Devin Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105

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NEW YORK (AP) The Phoenix Suns had more reason to feel good about their future, while the New York Knicks just missed a chance to escape their frustrating present.

Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Suns beat the Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

“It was just an excellent pass by (Eric) Bledsoe,” Booker said. “I’m thinking he’s going to come off the screen but I’m always shot ready. He made a perfect pass, hit me in the hands and I just shot it with confidence. Ended up being a big shot, the last points of the game.”

Carmelo Anthony‘s attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

“That was a tough one to digest right there,” Anthony said. “We got the play that we wanted, got the shot that we wanted, got the look that we wanted, did everything but went in.”

Bledsoe added 23 points, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points but was scoreless in the fourth quarter. Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14.

Rose made a layup to give the Knicks a 105-102 lead, but Booker responded by drawing a foul on Courtney Lee and sinking both free throws to cut the deficit to one. Rose missed a jumper from the top of the key, P.J. Tucker missed a point-blank layup and Ron Baker missed a driving layup to set up Booker’s 3-pointer from the wing.

The teams traded misses before Anthony took the inbounds pass after a timeout and launched a 3 that spun around the rim before falling out to give the Knicks their 13th loss in 16 games.

Anthony scored 12 points in the third quarter, which ended in a 90-all tie. The Knicks eventually opened a 103-98 lead, their largest of the game, but couldn’t hold on as Jeff Hornacek fell to 0-2 against the team he previously coached.

Anthony led all scorers at the half with 19 points, but Booker paced Phoenix with 15 and the Suns took a 61-55 lead into the locker room.


Suns: Coach Earl Watson praised Tucker’s defensive ability. “The thing about defense is there’s no perfect technique. It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He plays with that every time he touches the court. He’s one of our best players. To me, he’s the most underrated defender in our league, especially on isolations.” … Derrick Jones Jr. was inactive.

Knicks: Hornacek reflected on the first half of the season. “It’s been an interesting year, I’d say. It was a tough beginning with Derrick Rose missing a bunch early, part of putting in the offense and getting a new group of guys together as familiarity and he wasn’t able to be there for a big part of that so we were trying to win those first few games on the fly, Joakim with his hamstring early. There have been some distractions that we’ve had to keep the guys kind of together, the losing, minor injuries here and there. Overall, I think the guys have done a pretty good job of staying together. We still look at it when we have all our guys we still have a good chance.”


New York went back to its original starting lineup of Joakim Noah, Porzingis, Anthony, Lee and Rose for the first time since Jan. 12 against the 76ers.


Actor Hugh Jackman and Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show” sat courtside during the game.


Suns: Visit Toronto on Sunday.

Knicks: Visit Indiana on Monday.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

AP Photo/Darren Abate
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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.