Andrea Bargnani has a huge night for Knicks (VIDEO)

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Things were starting to get dire for the Knicks, at least as much as they can be so grim just five games into the 82-game regular season.

Tyson Chandler was lost for 4-6 weeks due to injury, and with a lack of healthy bigs on the roster while Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire struggle with health issues of their own and minutes restrictions to go along with them, Andrea Bargnani was turned to for help, as sketchy as that sounds.

Bargnani had been tentative and unproductive on both ends of the floor in his first few games of the season, but he broke out in a big way during New York’s win over the Bobcats on Friday — a team that had beaten them just three days prior.

The play of Bargnani was largely unfamiliar, but it was a welcome sight when the Knicks needed it the most. He finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists and five blocked shots, to the delight of his teammates and coaches.

From Ian Begley of ESPN New York:

From the first day Andrea Bargnani set foot in the Knicks practice facility, coaches and teammates have been asking him to play with some aggression.

On Friday night, the message finally sank in.

“I guess he was just tired of hearing it,” Carmelo Anthony said. …

“The coaches and my teammates are helping me a lot and they’re trying to do their best to make the adjustment smooth,” Bargnani said. “But I got to help them, play my game … go out there and do what I’ve always done all these years.” …

“He can’t tease me because I’m going to expect that from him every time he steps out on the floor,” Mike Woodson said.

Things change significantly for the Knicks if Bargnani can help them even remotely closely to the way he did on Friday. They’ll have J.R. Smith back from suspension for Sunday’s game against the Spurs (if he’s healthy enough to go), so that will immediately help the offense.

Bargnani has been known to be able to put up points at times, albeit somewhat inefficiently. And he was 11-of-25 from the field in this one, so, that’s still a thing. But if he can rebound and defend like he did in his latest outing, or even to the point where he’s not a James Harden-like liability on that end of the floor, New York might be able to sustain some consistency until Chandler makes it back.

Lonzo Ball makes expected official, declares for NBA Draft

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There was no hesitation. None was expected.

After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.

Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.

Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.

The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.

And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.

Watch highlights of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center

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Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”

Jerry West said he loved him like a son.

Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”

The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.

Check out the highlights above.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah to be suspended 20 games for violating league drug policy

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Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.

Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.

During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.

Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.

The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.

According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.

Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).

 

 

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.