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.”

It’s official: Phil Jackson out as president of the New York Knicks

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The build up was slow. It began simmering when the feud with Carmelo Anthony became public, as talk of a trade and then a buyout started to come to become louder and louder. Things got warmer with oversized contracts for older players such as Joakim Noah. It picked up steam when the triangle offense was being forced on players and a coaching staff that didn’t like or fit it. Things really got hot when Kristaps Porzingis skipped his exit meeting last April, and rather than try to smooth things over and find a solution it became about sending a message and threating to trade the team’s best player and the face of the franchise.

Wednesday everything boiled over — Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks have parted ways, the sides announced.

“After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction,” Knicks owner James Dolan said in a released statement. “Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the Knicks as both a player and an executive.”

“The New York Knicks will always hold a special place in my heart,” Jackson said. “This team and this town launched my NBA career. I will forever be indebted to them. I am grateful to Mr. Dolan for giving me the opportunity to return here. I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden. As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to do that. New York fans deserve nothing less.”

All this just three days before free agency opens.

Current Knicks GM and trusted Dolan confidant Steve Mills will run basketball operations for now. Former Raptors executive Tim Leiweke will work with Mills and with Dolan to find a new head of the Knicks’ front office.

Dolan reportedly wants to hire Toronto’s Masai Ujiri, one of the most respected team presidents in the league — and the guy who fleeced the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade from Denver and the Andrea Bargnani trade with Toronto. However, Ujiri signed a contract extension — with a raise and a title bump — a year ago, the Raptors have no obligation to let him out of that deal. If he does leave, it will cost the Knicks plenty.

Other viable options, such as just-released by the Cavaliers David Griffin, are available. What the Knicks need to do is hire someone with experience.

Despite the public issues with Anthony and Porzingis, plus the insistence on running the triangle, Phil Jackson did some good with the Knicks. He drafted Porzingis, as well as Willy Hernangomez and the recent Frank Ntilikina (we will see how he pans out). He also stopped the Knicks ridiculous of trading away their first-round picks, the Knicks have theirs going forward (he did move some second rounders). Whoever replaces Jackson will have a foundation to work with that was not there when Jackson arrived.

However, Jackson’s unquestioned knowledge of the game — he does have 11 championship rings as a player and a coach for a reason — did not translate well into the front office. The mind-games Jackson liked to play, such as calling out a player in the media, work when as a coach and you see the players every day, if they have a problem they can come talk to you. It comes off very differently from the ivory tower of the front office. Jackson kept changing his team vision and plans, brought in expensive older players such as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, and continued feuding with the team’s stars.

Now the Knicks are starting over. A good thing, but the timing of the move just days before the start of free agency was very Knicks.

What’s next for Knicks? Owner reportedly targeting Raptors’ Masai Ujiri, but it’s longshot

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Phil Jackson is out as the Knicks head of basketball operations. The Knicks just made it official.

That’s a good thing for the future of the franchise and has New York fans celebrating, but making this move just four days before the start of free agency is the most Knicks of timing. While other teams are laying back-channel groundwork for the July 1 free agency onslaught, the Knicks will be trying to figure out who is in charge (likely trusted GM Steve Mills for a while).

Who is next in line to lead the Knicks? Before you say “anyone is better” think back over owner James Dolan’s hires. The worst of the lot was Isiah Thomas, and he and Dolan are still friends. Plus there are the times Dolan himself was involved in the basketball decision making.

There are a lot of potential quality candidates available, but Dolan appears to be going with the “if you can’t beat them, join them” idea of chasing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Marc Stein of ESPN adds:

Leiweke hired Ujiri in Toronto.

It’s been known for more than a year that if/when Jackson was pushed out, Ujiri would be the Knicks target. Dolan wants to hire the guy that keeps beating him. Ujiri was the GM in Denver when the Knicks traded far too many young assets for Carmelo Anthony, stripping the team of any chance to win by gutting it to get a star. Then when he was in Toronto, Ujiri orchestrated the trade that sent Andrea Bargnani and his massive contract from the Raptors to the Knicks. Dolan reportedly was so worried about being fleeced by Ujiri again he blocked a trade for Kyle Lowry out of fear of being burned (of course, the Lowry trade would’ve been a good one for the Knicks).

However, this is a longshot. Last year, Toronto gave Ujiri and extension and the title of President of Basketball Operations. The Raptors can simply refuse to let him talk to the Knicks, and even if Ujiri wanted the job (which is not clear) then it will be very expensive to buy him out.

If not Ujiri, then the Knicks could and should consider just released David Griffin, who was able to help turn the Cavaliers into a contender when LeBron James decided to return home. Griffin did an impressive job, came up with creating ways to get more talent on a capped-out roster, all while working for a notoriously difficult owner. That seems like the right resume for New York.

There are a number of other qualified candidates available, or the Knicks could hire a smart up-and-comer ready to make the leap such as Mike Zarren out of Boston, or a host of others in that spot.

What would be a mistake is to chase big name who has no front office experience. Or one with a questionable history as GM. Which is to say, don’t make the Phil Jackson mistake all over again. The Knicks need quality front office experience, someone who has proven they can do the job well. With Kristaps Porzingis on the roster, the Knicks have what can be the cornerstone piece of a championship roster in place — drafting him was Jackson’s one shining moment in the job. Building a team around him needs to be the priority (not getting in stupid squabbles with the star and threatening to trade him).

Knicks fans are right to celebrate Jackson being gone, but until the next shoe drops they shouldn’t completely relax.

Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns ticked he didn’t make All-NBA team

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Players in their first few years in the NBA almost never make an All-NBA team. There are exceptions — Larry Bird was First Team All-NBA as a rookie, for example — but it usually takes time and development before a player can crack the top 15 in the league.

Karl-Anthony Towns is frustrated he didn’t make All-NBA in his second year, he felt snubbed. He was the person with the most points/votes of anyone not to make the team, but the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan had one more first team vote (three to two) and ended up just four points ahead of Towns. Here’s what KAT told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News about that.

Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just his second season, but still was snubbed from the All-NBA team, beaten out by a mere four points by DeAndre Jordan.  And now it can be told: It bothered him — a little.

“You know what, it did a little bit, it did a little damage to me,” Towns told Sporting News. “But that’s all right, because it is all about team success. You’ve got to win. You’ve got to win to be respected in this league. You have to do little things, there are things we can do as a team. We have to come back as a stronger team and win in the playoffs, because the playoffs are the most important thing.”

For the record, I was one of those official voters who had Jordan in front of Towns (Jordan was my third team All-NBA center). It was close and something I debated (and watched film on, and talked to people around the league about), but for me the deciding factor was not winning, it was defensive impact.

Towns is improving fast on both ends, and the Timberwolves should win more with the addition of Jimmy Butler next season. Having Butler and Andrew Wiggins on the wings should help the Timberwolves defense that held the team back last season. Minnesota is poised to make the leap into the playoffs (although it will not be easy, with the Nuggets and Pelicans both improving the final few slots in the West could be tough to get).

Towns is going to end up with a ridiculous amount of All-NBA honors before his career is done. However, the best players use anything as motivational fuel, and if this is what fires Towns up, then go for it. We’re all expecting big things from him next season.

Suns’ Dudley has surgery on left toe ligament and bone

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PHOENIX (AP) Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley has undergone a left toe ligament and bone procedure.

The Suns issued a statement on Tuesday saying Dudley had surgery last Friday and is expected to return to full basketball activities in 3-4 months.

The 31-year-old averaged 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 64 games with Phoenix last season. Dudley is in his sixth season and second stint with the Suns. He has two years and nearly $20 million left on his contract.

Dudley has career averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in 10 NBA seasons.