Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony after latest home loss to Grizzlies: ‘I think it’s in our heads’


NEW YORK — The Knicks suffered their 10th home loss of the season on Saturday, playing against an injury-ravaged Grizzlies team that came in losing five straight and seven of its last eight games.

The noon start time wasn’t as big of a problem as it had been in New York’s previous two early starts, when the team suffered blowout losses of 31 points to the Spurs and 41 points to the Celtics. But they did trail by nine in the first quarter and by as many as 19 in the second half before a late run had them within four points with under 30 seconds to play.

Ultimately, the rally fell short, just like the Knicks have all season long. And at the moment, Carmelo Anthony believes the issues are mental more than they are related to basketball.

“I don’t think it’s nothing that has to do with basketball at this point,” he said of the home losses afterward. “I think it’s in our heads. It’s the mental part of it. And as individual players we’ve got to get out of our own mind, our own head and start — I don’t know what you have to do, but just start having fun again and playing basketball, and not trying to worry about too many other things that’s going on out there.”

That might be believable if there weren’t so many legitimate problems with this team, all of which were on display in this one.

Tyson Chandler is supposed to be the Knicks primary rim protector and anchor of the defense. But after managing just eight points and six rebounds in almost 33 minutes of action while seeing Memphis outrebound the Knicks by an absurd 56-29 margin, it’s clear he’s nowhere near 100 percent, playing in just his second game back after missing all but the season’s first four with a right leg fracture.

“I’m getting there. Battling,” Chandler said, when I asked him how we was feeling physically. “I’m trying to come back, trying to get my conditioning right, trying to get my timing right and my legs under me and all that good stuff while trying to stop whoever’s in front of me. But I expect it to take time, and I expect it to take a little while for myself to get in a rhythm with my teammates, and for my teammates to get back in rhythm with me.”

Speaking of rhythm, there is absolutely none of it to the Knicks offense. Beno Udrih is starting at point guard, and his uncertainty with the ball combined with his questionable decision-making and lack of court vision sees things devolve into isolation sets more often than not. When Woodson tried to go without a point guard in the lineup, the offense resembled a bad pickup game where whoever dribbled up the ball took the shot as quickly as possible, without bothering to see if a teammate might be open for a better look.

One play in particular saw Amar’e Stoudemire frantically jumping up and down while waving his arms all alone under the basket, only to see the ball swing to the other side for a three-point attempt instead.

The Knicks did play well in spurts, and showed an energy and intensity at times that makes you believe they should be doing much better in the standings, if only they could put it together for extended stretches.

That’s been the most frustrating thing for Anthony to deal with as the home losses continue to pile up, and the season continues to spiral further out of control for the Knicks.

“There’s just a sense of inconsistency right now,” he said. “We have spurts where we’re playing great basketball, then we have spurts where we’re just dead out there. We’ve got to get better at that. We’ve got to try to put together a full game and start becoming a more consistent basketball team.”

Report: 76ers supporting, not blaming, Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor
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76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor fought a man in a Boston street.

The team has released a short, vague statement. CSN Philly:

“We are aware of the report and we are currently working to gather additional information. Until that time, we will have no further comment.”

But what do the 76ers really think?

Chris Broussard of ESPN:

I spoke with somebody close to him. They’ve talked to the 76ers. They’ve talked with the NBA.

The Sixers are very supportive of Okafor. They understand the situation, but they have to do their due diligence and look into it.

The Sixers are supporting him. They’re not blaming him. If they have to discipline, it still won’t sully him in their eyes.

Again, I’m told that they’re very supportive of him.

If the 76ers really support Okafor, they’ll do so publicly. Leaking their support anonymously doesn’t really move the needle.

I also find this report a little dubious, because Broussard only said he talked to someone close to Okafor. If the 76ers’ viewpoint came filtered through an Okafor rep, there could be a lot of spin – though it’s possible Broussard also spoke with someone from the team.

What choice do the 76ers have but to support Okafor, anyway? He’s a promising young player on a team that desperately needs hope. It seems he made a major mistake, but it’s not a career-ender. And as long as the 76ers are keeping him, they might as well stand by him.

However – based on what we’ve seen, which is obviously not everything – this incident should “sully him in their eyes.” He appeared to be the aggressor, and the team should be concerned by that. Perhaps, further investigation has provided extenuating circumstances, but absent new evidence, the 76ers should view him less favorably – and be proactive about helping him correct any underlying issues.

That’s the support Okafor needs from them.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.