mudiay and Juan Hernangomez may be as well.

What Denver needs most is an upgrade at the four — someone who can defend, rebound, and space the floor. It’s a top off-season priority (and why they came up as a third team in the Kevin Love/Paul George trade talks, but that appears dead now).

Instead, expect the Nuggets to be aggressive on the free agent market. Via Marc Stein and Chris Haynes at ESPN.

Denver, according to sources, hopes to crash the list of suitors for Los Angeles Clippers unrestricted free agent Blake Griffin and Atlanta Hawks unrestricted free agent Paul Millsap.‎

Denver’s interest in Millsap is no secret and they will likely come in with a big offer, and it’s known he’s likely to leave Atlanta this summer. He’d be the perfect fit with his ability to defend other fours (he almost made the NBA All-Defensive Team), he is strong on the glass, and he shot 31.3 percent from three last season (you have to respect him out there). Griffin is more athletic and a better passer than Millsap, but he’s not the same level of defender, and he comes with more injury concerns. He also could stay with the Clippers.

Denver has positioned itself to be a player, a team going after one more big star to position itself not just in the playoffs in the West but as a team fast on the rise. Whether the Nuggets can out-recruit teams for elite players, remains to be seen. Millsap, Griffin and players of that level have options and a lot of teams chasing them.

However, Denver is one confident organization right now.