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Three things we learned on Wednesday: Knicks, Sixers seem headed in opposite directions


Here’s what you missed around the NBA while trying to put out the fire your pet tortoise caused

1) The Sixers have won 3-of-4 and look confident; The Knicks on the other hand… 
It’s amazing how one shot, one comeback can change perceptions, alter the feelings around an entire franchise. Or in this case, two franchises.

The shot was Philadelphia’s T.J. McConnell’s game winner Wednesday night to beat the Knicks. Of course, it was preceded by the Knicks blowing a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Joel Embiid banking in a three-pointer, then Kristaps Porzingis — New York’s best player — air balling a wide-open corner three to give the Sixers a chance. Credit due to Sixers coach Brett Brown here — most coaches would have called a timeout on this final play and tried to assert some control by setting up a play, but a defense scrambling in chaos is the best time to score and Brown kept his hands in his pockets and trusted his team. It worked.

The Knicks are a mess. Derrick Rose was back from going AWOL and had an efficient 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting — he was still -21 for the game (that stat can be misleading, but here it speaks to problems on the defensive end). The Knicks have lost 9-of-10, have fallen out of the playoffs, and are five games below .500 with their next five games being against teams in the playoff chase — the Bulls, Raptors, Hawks, Celtics, and Wizards. New York needs wins in there or it’s going to get ugly. And when it gets ugly James Dolan tends to step in. There’s some old-school Chicken Little “the sky is falling” going on amongst Knicks fans right now, and it’s hard to blame them. What exactly is the reason for hope right now?

The Sixers, on the other hand, have won 3-of-4 and there is a growing confidence about them. Having Joel Embiid does that. If a franchise is going to tank like nobody has ever tanked before through the process and struggle for a few years, it needs to come out on the other end with a franchise cornerstone player or two. Embiid, after a long wait, seems to be that guy. Ben Simmons may be as well. Hopefully, we get to find out this season and see them together. There are a lot of questions about how all the pieces fit together in Philly, there are other draft picks and prospects yet to arrive, but this feels like a team that has turned the corner and is heading in the right direction. There is a reason for hope.

2) Russell Westbrook racks up 18th triple-double of season, Thunder win again. I’ve run out of ways to praise Russell Westbrook. Remember how last season we said it was crazy how many triple-doubles he was racking up? After Wednesday, he now has 18 this season — the same number he had all of last season. The Thunder have 42 games left. Westbrook had 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists on Wednesday, and more importantly the Thunder won again, this time against a Memphis team that has been playing well of late and brings with it one of the best defenses in the NBA. There just is no defense for Westbrook.

3) We’ve got upsets: Timberwolves end Rockets win streak at 9; Trail Blazers comfortably beat Cavaliers. There were a couple other games of note, from the “good teams can’t win every game” category. For one, Minnesota was playing good enough defense, getting 28 from Andrew Wiggins, 23 from Karl-Anthony Towns, and 20 off the bench from Shabazz Muhammad. Oh, and the Timberwolves were racking up highlights.

Portland looked like a playoff team — something that hasn’t happened consistently of late — playing its best game of the season and thrashing Cleveland 102-86. The Blazers dominated this game from the start and got 27 points and another strong game from C.J. McCollum, and when the Cavaliers worked to take the ball out of his hands, Allen Crabbe stepped up with some quality playmaking. Considering the travel problems both teams had just getting to snowy Portland for this game, the Cavs can write this one off and not think about it. The Blazers (who had a harder time getting back home for this game, they landed in Seattle and took a bus) get a quality win out of it.

LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39 points lead Spurs past Wolves, 117-101

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) – LaMarcus Aldridge had 39 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a sluggish start to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-101 on Saturday night.

San Antonio won its third straight to move into fifth in the Western Conference five days after dropping to 10th and out of playoff position.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped to sixth in the West.

The Spurs had lost three straight and nine of 11 but are now unbeaten halfway through a six-game homestand.

San Antonio shot 84 percent in the second quarter, their best shooting quarter since 2010.

Two nights after battling New Orleans’ Anthony Davis on both ends, Aldridge had to take on another All-Star in Towns. Aldridge responded by leading the Spurs in scoring for the 49th time this season while helping keep Towns in check.

Aldridge scored 18 of 21 points during a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, including 12 straight. He capped the run by coming from the weak side to swat Towns’ floater deep into the seats.

Minnesota started quickly, shooting 78 percent from the floor in the first 5 1/2 minutes while San Antonio floundered at 17 percent. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called timeout, only to watch the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague steal the ball once play resumed.

The Spurs responded behind veteran reserves Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. San Antonio went on a 16-4 run bridging the first and second quarters to take a 29-26 lead.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for Minnesota and Teague had 16.


Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis denies drug charges while eating Popeyes on a charter plane

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Best. Denial. Ever.

Last month, former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested last month at a hotel in a suburb of Baltimore by Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Daniels with 126 grams of marijuana and more than $96,000 in cash, according to a police report. He has been charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Davis has declared his innocence in the best denial video ever — eating Popeyes chicken and flashing cash and a championship ring.

I have no idea whether Davis is guilty or not, I was not at a Hampton’s Inn outside Baltimore last month. The court system will sort that out, that is what it’s there for.

But I know a brilliant video when I see one. This is it.