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With four straight wins on road, Knicks believe they are a team figuring it out

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LOS ANGELES — If the playoffs started today, the Knicks wouldn’t just be a playoff team, they’d have home court in the first round.

More importantly, after winning five-of-six and four in a row on the road, they believe they are that good, that they are figuring it out. Together.

“I love the camaraderie of this team,” Joakim Noah said Sunday night. “From the beginning, no matter what’s thrown at us, no matter what people are saying, I think it’s really important, especially in New York, that the camaraderie stays tight. Because, when you win it’s like they put you on a pedestal, and when you lose it’s the end of the world, they try to find anything to make a headline out of, and it’s just the nature of playing for the Knicks. It’s not like that anywhere else.”

The Knicks will be on a pedestal, at least a small one, after a 118-112 win over the Lakers Sunday night. The win improved them to 14-10 on the season, and they are the current four seed in the East. It’s too early to celebrate, but the Knicks feel optimistic that they are on the right track.

The right track would mean getting the ball to their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, more often. Porzingis had a monster night — 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots — and he got help from a hot shooting Derrick Rose, who started the game 8-of-8 from the floor and finished with 25 points on 12-of-15 shooting.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me, and they were giving me the lane,” Rose said.

To a man after the game, the Knicks talked about this latest run being a function of team chemistry.

“We want to build a culture of winning, and I think we’re taking baby steps toward that,” Porzingis said.

“Trusting, just trusting one another, just believing in what we’re doing, our schemes offensively and defensively, guys feeling comfortable,” Carmelo Anthony said.

“In the first half, they were doubling Carmelo,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We did a good job of passing the ball and he had about five or six assists at halftime (it was five). That’s how you know you have a good team, when a guy gets doubled, kicks out of there and you get easy shots and easy looks.”

“I figured out the double team early, we were spacing out… just kind of making the right play,” Anthony said.

Have the Knicks figured it out? Time will tell, but there is still one big reason for concern that these Knicks are not as good as their record: Defense.

The Knicks are winning in spite of their defense, and that could ultimately be their undoing. It almost was against the Lakers, except Los Angeles’ defense was worse.

“Well, you know I think we really stopped them in the fourth quarter…” Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek tried to say with a straight face. Then he laughed. “We gave up 37 points in the fourth quarter. Good thing we had a couple of guys — Derrick (Rose) was great, Brandon (Jennings) got hot there and hit a couple threes, Courtney (Lee) hit some big threes for us in the fourth quarter.”

The Knicks have the 26th ranked defense in the NBA this season, and it has been two points per 100 possessions worse during this six-game streak. The Knicks are running and shooting their way to wins in spite of the defense, but that only works for so long.

“We have to stop fouling…” Rose said. “The way the NBA is, if you go down big, the first thing you do is start shooting threes. We just have to contest the shots a little bit harder and communicate while we’re out there.”

Rose — who returned after missing two games with back spasms — was impressive, pushing the pace in transition, and he was fearless going at the Lakers bigs knowing that there was no shot blocking to slow him.

“He’s been moving really well all year,” Noah said. “He’s getting more and more confident in his game, the way he’s moving, his floater is coming back — his floater game was really on tonight.”

The Lakers got D’Angelo Russell back on the court Sunday (in limited minutes), as well as Nick Young. Lou Williams continues to look like a sixth man of the year candidate, he comes in and not only gets buckets by attacking, but does little things such as getting in Derrick Rose’s way the second he got the outlet pass to prevent a break and force the Knicks to come up and run a half court. He finished with 24 points.

The Lakers can get credit for coming from behind in the second half to make the game close for a stretch, but as bad as the Knicks’ defense can be the Lakers defense makes it look like the 2004 Pistons. The Knicks had the players to make the Lakers pay for that, even on a night ‘Melo was off (4-of-15 shooting). The Knicks have depth and can score a variety of ways.

Whether they are a four seed — or for that matter, are even in the playoffs — come late April will be about the other end of the floor. They need to find some defense.

At least they’ve found some chemistry. It’s a start.

Damian Lillard talks about his “no pressure” pitch to Carmelo Anthony, selling Portland

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Self-made, over-achieving players in the NBA tend not to be the recruiters. They worked hard and made it to where they are more on their own, and their world-view follows that path. Think Derrick Rose in Chicago.

Damian Lillard was one of those guys, but he has done a little recruiting of late — he reached out to Carmelo Anthony last week. Lillard told Chris Mannix of NBC Radio (who is filling in for Dan Patrick for the day on his national radio show) that it wasn’t really the John Calipari hard-sell.

“It wasn’t really a pitch, I just reached out to him and let him know the interest just wasn’t from our front office, if there was a possibility there was definitely interest from the players as well, and I didn’t want that to be confused,” Lillard said on the radio show. “I didn’t put no pressure on him or ask him a bunch of questions, I just said what it was from our end.”

That is nice, but Anthony reportedly has focused in on Houston, and might settle for Cleveland (if there was a deal to be had). Would ‘Melo waive his no-trade clause to head to Portland?

“I didn’t get a sense that he wouldn’t,” Lillard said in a tepid response. “What we have here is a good situation for him and that’s just kind of where it went. I let him know what I thought he could do for our team and what our team could do with his presence. And that was it. We didn’t go over no details or talk about a no trade clause or nothing like that. He’s gonna make his own decision to do that or not, I just want to make sure we had some kind of a conversation.”

It’s a start. It’s likely not enough. Anthony wants to go somewhere and chase a ring, and despite what C.J. McCollum thinks, Portland with ‘Melo isn’t a contender. Even with Anthony, I would have them sixth in the West, maybe fifth at best (Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, and probably Minnesota are better still). And this is assuming Portland can find a team to take on Myers Leonard’s contract to make a deal work.

What Lillard wanted to get across was that Portland is a great place to be an NBA player.

“I think people talk about what it would be like in Portland or to play in Portland, but actually having lived here, I live here year-round, so I know it’s a great place to live,” Lillard said. “Some of the best food in the United States. You talk about loving the game of basketball, our team and the soccer team are all the city has, so we get a lot of support and our fans really back our team and are really passionate about our team. That type of environment, and that type of love and support around the city, what NBA player wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

Jimmer Fredette re-signing in China

AP Photo/George Bridges
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Jimmer Fredette played well in China last year, and buzz even emerged about him re-joining the NBA after the Chinese season ended in March. Never happened.

Even in the offseason, when every NBA team had open roster spots, nobody stateside has signed Fredette.

So, he’s returning to the Shanghai Sharks.

Fredette:

Fredette retains a cult following in America, but not the talent of an NBA player. He can score plenty in a lesser league, but his game doesn’t fit with better players on the floor.

Perhaps, he could’ve gotten a training-camp invite, maybe even with a small guarantee. But would’ve faced an uphill battle sticking into the regular season. Better for him to lock into a bigger salary in China now.

Rumor: Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder ‘officially circling each other’

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Carmelo Anthony prefers to be traded to the Rockets. He might soon be traded to the Rockets.

Are the Thunder trying to interject themselves before it’s too late?

Bill Simmons of The Ringer:

Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver was an assistant coach at Syracuse when Anthony played there. Weaver is also well-connected in the Washington area (D.C./Maryland/Virginia). I’m not sure how much that means to Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore – in many ways, a different world from the DMV (which includes only parts of Maryland and Virginia closer to D.C.). Still, Weaver and Anthony at least share their Syracuse connection.

The problem: An Oklahoma City trade for Anthony would almost have to include Steven Adams (way more valuable than Anthony) and/or Enes Kanter (way less valuable than Anthony). There’s no easy way to bridge either gap, especially considering how much the Thunder need Adams’ interior presence.

Here’s my best stab at a workable framework for a trade, via ESPN’s trade machine:

screenshot-www.espn.com-2017-07-24-12-26-16

The Clippers would get a more-skilled backup center while just shuffling bad contracts (at least that’s how it seems they view Wesley Johnson‘s deal). The Thunder would still need to send the Knicks more assets (Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant and/or draft picks). The Knicks would get a veteran point guard in Austin Rivers while Frank Ntilikina develops and, more importantly, additional young assets. It’s just a matter of determining whether there’s an overlap in the picks Oklahoma City would trade and New York would receive. That window might be tight – or not exist.

Adding Paul George and Anthony to a team led by Russell Westbrook would be exciting. I’m just not sure it’s realistic.

Rumor: Knicks likely to trade Carmelo Anthony to Rockets this week

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After numerous starts and stops and starts and stops, maybe the Knicks will actually trade Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets soon?

Tarek Fattal of the Los Angeles Daily News:

So, they found a third team to take Ryan Anderson or a fourth team to take Meyers Leonard?

If true, that’d please at least Anthony.

There’s room for a trade to work. New York is clearly ready to move on from Anthony, and Houston wants him to join James Harden and Chris Paul. The Rockets can add sweeteners to convince another team – or maybe even the Knicks – to take a bad contract in the trade.

But this has dragged on so long, I need more evidence the deal is actually close before I believe it.