Knicks continue recent strong play with win over Heat

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NEW YORK — The Knicks got their third straight victory and fourth in five games by taking care of the Heat 102-92 on Thursday, and while everyone on both sides pointed to New York’s defense as the reason behind their success on this night, offensively it was as simple as the team finally knocking down some shots.

“We’re starting to figure it out defensively a little bit,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said. “I felt our traps and rotations were pretty good. And then when we had to switch, guys set down and really took it upon themselves to try to keep the ball in front and not give up plays at the rim. I thought that was the difference tonight.”

“A lot of late rotations, loose balls and offensive rebounds kind of broke the momentum,” Erik Spoelstra said outside the visitors’ locker room afterward. “Offensively, we were not really up to our game in terms of moving the ball, trusting the pass. We were more stagnant than normal and that hurts.”

It’s tough to trust the pass when there were so many errant ones being fired all over the place. Miami appeared to be out of sync all night long, but it’s unclear just how much of that had to do with what the Knicks were doing. It’s true New York limited switching and kept players in front of them for the most part, but the Heat were out of sorts, and had far more than their usual share of sloppy and disjointed possessions.

The Heat were far from shut down by the Knicks defense in the second half; they shot 54.5 percent from the field and committed just seven turnovers over the final two periods. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 52 points on 23-of-32 shooting, often getting into the paint seemingly at will.

But they simply couldn’t stop the Knicks.

Carmelo Anthony was matched up with James most of the night, and overcame a slow 6-of-16 start to finish the game by hitting six of his last eight shots. The Knicks as a team shot 63.2 percent from the field over the final 24 minutes, and hit eight of their 14 second-half attempts from three-point distance.

“They did a good job of junking it up,” Chris Bosh said. “A lot of switches. It took us a while to figure out, I don’t think we ever really got into a good rhythm offensively. There weren’t many plays that we could go back to. It was tough, and I mean, we’re not going to play well offensively every night, but that’s when our defense really has to keep us in the game.”

And it didn’t.

The Knicks were without several of their normal rotation players, but the team is beginning to hit its stride nonetheless. Tyson Chandler was unavailable due to an upper respiratory infection, Beno Udrih missed the game due to a knee injury, and then there was J.R. Smith, who was benched by Woodson after his consecutive games with shoe-untying antics got him fined $50,000 by the league office.

Woodson refused to address the Smith situation at all before the game, and stuck to those non-responses afterward even after Smith’s DNP-CD that came as a surprise.

“Not gonna comment on that, on J.R.,” Woodson said. “Just talk about the game.”

“It was a joke, but a joke gone wrong,” Smith said afterward, and also mentioned that he came to the arena fully expecting to play, and hadn’t had a conversation with Woodson at any point about his status.

The players who did produce, however, did so at a higher level than usual, especially offensively. Still, the way the Miami offense appeared to be so extraordinarily out of control had the Heat searching for answers, which kept coming back to crediting the New York defense.

“They did a good job of switching everything and keeping bodies in front of us,” James said. “For the most part, it worked.”

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+

Kyrie Irving-LeBron James saga featured in hilarious parody of Eminem’s ‘Stan’ (video)

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What’s going on between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James?

I’ve seen better explanations.

But I haven’t seen more entertaining explanations.

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin expresses interest in buying Rockets

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We’ve seen the flashy names – Beyonce and Hakeem Olajuwon – interested in buying the Rockets.

But what about someone who can actually afford a majority stake?

Mark Berman of Fox 26:

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin, owner and CEO of Gulf States Toyota and the president and CEO of the Friedkin Group, acknowledged in a statement released to FOX 26 Sports that he is interested in buying the Houston Rockets franchise.

“I’ve expressed interest in exploring the purchase of the Houston Rockets,” Friedkin said in a statement released by his company.

Forbes pegs Friedkin’s net worth worth at $3.1 billion and the Rockets’ value $1.65 billion. So, while he might be able to buy the team outright, it’d likely be a stretch of his assets.

More likely, if Friedkin is serious about purchasing the team, he’ll do so as part of a group. Whether he’d spend enough to be the controlling owner is an open question.

Memphis coach David Fizdale calls confederate monuments in city “unacceptable”

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Confederate President Jefferson Davis has a statue in Memphis. So does Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who went on to be one of the early members of — and reportedly the first grand wizard of — the Ku Klux Klan (he would later deny to Congress any involvement with the group). Both men lived in Memphis.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to remove those statues — part of a growing trend nationally to remove Confederate monuments — but it was stopped because the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which denied the request. The city is still fighting that legal battle.

The removal issue has been divisive is Memphis, but in the wake of violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists and Nazis — ostensibly about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city, but really about much more than that — Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out on the issue. He was interviewed as part of the MLK50: Justice through Journalism program, with the translation courtesy The Commercial Appeal‘s Geoff Calkins.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK and label as equal as people who are fighting for love and fighting hate and bigotry and all of those things. We’ve got to listen to Dr. King. There’s no way, with me being the head coach in the city of Memphis, that I will sit on the sidelines and disgrace his legacy, my grandfather’s legacy, and let somebody destroy something that we built in America that I think can be exemplary.”

“I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable. It will no longer stand. I think you’re seeing it all over America people are not standing for it anymore. It’s a black eye on our history.”

David Fizdale is not known for holding back his feelings — “take that for data!” — and he is spot on here on a far more important issue. Good on him for using his platform and voice to speak out.

These are statues dedicated to men who fought to uphold slavery as an institution, and as a nation that something we fought a war over. The north and the Union Army won the military campaign more than 150 years ago, but we are still fighting the Civil War in this nation in terms of ideals. Fizdale understands that. Removal of those statues is a step in the right direction, away from glorifying an ugly past built on the notion that one man was not equal to another, that one man could own another.

Don’t expect Fizdale to be quiet on this issue. Nor should he be.