Phil Jackson promises return of system basketball to New York, wants ‘Melo to be part of it

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You can’t win titles in the NBA without elite talent. Superstars matter. It is the nature of the sport.

However there is more to it than that, nobody ever just rolled the ball out and won a ring. Franchises have to put those stars in a system that benefits them but more importantly benefits the role players around them — true stars will thrive in any style, it is getting a system in place and the right role players for that system that elevates the stars and team to title contention.

Phil Jackson understands that better than anyone.

When Jackson talked basketball at the Tuesday press conference that introduced him as New York Knicks team president, he talked system. New York will always be able to attract stars, what they need is everything else. Jackson talked about balance — three guys going to the offensive glass, two guys back on defense to slow the break — and structure.

“I believe in system basketball,” Jackson said. “(Knicks GM) Steve Mills came out of Princeton. I came out of a system that we ran here in New York in which team basketball was an important aspect of playing. We believe that is what we want to accomplish here.”

They have a lot of work to do.

The Knicks are 27-40 this season and while they have made a little run of late (six straight wins) they remain five games back in the loss column to the Atlanta Hawks with 15 games to play. Even if they pull off the miracle and make the playoffs, it will not disguise the fact this is a bad basketball team right now. One largely locked into a similar roster next season with nine players under contract for $67 million — and that is without Carmelo Anthony, who has said he will opt out as a free agent. If the Knicks resign him that’s 10 players and they will be well into the luxury tax already.

Jackson said he wants to re-sign Anthony, saying that he is the best isolation scorer in the game but that Anthony can reach another level if he buys into the right system.

“Carmelo has had a load to carry this year, a scoring load, and he’s been remarkable in that,” Jackson said. “I think he showed in the last Olympics, coming off the bench and playing a role as a bench player on a magnificent team that won a gold medal, that he can play a role if he has to play a role. I think he’s a basketball player and I think that’s what players want to do — they want to cut, to pass, to be in a different spots on the floor, to attack and to play. And I think Carmelo will be just fine.”

To create that team where Anthony will be fine will require a lot of creativity. What Jackson talked about mostly was getting the right players for his system (which he said would at the least be triangle influenced).

“We’re going to have to go out and work the bushes for players the next year and we’re going to have to work them the coming years as we do go forward and we have draft picks, and we have the chance to build this team,” Jackson said.

The most probable rebuild scenarios come around in 2015 — the Knicks’ bad contracts come off the books (Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani) freeing up money to spend plus they have their draft pick. That’s the year potential free agents include Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and others. It’s not exactly a tabula rasa for Jackson to work with in 2015, but it’s far closer than this summer when the roster is clogged with contracts that, even if they can be moved, will not bring much value in return.

“Steve and I are going to work on how to manage the roster, and our financials, to have an impact in (2015 class),” Jackson said. “I think we need another contributor, someone that can score who can help Carmelo go along and contribute to this team and the winning experience.”

Jackson suggested most of the rebuilding will be done through free agency, which makes sense as the Knicks have traded away a lot of first round draft picks in the coming years.

How hands on Jackson will be with scouting remains to be seen, but don’t expect to see him in the bleachers of a lot of college games.

“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” Jackson said of his level of scouting involvement. “I think the first thing we have going on right now is the NCAA tournament and we will turn our focus on and watch. But I really want to turn our focus on NBA teams. The advent of the game, a lot of it is, that there are players that are on benches, that are on teams, that will be available, maybe not on high-priced contracts, that can come in and help assist and build a team. So there are a variety of ways in which we can build teams.”

Jackson is not the detail guy here — Mills will be the one dealing with agents, working directly with team scouts, figuring out the details of the salary cap. Jackson is going to be more of the CEO role, setting the tone and picking his people to execute it. On the court that will be a new coach (although Jackson said good things about Mike Woodson at the press conference, still everyone knows he is a dead coach walking) and it will mean new people in the Knicks front office over time.

Jackson suggested whatever system is in place will be triangle influenced, if not outright full triangle. That can certainly work. There is not one magical system that wins (or everyone would run it). Whether it is the Bulls and Lakers in the triangle, the evolving system of Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, or the space and pace of Miami, what matters is having elite talent, having a system in place to support that talent, and having the right players in the system around those stars to make it work.

Jackson understands system better than anyone.

Now we’ll see if he can build and execute it from the front office.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.