Knicks run win streak to seven with takedown of Pacers

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NEW YORK — It’s only been one day since Phil Jackson was introduced as the new president of basketball operations in New York, and while Jackson will be tasked with building a winner moving forward, the Knicks have gotten a bit of a head start, doing just that for the past two weeks.

They continued the recent stretch of solid play by winning their seventh straight on Wednesday, 92-86 over the East’s best team in the Indiana Pacers.

Jackson was in attendance, of course, and received the expected standing ovation when he was announced to the Madison Square Garden crowd. But it was the Knicks who deserved the adoration.

Carmelo Anthony led the way with 34 points on 12-of-23 shooting, and was brilliant in one-on-one situations when matched up against Paul George, whose physical approach wasn’t allowed by the officials, and Anthony made sure to take advantage.

“Carmelo’s a physical offensive player,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said afterward. “Paul was getting the fouls and it put him on the bench. It’s just part of the game. Carmelo’s maybe the best scorer in the NBA so everybody’s just got to battle him, do his best, and make him take guarded shots. And for the most part we did that.”

George couldn’t contain Anthony, but struggled even more on the offensive end, finishing 4-of-17 from the field, with six of his 17 points coming in the game’s last 20 seconds after the outcome had already been decided.

“They tried to pack it in and give him threes, and I’d say probably seven or eight of them were open looks,” Vogel said. “Just a tough shooting night. If they’re going to give Paul George open threes, I’ll live with that.”

George is just 5-of-22 from beyond the arc combined over his last three games.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have been getting some much-needed help from Amar’e Stoudemire during this streak, and he was big once again in this one. Stoudemire finished with 21 points in 29 minutes, the eighth straight game that he’s appeared in where he’s finished in double figures.

New York will need its full complement of players to continue to play at a high level if the team is to keep its desperate playoff hopes alive. Even with the current winning streak, the Knicks remain four games back of the Hawks and four and a half behind the Bobcats for one of the two final playoff spots in the East.

Tyson Chandler is among the players beginning to believe, however, that the lofty goal is within reach.

“Not only that we can accomplish it, but that we can do something when we get in,” Chandler said, when asked what this particular win against an elite team may have shown. “I don’t really think there’s really a team that wants to see us in the first round.”

Anthony wasn’t quite ready to take things that far.

“As far as hope [for the playoffs] goes, we’ll see what happens,” Anthony said. “We know we control our own destiny. We don’t want to have to look at the teams that’s in front of us — although we have to, in our mindset we have to focus on what we have to focus on.”

The city is energized where the Knicks are concerned, and the winning streak combined with Jackson’s arrival have a palpable feeling around the team that things are indeed turning around. Anthony talked about wanting to build on that, and believes that the team can continue to respond.

“Hard times call for desperate measures,” he said. “Right now our backs are against the wall and we’re playing good basketball as a team. The teams that we play, we feel like they’re in our way. That’s our motto right now — they’re in our way, and we don’t want to let nothing stop that.”

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.