Knicks snap nine-game losing streak by crushing depleted Nets

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NEW YORK — In a game that was supposed to be a lively and competitive rivalry contest between two teams who share a city and began the year sharing aspirations of contending for a title, the end result was to fans what the entire season has been for both the Knicks and the Nets — a disappointment.

There was very little competing going on thanks to the injuries that have ravaged this Nets team, and along with Brooklyn’s propensity to not show up for the third quarter of games which has plagued them all season long, New York took advantage of the league’s worst defense by running up a lead that reached as many as 34 points before settling on the final 113-83 margin.

Things look horrendous in Brooklyn right now, but the Knicks, remember, came into this one riding a nine-game losing streak. They’ll take the positives wherever they come no matter the shape of their opponent, and try to build upon them with a game at home against the Magic the very next night.

“Our pace was a lot quicker tonight and it looked like the Knicks of old,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said afterward. “The three ball was falling, the ball was moving and the defense was clicking. That’s how we have to play.”

New York did show flashes of last season’s team, one that lived by the three-point shot and was successful in doing so when the ball movement created open looks. The Knicks hit 16 of their 27 attempts from distance, good for a mark of 59.3 percent. Iman Shumpert got hot and hit five of his seven looks from beyond the arc, and finished with 17 points and six rebounds in just 23 minutes.

“We put a complete game together for 48 minutes, offensively and defensively,” Carmelo Anthony said afterward. “It also helps when you make shots. We shot the ball well today. Most importantly it was a great road win for us, a great division win.”

Ah, yes. The division. The Knicks and Nets happen to play in the league’s worst, which is led at the moment by the Celtics with a record of 8-12. Both New York and Brooklyn are only 2.5 games back of first, which matters because the division winner gets into the playoffs with a lowest possible seed of fourth in their first round matchup.

That little fact is one reason that neither of these teams has imploded over its dismal start. The other, at least in Brooklyn’s case, is the reality that multiple star-level players who have gone down with injuries in the early part of the season are expected back in the not-too-distant future. The Nets have refused to use injuries as an excuse specifically, but both Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd made multiple postgame references to needing to get “whole” before any verdict on their team can be passed.

“We have a lot of guys coming in and we’re asking a lot of them,” Garnett said, trying to explain what the issues are. “We have a new system. We’re changing things on the fly. Jason has been putting in a lot of new stuff since [assistant coach Lawrence Frank] has left. On top of that, guys who usually are not playing a lot of minutes have a lot of responsibility and are playing big minutes, and are asked a lot of them in those minutes. We don’t have Kirilenko, we don’t have Paul, we don’t have Deron. Chemistry just doesn’t snap [together]. Those things play a big part into this.”

It comes down to overall talent, as well. Beyond Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, there just aren’t any reliable offensive options. And with the constant shuffling of different players in and out of lineups due to all of the injuries, there’s been no ability to get defensive rotations down or get Kidd’s philosophies put into practice.

The Knicks and the Nets are in similar situations, although with tonight’s win New York has a chance to begin to crawl out of its misery. In Brooklyn, after the Nets trailed by close to 30 points for the second straight game at home, they appear to be right in the thick of theirs until they get some of their best players back.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.