deron williams knicks

Deron Williams returns, chooses to come off the bench in Nets’ blowout win over Knicks

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NEW YORK — The last time the Nets faced the Knicks, they were without Deron Williams and Paul Pierce due to injury, and a fully healthy New York squad thumped Brooklyn back on Dec. 5 at Barclays by a 30-point margin.

A little more than a month later, things have completely changed for both sides.

The Nets have been on a roll since the calendar turned to 2014, and they got Williams back in time to blowout the Knicks 103-80 in a Monday matinee at Madison Square Garden to improve to 7-1 in the new year.

Not that they needed him.

Brooklyn has been using excellent ball movement and riding Joe Johnson during this recent stretch, whose big early scoring performances have gotten the Nets out to some very fast starts. And the team has been stronger defensively with Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson at the guard spots, so Williams kept continuity, and made the easy decision to come off the bench.

“It was my idea,” he said afterward. “Just because we had been playing so well with that lineup, why shake things up? It doesn’t matter if I come off the bench, start, whatever. The way [Joe Johnson] has been playing in first quarters, first halves, I don’t want to disrupt that.”

Johnson had 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the game’s first 12 minutes, and the Nets had opened up an 11-point lead by the time the first quarter was finished.

Paul Pierce knows a thing or two about going from a starting to a reserve role, having had to deal with that for the first time in his career with the Nets earlier this season. It was tough on Pierce at the time, but he believes that while it will be an adjustment for Williams if it continues, he’s more than capable of figuring it out.

“I haven’t come off the bench my whole career until recently, but I think it’s a mental adjustment,” Pierce said. “It’s just something you’ve got to figure out, and it’s totally different when you’ve been playing your whole life in the starting lineup. You have to have a different mental approach, you have to be ready as soon as you come in — it’s just a different type of preparation, I think. He’s a smart player, he understands the game, and he can figure it out, whether he continues to come off the bench or until he returns to the starting lineup.”

While the Nets have gotten healthy (minus Brook Lopez, of course, who is expected to be out the rest of the season with a foot fracture), they’ve also begun to come together as a team. Andray Blatche, who played well when the game was out of hand for the second straight contest and finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, says the defense is what’s made the difference.

“It’s our effort on defense and we’re trusting one another on defense,” Blatche said. “We’re talking, and things are working out for us. We’re hanging our hat on defense first.”

Kevin Garnett echoed those remarks, and credited Jason Kidd for getting his message to the team across in terms of what the expectations are in defensive situations.

“We’re not guessing anymore,” Garnett said.

On the Knicks side, they’re missing two key rotation big men in Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire, but the problems seem to run deeper than simply available personnel. The defense is a joke at times, and Carmelo Anthony rarely gets any consistent help offensively beyond high-volume, low-percentage shooting from his teammates.

The Knicks and the Nets traded plenty of jabs through the media following the offseason acquisitions of Pierce and Garnett, but Brooklyn wouldn’t place any special emphasis on this victory afterward. Pierce was among those exchanging the playful remarks, but at this point he’s focused on how Williams’ return can help impact this team as it tries to live up to those lofty preseason expectations.

“We need Deron,” he said. “No matter how we’ve been playing, at the end of the day if we’re going to make some noise here in the East, we need what he’s able to do.”

“I know there was a lot of talk in the preseason about the rivalry, you know, the inner-city battle,” Pierce said. “But us as a team, at this point we’re looking at the big picture. We’re looking at how we’re going to develop, how we’re going to get better and how we’re going to continue to move up in the East.”

Thunder waive Ronnie Price and Mitch McGary, keep Semaj Christon

2014 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day
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The Thunder waived a former No. 21 pick who still had two years left on his rookie-scale contract and a 33-year-old journeyman.

The latter was the surprise.

Thunder release:

The Oklahoma City Thunder waived forwards Mitch McGary and Chris Wright along with guard Ronnie Price and center Kaleb Tarczewski, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti.

At this point, Oklahoma City waiving Mitch McGary was completely expected. Facing 15 games of drug suspension with no proven track record of NBA sustainability, McGary was an easy cut on a team with a roster crunch.

Price signed a fully guaranteed two-year contract worth nearly $5 million this offseason, and teams don’t generally waive players so soon after guaranteeing them multiple seasons (even if guaranteeing them multiple seasons was questionable in the first place). This opens the door not only for Semaj Christon to make the regular-season roster, but to serve as Russell Westbrook‘s primary backup at point guard with Cameron Payne injured.

Christon, the No. 55 pick in the 2014 draft, also signed this summer (with just a $200,000 guarantee). After leaving Xavier, he spent a year on the Thunder’s D-League affiliate then a year overseas. Perhaps, he’s ready for a regular role without the safety net of a veteran like Price behind him, but this sure seems like another case of Oklahoma City overrating its developmental system. See previously: Josh Huestis.

NBA Power Rankings Week 1: Warriors, Cavaliers top the list. Shocking.

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 04:  Kevin Durant #35, Stephen Curry #30, and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors stand on the court during their game against the Los Angeles Clippers during their preseason game at ORACLE Arena on October 4, 2016 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA is back — and that means the ProBasketballTalk NBA Power Rankings are back. As always, we like to admit up front this entire process is moot — the NBA has a playoff to determine what team is best. What kind of ridiculous sport would use a ranking system to decide what teams get to play for a title? Here are the start of the season rankings, there is always a lot of volatility in these the first few weeks. Last seasons record is listed for this week only.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (73-9). About that slow start while they figure things out… this was the best team in the NBA in the preseason, outscoring teams by 13.5 points per 100 possessions (the trio of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson shot 46 percent from three). Yes it’s just preseason, so it has all the meaning of an Adam Sandler film, but a soft first few weeks of the schedule makes it likely the Durant era starts off smoothly in the Bay Area.

Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (57-25). It’s a good time to be a Cleveland sports fan. Tuesday night the Cavaliers get their rings, the first title banner goes up in Cleveland in more than five decades — and then the Indians throw the first pitch in the World Series. I picked LeBron to win the MVP this season, but how much will he dial back the regular season to save himself for the playoffs, and how much will voters punish him for it?

Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (67-15). LaMarcus Aldridge denies the rumors, but the buzz he’s not thrilled blending in with the Spurs come from quality sources. True or not, there is no way the Spurs are trading him during the season — they just paid Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili a lot of money to make anther run at a ring. Aldridge is key to that. Fall short of the conference finals again and next summer things get interesting.

Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (53-29). Are the Clippers better than the Spurs? Can they finally develop a real home court advantage? Blake Griffin says this is the healthiest he’s been in years and when he’s right he’s as good a power forward as there is in the league. He and Chris Paul can be free agents this summer, putting extra pressure on the Clippers to make this the year they break past the barrier of the second round, who knows if they get another shot with this group.

Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (48-34). Boston’s offensive spacing already looks better with Al Horford involved, and the hand-off play between Horford and Isaiah Thomas than often opens the Boston sets is hard to defend. The Celtics played at a high pace and guys were getting open looks all preseason, all of which are very good signs they hope to carry over to games that matter. They play three games in four days to open the season.

Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (56-26). Jared Sullinger is out for a big chunk of the season, but that’s not a massive setback for Toronto as it just means more Patrick Patterson (and likely more Norman Powell also). A healthy DeMarre Carroll is huge for this team (and he can play some four as well). They need to get some wins the first couple weeks of the season because the second half of November they are on the road a lot.

Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (40-42). Everyone’s favorite pick for a breakout season (including mine), but they are without Gordon Hayward, and that is a troubling setback. The signing of George Hill was chosen by NBA GMs as the most underrated move of the summer (in the GM survey), plus Utah snagged Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson. Those veterans and the defense should keep Utah afloat until Hayward returns in a few weeks.

Rockets small icon 8. Rockets (41-41). Who was the second best team in the preseason, outscoring opponents by more than 11 points per 100 possessions? You got it. They looked good because they scored 118 points per game and their defense was good enough (middle of the road statistically) to get them big wins. That Rockets’ defense — without Patrick Beverley due to knee surgery — will be tested early with a string of games good offensive teams from last season, plus a lot of road games.

Thunder small icon 9. Thunder (55-27). They are not going to be an offense built around subtlety and clever off-ball movement — this will be as straight ahead a team as there is in the league. Westbrook is going to put up monster numbers, and expect Steven Adams to come into his own this season. Will the Thunder get enough wins to vault Westbrook into serious MVP consideration?

Pacers small icon 10. Pacers (45-37). The additions of Jeff Teague at the point and Thaddeus Young on the wing, plus the continued growth of Myles Turner, should improve an offense that was 25th in the NBA last season but was sixth best this preseason. The question is how much defense was sacrificed to get that offense? Larry Bird wanted an offense that played faster, but they were 10th in the NBA in pace last season, how much faster can they go?

Hawks small icon 11. Hawks (48-38). Atlanta had the best defense in the NBA during the preseason, a promising sign for Hawks fans. The trademark ball movement that has defined Mike Budenholzer teams also was there, even with the addition of Dwight Howard and now Dennis Schroder running the point. If those two things can carry over to the regular season it’s a good sign. The Hawks have the softest schedule in the Eastern Conference the first month of the season, which gives them time to find their groove and rack up wins.

Blazers small icon 12. Trail Blazers (44-38). Damian Lillard is talking MVP, which is going to require a step forward by the entire team, not just him. Portland made some smart moves this offseason: matching the Allen Crabbe offer sheet, re-signing Meyers Leonard, picking up Festus Ezeli on a good contract. But they gambled big on Evan Turner as a third playmaker, that’s going to go a long way to determining if this team is better.

timberwolves small icon 13. Timberwolves (29-53). Everyone expects Minnesota to make a leap this season under new coach (and GM) Tom Thibodeau. The question is how big a leap are they ready to make? One very promising sign: Minnesota had the second-best defense in the NBA during the preseason. How well that translates to the regular season remains to be seen, but that was the side of the ball where they needed to make the biggest leap.

Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (42-40). Even more than most teams health is the key to the Memphis season, so Tony Allen and Chandler Parsons missing the entire preseason is less than ideal (both are questionable for the opener). Memphis started launching threes at a rate we haven’t seen from them before in the preseason, expect that to carry over to the regular season. This is the new David Fizdale Grizzlies, and they play with pace and launch threes, we’ll see how that works long term.

Wizards small icon 15. Wizards (41-41). They finally start the season with a healthy backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal (now they just have to play well together), but they are banged up along the front line with no Ian Mahinmi (knee surgery, out for at least a month). Washington had the fifth-best point differential in the league during the preseason, outscoring opponents by 6 points per 100 possessions — can they keep that up when the games matter?

Mavericks small icon 16. Mavericks (42-40). The $94 million man Harrison Barnes shot 22.6 percent in the preseason, not a good sign. We all know what he’s getting paid Mavs’ fans, but this is a big adjustment for him and you’re going to have to be patient as he figures out how to play a leading role. Dallas had an ugly preseason, getting outscored by 8.5 points per 100 possessions (25th in the league), but that likely does not foreshadow what is to come during the regular season.

Pistons small icon 17. Pistons (44-38). This seems low, but no Reggie Jackson for the first 3-5 weeks of the season (knee tendonitis) is a blow. Stan Van Gundy wants his team to improve on the defensive end and get into the top 10 in the league, and that’s the test they face early in the season going against some the league’s best offensive teams the first three weeks. Get through the first month and things should look up in Detroit.

Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (48-34). Charlotte had the worst offense in the NBA during the preseason (90.2 points per 100 possession). Last season the Hornets made the biggest offensive leap of any team in the NBA, hopefully for them the preseason was just an anomaly (it’s hard to read much into those games). The Hornets should again be a top 10 defensive team this season under Steve Clifford, and that will carry them.

Bulls small icon 19. Bulls (42-40). The question is how the offense is going to look on a team where the key contributors — Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo — are not guys opponents fear when they take a three. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic will be key off the bench to provide spacing. My main question: Why exactly bring Fred Holberg out of college for his pace-and-space system if you’re not going to give him players that fit it? A heavy dose of road games for the Bulls before Thanksgiving.

Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (32-50). All the roster turnover last summer followed by key players missing time in the preseason — Joakim Noah due to injury, Derrick Rose due to his trial — means it’s going to take time for the pieces to fit together in the regular season. I’m skeptical Rose and Carmelo Anthony, both ball stoppers on offense, can mesh well in Jeff Hornacek’s system. The Knicks are going to have to figure all this out against the toughest schedule in the Eastern Conference over the first month of the season.

Nuggets small icon 21. Nuggets (33-49). Tough schedule to start with 6-of-7 on the road and 8-of-10 games against teams that were above .500 last season. I like that coach Mike Malone is playing Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic together to start games. There are a lot of other GMs watching to see how the Nuggets start the season because if it’s slow Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Kenneth Faried all could be put on the trade block (and there would be interest from some teams).

Bucks small icon 22. Bucks (33-49). The Kris Middleton injury is devastating — he was the glue that held some funky lineups together in Milwaukee. I like the Tony Snell deal for them better than most, but he’s still a serious downgrade at the position. The Bucks struggled in the preseason (outscored by 9 points per 100 possessions, despite the 3-3 record) because their offense was unimpressive. They need shooters around the Greek Freak.

Kings small icon 23. Kings (33-49). With the Cubs back in the World Series, the Kings take over the dubious banner of “team who hasn’t been to its sport’s Finals for the longest time” in American major sports. The last time the Kings were in the Finals was 1951. Forget the Finals, the Kings just want to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Beautiful new building, but the Kings have no Darren Collison for the first eight games (suspension for a domestic violence plea bargain), and they face a tough road-heavy schedule without him to start the season.

Pelicans small icon 24. Pelicans (30-52). Anthony Davis is back from his sprained ankle and will be ready to roll opening night. I like some of their summer moves — Solomon Hill, Langston Galloway, and E’twaun Moore are good free agent signings, while Buddy Hield is going to develop into a quality two guard — but they are desperately going to miss Jrue Holiday (and to a slightly lesser extent Tyreke Evans) to start the season. Holiday is the glue that brings this team together.

Magic small icon 25. Magic (35-47). On paper this ranking feels too low for an Orlando team with dreams of a strong defense leading them to the playoffs. However, their preseason (2-5, outscored by 9 points per 100 possessions, 29th in defense) did nothing to inspire that this team will put it together. Relatively soft start to the NBA schedule for the first month, which might help them get some wins, gain some confidence, and allow coach Frank Vogel to figure out the rotations that work. I still don’t love Aaron Gordon as a three, he’s much better suited for the four.

Heat small icon 26. Heat (48-34). Maybe this is too low, but the loss of Chris Bosh (along with Dwyane Wade over the summer) makes this look more like the start of a rebuilding process. They should be an entertaining, up-and-down team with Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow, not to mention Hassan Whiteside. Dion Waiters will have his good nights… and his bad ones. If they start slow expect the Dragic trade rumors to heat up.

Suns small icon 27. Suns (23-59). There are a lot of good players in Phoenix: Devin Booker is going to be a stud at the two, Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler are veterans who can contribute, and Marquese Chriss shows promise (and a lot of athleticism). But the pieces have never fit together there, and I’ll need to see it to believe it. The Suns were a top 10 defensive team during the preseason, if they can carry that over to games that matter they will climb these rankings (and the standings) quickly.

Lakers small icon 28. Lakers (17-56). The team with the toughest first 20 game schedule in the Western Conference? You guessed it. Tough way for the Lakers to start with a young team and a rookie head coach. D'Angelo Russell is already a dangerous pick-and-roll ball handler who is going to put up numbers this season, and Brandon Ingram has shown flashes of figuring things out, but it’s going to a learning curve season. Also, where did this focused, sharp-shooting Nick Young come from and is he sticking around?

Nets small icon 29. Nets (21-61). They are going to be a decent to good offensive team with Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin playing off each other and Kenny Atkinson’s offense spacing the floor. I’m far less sold that they are going to get enough stops to win many games. Bad breaks of the schedule, no team plays fewer teams on the second night of a back-to-back this season than the Nets (seven all season).

Sixers small icon 30. 76ers (10-71). Brett Brown just wants to get his numerous young front court players healthy so he can see how it all fits together, but Ben Simmons and Nerlens Noel are out with foot injuries that will eat up large chunks of their season. Joel Embiid has been a beast in preseason and if he gets enough run should be in the Rookie of the Year mix. A dark horse ROY candidate? Dario Saric. Also, this is going to be an entertaining team to watch when Sergio Rodriguez has the ball in his hands.

Lakers keep Metta World Peace and Thomas Robinson, waive Anthony Brown

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  Metta World Peace #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands on the court during warmups before a preseason game against the Golden State Warriors at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The NBA just can’t shake Metta World Peace as a player.

Despite the Lakers’ reported intention of waiving World Peace and making him an assistant coach, they’ll keep him, Thomas Robinson and Nick Young into the regular season. After waiving Yi Jianlian at his request, they’ll also waive Anthony Brown.

Lakers release:

The Los Angeles Lakers have waived forward Anthony Brown, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Brown was the No. 34 pick just last year, but he didn’t show much as a rookie and is already 24. There was no need to keep him over more valuable players – like Robinson.

But World Peace, who turns 37 next month? He’s washed up and offers no upside. The Lakers don’t already have enough veteran leadership between Luol Deng, Jose Calderon, Lou Williams and Timofey Mozgov?

The Lakers probably won’t regret dropping Brown – though they might – but there are better uses for a roster spot in 2016 than World Peace.

51 Questions: Which team will win the West? Make NBA Finals?

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It is the final days of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For six weeks we have tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today the PBT staff answers the biggest questions of them all this season:

Which teams make the playoffs, then who wins the East? Who will be NBA champion?

Here are our staff predictions.

Kurt Helin

1. Warriors
2. Spurs
3. Clippers
4. Jazz
5. Rockets
6. Grizzlies
7. Trail Blazers
8. Thunder

Western Conference Finals:
Warriors over Clippers
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

There is a clear top three in the West, and while I think Golden State gets the top seed (but falls just short of 70 wins) I could flip Los Angeles and San Antonio without a problem — and I like the Clippers more in the postseason, they finally get past the second round. Much like the East, then I think 4-11 are all going to be within a handful of games of each other — Dallas, Minnesota, and Denver all could get into the playoffs with good health and a few breaks. Maybe Sacramento, too, but a lot more needs to go right for them.

As for the NBA Finals, the Warriors and Cavaliers are just clear and away the best teams on paper and, assuming health, it’s hard not to pick another Finals rematch. However, this time the Cavaliers can’t put LeBron James on Draymond Green when the Warriors go small because of the threat of Kevin Durant, and that opens up the Warriors offense again in ways it was shut down in the last Finals.

Dan Feldman

1. Warriors
2. Clippers
3. Spurs
4. Rockets
5. Jazz
6. Trail Blazers
7. Thunder
8. Grizzlies

Western Conference Finals: Warriors over Clippers
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

I’d give the Warriors about a 50-50 chance of winning the title — which means there’s no way I’m picking any other single team. The Clippers and Spurs lead the pack fighting for second, and I’m clearly intrigued by Houston’s offensive prowess with Mike D’Antoni and James Harden. The Timberwolves and Nuggets could knock on the postseason door, but I don’t think either is quite ready.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Warriors
2. Clippers
3. Spurs
4. Thunder
5. Blazers
6. Jazz
7. Rockets
8. Mavericks

Western Conference Finals: Warriors vs. Spurs
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

I genuinely hope I’m wrong about how the West shakes out if only for Chris Paul‘s sake. The Point God and his band of Merry Complainers are in a perfect position to take over a stratified Western Conference that will doubtless be a bastion of parity in only a few years time. But the Clippers just always fall short somehow, be it injury or otherwise. I’m going with the Spurs — who had a historic defensive season in 2015-16 — and who are just too good on paper vs. the rest of the competition. San Antonio still might be the only team that can challenge Golden State, as weird as that sounds.