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.”

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.