Knicks and Nets might not remain so mockable for long, so enjoy it while you can

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The Knicks and Nets as engaged in a thrilling competition: Which team is the biggest laughingstocks in the NBA?

Both can lay claim.

They have oversized payrolls, cartoonish owners, coaches on the hot seat and underwhelming stars. The Knicks have seen Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin feud, and the Nets have matched with Jason Kidd-Lawrence Frank silliness. More internal strife seems inevitable for both teams.

The Knicks and Nets share the United States’ biggest market, but there are more fans outside New York than in it, and the rest of the country is eating up the Big Apple disarray. Though the Knicks and Nets are certainly accommodating with repeated embarrassments, I think we – and I definitely include myself – are a little overeager to mock these teams.

Of everything going wrong for them, the biggest issue is losing.

Even if they beat the Nets in tonight’s hyped matchup, the Knicks (3-13) would still be on pace for the worst records in franchise history. And the Nets (5-13) could shatter records for cost per win.

But a big reason the teams are losing isn’t fun to mock at all: Injuries. Both teams have been hit hard.

Using data from nbawowy, the Knicks rank No. 26 and the Nets No. 28 in net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating). But when the teams have used lineups that include only members their full-strength rotations, they’ve been much better.

For the Knicks, I define that as:

  • Raymond Felton
  • Iman Shumpert
  • Metta World Peace
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Tyson Chandler
  • Pablo Prigioni
  • J.R. Smith
  • Andrea Bargnani
  • Kenyon Martin
  • Amar’e Stoudemire

And the Nets:

  • Deron Williams
  • Joe Johnson
  • Paul Pierce
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Brook Lopez
  • Jason Terry
  • Andrei Kirilenko
  • Reggie Evans
  • Andray Blatche
  • Mason Plumlee

Using that adjustment, the Knicks shoot up to No. 20 and the Nets No. 23 in net rating.

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Being in the low 20s still isn’t great, but it sure beats leading only the Bucks and Jazz and sandwiching the Cavaliers.

Of course, other teams have also faced injuries and used non-rotation players who lower the team’s net rating. So, this is far from a perfect measure of how good the Knicks and Nets would be if healthy – and it’s also unreasonable to expect perfect health from two teams so old – but I think this is an indicator the Knicks and Nets, as constructed, aren’t quite as bad as they’ve been so far.

And without the losing, maybe their more colorful problems get handled in-house. It all relates.

If the Knicks and Nets get healthy, they could go from historically bad to just regularly bad, and what fun would that be? Sure, we could – and would – still mock them a little, but this golden era of New York jokes could end soon. So, enjoy tonight’s matchup while you can.

Why is Robin Lopez holding this dog during his exit interview? (VIDEO)

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What did Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez have to say during his exit interviews? I can’t really tell, it’s all a bunch of white noise. All I see is him holding his giant, shaggy dog named Muppet while speaking to reporters.

I can’t get over it, really. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?

Lopez is the perfect candidate to do this if you think about it, given his propensity to be a little off-kilter.

Via Twitter:

Lopez was mostly talking about taking away positives from a weird Bulls season in which they struggled all year until miraculously making the 8-seed before challenging top-ranked Boston in round 1.

Clippers, Jazz prepare for Game 7 in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES  (AP) – Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was adamant the sun would not set on Paul Pierce‘s NBA run in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

“I looked over at ‘Truth’ during one of (those) timeouts and I said ‘You’re not ending your career in Utah,’ ” said Paul, referring to Pierce’s popular nickname. “We told him that. We just said we want to keep this thing going for him. Paul was big tonight. Like the 3 he hit over there on the wing, and stuff like that. Just his energy and his voice in those different timeouts I think was huge for us.”

With a crucial 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6, the Clippers will attempt to extend the career of the 39-year-old Pierce, who is retiring at season’s end, and capture the series Sunday in Game 7 at Staples Center.

The winner advances to the second round to meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven affair beginning Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Paul, whose two late free throws sealed the win against the Jazz, led the charge by scoring 29 points, dishing eight assists and allowing the Clippers to avoid elimination in the opening round for the second straight season. The Portland Trail Blazers bounced them last season in six games, aided by injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin.

And as Paul loathes to hear, the point guard has never guided a team past the second round.

“This is what we talked about before (Game 6),” said Paul, who has become the Clippers’ main force offensively with Griffin out of the playoffs again, this time with an injury to his big toe. “Doc (Rivers) said to go out there and give yourself a chance. We knew we couldn’t win both games (Friday), and we wanted to give ourselves a chance.”

Utah will have another opportunity to end Pierce’s career on Sunday despite missing a chance on its home court. After the Jazz won Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward made it clear he didn’t want to return for a Game 7.

Hayward, though, is humming a different tune now.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were three years ago,” Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If you had told me at the beginning of the year you’d be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A., I’d have been like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”

The Jazz will be forced to bring their best with center Rudy Gobert hobbling again. Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee in Game 1 that kept him out of the lineup for two games, sprained his ankle in the second half of Game 6 and was forced to the bench because of it during critical stretches.

Gobert said the ankle wouldn’t hinder him Sunday.

“I sprained it on somebody’s foot,” said Gobert, who finished with 15 points, nine boards and three blocks, according to the Tribune. “I tried to run through it, but that didn’t work out. I’ve had a lot of sprained ankles before. I will be good.”

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.