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The Extra Pass: Knicks fighting for something Nets have in odd role reversal


NEW YORK — The Knicks desperately want something that Brooklyn already has, a playoff spot that was secured thanks to the Nets putting together a 30-12 record since Jan.1, the best in the Eastern Conference during that stretch.

It’s a strange reversal that’s occurred in a relatively short period of time by NBA standards, and an odd one for New York, to say the least.

Less than 24 hours after the Nets officially accomplished one of their preseason goals, the Knicks showed that they aren’t yet ready to give up on theirs. New York blasted Brooklyn 110-81 on Wednesday, and put the game away early by getting out to a lead of as many as 25 points over the game’s first 24 minutes.

“Our guys are hungry,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said afterward. “Normally anybody comes off [a West Coast trip], that game getting back is a tough game. Our guys came out with energy and ready to play. It was a 48-minute performance tonight and we will need that the rest of the way.”

Nets head coach Jason Kidd didn’t see much fight out of his guys, perhaps slightly less motivated than New York after clinching a playoff spot, and maybe a little fatigued playing on the second night of a back-to-back set.

“It happens,” Kidd said. “It’s the schedule. We fought last night, tonight we came out a little sluggish. But give New York credit, they won the game and we move on.”

Brooklyn was ready to move on from its little brother status to the New York franchise last summer, when the team traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett not only to bolster its postseason chances, but to steal as much of the spotlight as possible.

The Nets want the attention and devotion of the New York basketball market, which is something that’s belonged to the Knicks exclusively for decades despite the lack of anything remotely resembling sustained success. Assembling a team by adding two veteran Hall of Fame caliber champions and spending record payroll dollars did that to a certain extent, but only winning, and doing so at a level above and beyond what the Knicks have been able to will incrementally begin to sway the city’s fan base.

One of Brooklyn’s newest players, however, tried to immediately accelerate the process.

Pierce stoked the flames of the budding rivalry early and often, which meant little to a Knicks team coming off of a campaign that saw them reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years; it was easy to dismiss what was coming out of Brooklyn as nothing more than a bunch of noise.

But flash forward more than eight months later, and it’s New York that’s after the adulation that the Nets have recently received.

The Knicks played like it, which they should have considering every game the rest of the way will severely impact their playoff chances. They also got some help with the Hawks losing, which put New York percentage points ahead of them in the standings and back in the playoff picture, if only for one night.

Atlanta doesn’t even seem to care if it gets in, with GM Danny Ferry saying candidly, “Our goal is not to be the eighth seed.” This seemed almost incomprehensible to J.R. Smith, who started off hot against the Nets and led his team with 24 points.

“That’s unbelievable for somebody to say they’re not worried about being in the playoffs,” Smith said. “I thought that’s what you played for, but, obviously not. I guess.”

Carmelo Anthony’s remarks, predictably, stated essentially the opposite.

“It means a lot to know that we’re in a dogfight coming down toward the end of the season,” Anthony said. “And this stretch is important. I thought that West Coast trip was a real big trip for us to come out of it with a winning record, and then to come back tonight and take care of business on our own home court. It was definitely a big win for us, and we look forward to this battle coming down to the next seven or eight games that are left.”

There was doubt for much of the season that the Knicks were playing out a wasted year, but Anthony’s belief never wavered. The schedule is extremely tough the rest of the way, with New York facing Eastern Conference playoff teams in all six of the team’s remaining matchups.

But just as the Knicks did against a better Brooklyn team in this one, Anthony feels like the way the team is playing now is good enough for a strong finish — one that could guarantee them a spot in the postseason, and enable the team to shake this uncomfortable newly-found position of chasing Brooklyn’s success.

“I always believe,” Anthony said. “It’s funny how things work where we’re in this situation now, having a chance to make the playoffs. We control our own destiny — I’m going to keep saying that. We can’t worry about what Atlanta is doing or what anybody else is doing, we’ve got to win basketball games.

“I think if we continue playing the way we’ve been playing, we’ll be there at the end of the season.”

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.