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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.

Watch DeMarcus Cousins’ historic 44/24/10 night

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The last time somebody did this — scored more than 40 points, had more than 20 rebounds, and dished out more than 10 assists in a game — “Poseidon Adventure” was in the theaters and Elton John had just released “Rocket Man.” It was Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he was still playing in Milwaukee.

Monday night, DeMarcus Cousins did it.

Cousins scored 44 points, had 24 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists in the Pelicans’ double OT win against Chicago. These were not meaningless points, Cousins picked up seven of them in the second overtime.

Cousins has had a monster first half of the season and earned his first All-Star Game start this year.

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

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Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

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Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.

 

Kevin Durant fires back, says Clint Capela’s job is “easy”

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“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them… We are better than them.”

That was young Rockets center Clint Capela after the Rockets beat the Warriors last Saturday night, feeling confident.

Asked about it, Kevin Durant shot Capela down, saying he’s not the guy that should be commenting.

There are no easy jobs in the NBA. It takes a lot of work physically, a good mental feel for the game, and the right opportunity just to get a chance. That said, some NBA jobs are simpler and more straightforward than others. On offense, Capela is not the ball handler and creator making a lot of decisions, things are simple for him — and he executes them. He’s shooting 66.6 percent this season — he does what he does well.

Houston took two of three from Golden State this season, and while that is far from doing it in a playoff series it should be a confidence boost for Houston if/when they go up against Golden State.