Knicks fail to execute on final two possessions, drop a tough one to Wizards

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NEW YORK — It seemed as though the Knicks were in perfect position to finish off what would have been an uplifting win over the Wizards. They overcame a 15-point third quarter deficit, saw J.R. Smith get hot from three-point distance, and got more than solid minutes from Tim Hardaway Jr. off the bench.

But a defensive breakdown and a failure to execute the most basic of basketball strategies on the final possession instead sent them home with yet another heart-breaking loss.

Washington was clutch in the game’s final moments, where the Knicks were all kinds of inept. And behind 14 fourth quarter points from Bradley Beal, the Wizards came away with the 102-101 victory to send New York to a record of 7-17 on the season.

Beal finished with 21 points in his first game back since Nov. 23, after missing the last nine due to injury. He hit huge three-pointers down the stretch, and then came the game-winner — a layup after blowing right by Beno Udrih and getting to the rim where no help defense from the Knicks would be found.

The lack of defensive rotation is one thing, and as it turned out, it was the least egregious of two huge mistakes on the play. The Knicks had a foul to give, and were instructed to take it in the team’s previous timeout. But Beal was apparently too quick for Udrih to react.

“We knew we had a foul to give,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said afterward. “But Beno opened the flood gates. It happened so fast. He was thinking the help was there and it wasn’t there. So he couldn’t even reach to grab the guy, to take the foul. But that’s where the breakdown occurred. We all knew we had a foul to give, but we didn’t get a chance to use it.”

Then came the bigger blunder from the Knicks.

With six seconds remaining and needing to go the length of the floor, a timeout is more than customary in those situations — it’s to be expected. The hesitation caused by that lack of timeout call resulted in Carmelo Anthony rushing up an awkward floater from just beyond the three-point line at the buzzer that didn’t have a chance of going in.

Woodson personally took the blame for that one, but his players tried to share in the responsibility.

“I probably should have taken for sure the timeout there at the end,” Woodson said. “Beno grabbed it and the ball was in Melo’s hands before I could even react, and I should have reacted a lot sooner once the ball went through the bucket. So that’s on me.”

J.R. Smith, who had a breakout 18-point performance and recently clashed with his head coach, was one of Woodson’s defenders.

“We’ve got to do a better job as players,” Smith said. “We knew we had there timeouts. We’ve got guys who have been in the league 11, 10 years on the floor and we’ve just got to do a better job of that. We can’t put everything in coach’s hands because he’s out there thinking and reacting like we are. We’ve got to do a better job as players, and be generals out there.”

Anthony similarly had his coach’s back, but did admit he was expecting the timeout to be called.

“I think we was expecting the timeout,” he said. “But I think as players we’ve got to be smart enough to know that, as well. In a situation like that we knew we had timeouts, we knew we had a foul to give at the end of the game. But we can’t leave it on the coach to do everything. We’ve got to know that as well.”

It was a brutal loss for the Knicks in more ways than one. They’re down another body after Pablo Prigioni suffered a hairline fracture in his toe that will cause him to miss at least two weeks. Iman Shumpert may have to play some one, and the team will continue to struggle with more odd lineup combinations as it tries to crawl out of its early-season slump.

But for this single game, winning was within reach. The lack of execution on the final two possessions, however, let it all slip away.

“I think everything just happened so fast,” Anthony said. “I don’t know if we were supposed to call a timeout and we didn’t. We lost the game. Tough loss. Tough way to lose a game.”

Carmelo Anthony on shrinking role with Knicks: ‘I see the writing on the wall… I’m at peace with that’

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Carmelo Anthony scored just nine points on 12 shots in the Knicks loss to the Heat last night — well below his season averages of 22 points on 19 shots per game.

Anthony, via Ian Begley of ESPN:

“I see the writing on the wall. I see what it is,” Anthony said late Wednesday night. “I see what they’re trying to do, and it’s just me accepting that. That’s what puts me at peace. Just knowing and understanding how things work. I’m at peace with that.”

Is Anthony talking about just the Knicks’ final dozen games of this season, when they’re clearly interesting in testing less-proven players? Or is he referring to his entire tenure in New York?

Anthony has said he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause if the Knicks want to rebuild, and they’ll reportedly try again to trade him this offseason. Perhaps, this is Anthony indicating he’s warming up to the idea of allowing a trade.

Anthony’s and Kristaps Porzingis‘ timelines are barely compatible, if at all. It’d make sense for the Knicks to go in a different direction.

Could Anthony be at peace with that?

Dwight Howard’s offensive rebounding defies convention

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Hawks president/coach Mike Budenholzer has the authority to set the Hawks’ priorities.

“Organizationally, fundamentally,” Budenholzer said, “transition D is more important than anything.”

Dwight Howard challenges that daily.

Howard has already built a Hall of Fame résumé:

  • Eight-time All-NBA center, including five-time first teamer
  • Three-time Defensive Player of the Year
  • Five-time rebounding champ

But the big man is doing something he’s never done before: Grab 15.2% of available offensive rebounds.

And he’s doing it at age 31 in a league that has increasingly deemphasized offensive rebounding. The NBA will set a record this season for lowest offensive-rebounding percentage for the fourth straight year.

Teams have just figured getting back on defense trumps crashing the offensive glass, the strategy emanating most prominently from the Spurs. Budenholzer, a former San Antonio assistant coach, brought the plan straight to Atlanta. The Hawks ranked 28th, last and last in offensive-rebounding in his first three seasons — in part for philosophical reasons, in part because they’ve lacked the personnel to do better. They’ve also been a below-average defensive-rebounding team each season under Budenholzer.

Then Howard signed and forced Budenholzer to adjust.

Atlanta has become an above-average offensive-rebounding team and far better with Howard on the court – a helpful crutch with ace 3-point shooters Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague traded. The Hawks are ceding more transition opportunities, though they remain very good at defending those.

It’s an obvious tradeoff, says Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons coach who coached Howard with the Magic sees the center in the rare class of players who deserve full autonomy to chase offensive rebounds.

“You don’t limit those guys,” Van Gundy said.

Howard has made the most of his freedom to chase rebounds. His 15.2 offensive-rebounding percentage ranks second to only Kenneth Faried among qualified players.

And, again, Howard is 31. Offensive rebounding tends to be a young man’s game.

Here’s top 10 in offensive rebounding this season, plotted by age:

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Player Team Age Offensive-rebounding percentage
Kenneth Faried DEN 27 16.1
Dwight Howard ATL 31 15.4
Andre Drummond DET 23 15.2
JaVale McGee GSW 29 15
Tarik Black LAL 25 14.8
Tristan Thompson CLE 25 14
Rudy Gobert UTA 24 13.9
Enes Kanter OKC 24 13.9
Kyle O'Quinn NYK 26 13.9
Willy Hernangomez NYK 22 13.8

Howard’s previous career-high offensive-rebounding percentage was 13.8.

The only other players to set career-high offensive-rebounding rates north of 15% after their age-30 season: Dennis Rodman (20.8% at age 33 with the 1994-95 Spurs) and Alan Henderson (15.6% at age 32 with the 2004-05 Mavericks). Both Rodman (Cooke County Junior College and Southeastern Oklahoma State) and Henderson (Indiana) played four years of college basketball, giving them less wear and tear on their bodies and fewer opportunities to post career highs at a young age.

Howard jumped to the NBA straight from high school.

Yet, he’s having a resurgent year in his 13th season. How is he doing it?

“One, I’m not super old,” Howard said earlier this season. “Two, my body feels great. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff to take care of my body.”

Known for eating legendary amounts of candy earlier in his career, perhaps Howard has made a breakthrough. His defensive-rebounding percentage (31.8) is the second-best of his career and ranks fourth in the NBA. That has helped him anchor the league’s fourth-best defense.

Howard has been subject to widespread criticism, and last season with the Rockets was a low point. This year, Howard has recommitted to the basics: Rebounding, defending, scoring inside.

“He’s got a big personality, but I think we all knew that,” Budenholzer said. “But it’s all in the right place. He wants good things, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”

So much so that Budenholzer has compromised a core basketball tenet for Howard.

And it has proved a worthwhile decision.

JaVale McGee misses open dunk (video)

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Shaquille O’Neal said he’d stop talking about JaVale McGee, who has featured prominently on Shaqtin A Fool.

This missed dunk, a low point in the Warriors’ otherwise-impressive win over the Spurs, will test Shaq’s sincerity.

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.