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Playoff-chasing Heat fall to Knicks, who were without Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose

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MIAMI (AP) Whenever New York was tested, the Knicks had an answer. And Miami’s road to the playoffs likely got a bit tougher.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 22 points, Courtney Lee added 20 and the Knicks led nearly the entire way in beating the Heat 98-94 on Friday night, holding Miami to 22 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.

Justin Holiday scored 12 for the Knicks, who played without Carmelo Anthony (back), Derrick Rose (knee) and Lance Thomas (hip). Miami tied the game five times in the fourth quarter, and the Knicks answered with a score every time – never ceding the lead, never looking like an eliminated team with nothing to play for.

“We just went out there and tried to not think about anything,” Lee said. “Go out there and play free and have fun.”

Goran Dragic scored 22 points and Hassan Whiteside had 17 points and 16 rebounds for Miami, which missed 15 of its final 16 attempts from 3-point range. Tyler Johnson scored 15 for the Heat.

Johnson was 3 for 4 in the final quarter. The rest of the Heat were 1 for 14, and 0 for 7 from 3-point range.

“The 3-ball didn’t go in tonight, we didn’t defend and it didn’t end up being a good formula for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Even with the loss, Miami (37-39) held onto the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference standings because No. 8 Indiana (37-39) also lost, the Pacers falling to Toronto. The Heat and Pacers are just a half-game ahead of No. 9 Chicago.

The Heat had a last chance to tie in the final seconds, but Dragic missed a layup and Whiteside was called for offensive basket interference as he tried to tip the rebound.

“We’re not just going out there to play,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “You’re not out there playing a pickup game – you’re out there to try to win. So no matter who you have on the court, that’s the way we should be approaching it.”

Miami’s six remaining games are all against opponents with postseason aspirations.

“We’re still in the playoffs,” Dragic said. “Every game counts.”

TIP-INS

Knicks: New York trailed for only 1:48 in the game, never by more than a point. … The Knicks need to finish 4-2 to avoid a third straight season of at least 50 losses. … Anthony averaged 17.3 points in March. The only other month when he averaged less while playing at least eight games was February 2012 (16.5). … New York had 25 assists on 38 field goals.

Heat: Dion Waiters (ankle) continues progressing, though no timetable has been set for his return. Friday was the seventh game he missed with the sprain. … Tyler Johnson got hit in the face in the first half, with some blood getting on his uniform and the court.

POSTGAME WORK

Tyler Johnson and James Johnson headed immediately to the Heat practice court for some postgame shots. “They could have easily went out to the main court like most NBA guys so the media can record it,” Whiteside said. “These guys, they work on their game. They don’t do it for show. They don’t do it for the cameras.”

GRANT HONORED

Former Heat player Brian Grant, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nearly a decade ago, was at the game and is hosting a fundraiser Saturday in Miami to aid his foundation. “With Parkinson’s, the main thing you want to happen, the best thing that can happen, is for you to progress relatively slow. And I’ve been progressing slowly,” Grant said. He and Heat President Pat Riley – his former coach – chatted at courtside just before tipoff, both smiling broadly.

VALUE GUYS

With Anthony, Rose and Thomas hurt and Joakim Noah suspended, the Knicks played without four of their five highest-paid players – that group making a combined $68 million this season. Lee was the only Knicks player with a salary over $4.1 million who was on the court Friday.

UP NEXT

Knicks: Host Boston on Sunday, the start of a three-game homestand.

Heat: Host Denver on Sunday, Miami’s final game this regular season against a Western Conference opponent.

Report: Phil Jackson thought Carmelo Anthony was trying to sabotage him

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In March, Kristaps Porzingis offered a strong endorsement of the triangle.

That put him between then-Knicks president Phil Jackson and forward Carmelo Anthony.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to an NBA source, Anthony was furious to read Porzingis’ positive sentiments on an offense he disdains.

“Melo really chewed him out, lit into him,’’ the source said.

Actually, some Knicks officials believe Anthony’s influence on Porzingis has been detrimental and a key reason why Jackson became adamant about removing him from the roster any way he could.

“Phil thought Carmelo was trying to sabotage him,’’ an NBA source said.

Jackson tried to pressure Anthony out of New York, tweeted criticism of Anthony, sidestepped Anthony’s requests to meet, seemingly pushed an anti-Anthony narrative, publicly called Anthony a ball hog and used racially insensitive language to discuss Anthony’s friend, LeBron James.

But Anthony was trying to sabotage Jackson?

It’s unhealthy for a team’s president and highest-paid players to be on such different pages, but it’s also unhealthy for a team to be caught up on an antiquated offensive system. Anthony acquiescing to Jackson might have made the Knicks’ better in the short term. But if he widened the fractures that eventually caused the Knicks to split from Jackson, Anthony did the team a favor in the long run.

Report: Masai Ujiri’s salary about half what Phil Jackson’s was

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James Dolan isn’t fixing the Knicks’ biggest problem – James Dolan.

But the owner took a step in the right direction a few years ago by pouring a ton of money into the front office. Of course, Dolan did it in the worst way. Offering a five-year, $60 million contract, he didn’t target general managers with proven track records of success. He hired front-office novice Phil Jackson, whose tenure was a wreck.

With Jackson out, will Dolan get it right this time?

The Knicks are reportedly interested in Raptors president Masai Ujiri, but it will be more complicated now, because Ujiri just signed a contract extension and the Knicks are still paying Jackson.

But can New York lure Ujiri from Toronto?

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

As a source close to MLSE ownership told me Wednesday morning: “Don’t even waste your time on this.”

But as one NBA source put it: “This is not fake news, the Knicks will be coming hard.”

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Ujiri signed a five-year extension worth $32 million last September

Bruce Arthur of the Star:

All that just makes the Knicks more desperate for a new saviour, and league sources indicate the Knicks are already confident Ujiri is coming to New York.

Despite the contract, sources indicate Ujiri can leave if he wants to leave. It’s really up to him.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

As for reports that the Knicks were interested in Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources told ESPN that the Knicks have a deep respect for him, but he’s under contract and thus would require permission to speak to and compensation — likely draft picks — which the Knicks would be very reluctant to consider.

Dolan has the fortune to offer Ujiri a significant raise and buy him out of his Raptors contract. Money goes a long way in these negotiations, though it’s unclear how much Dolan would spend on a less-flashy name – and whether the Raptors want more than just cash.

Sending Toronto first-round picks as compensation would hurt the Knicks, but not as much as hiring another incompetent front-office head.

Will Ujiri land in New York? There are so many mixed signals, but it appears the Knicks at least have a chance.

Report: James Harden recruited Chris Paul to Rockets throughout season

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Chris Paul to the Rockets seemed to come out of nowhere.

It didn’t.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

According to one NBA executive, James Harden, the Rockets’ all-star guard, had been recruiting Paul throughout the season. An executive from another team said Harden had already told a fellow NBA player that Paul’s going to Houston was a done deal.

This is how the league works now. James Harden continues to be a enthusiastic recruiter, and that’s a huge asset to the Rockets. It goes toward explaining why Houston general manager Daryl Morey has bestowed so much faith in Harden.

The NBA has simply decided nothing players do constitutes tampering. So, Harden was free to convey Houston’s message to Paul – and this went beyond the typical bonding of two stars. The Rockets had to orchestrate a complex series of transactions, including getting Paul to waive most of his trade bonus, to make the deal work. Harden was part lead recruiter, part middleman communicating with the front office.

Getting Paul was truly the Harden-Morey partnership at its finest.

Report: Thunder have planned Blake Griffin pursuit for months

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The Clippers sound confident about re-signing Blake Griffin in the wake Chris Paul going to the Rockets.

But L.A. will have competition for the star forward – from the Nuggets, Celtics (depending how their primary plan goes), Heat and Griffin’s home-state Thunder.

Royce Young of ESPN:

It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later.

Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.

Alas, the Thunder are now limited to dumping contributors that make the team appealing to someone like Griffin in the first place or executing a sign-and-trade. But a sign-and-trade gets complicated. Adams’ salary alone isn’t enough to return Griffin on a max, and it’s not even clear the Clippers – with DeAndre Jordan – would want Adams (though losing Griffin could initiate an even greater rebuild that includes trading Jordan). And again, the Clippers reportedly want to keep Griffin rather than go this route.

This was all foreseeable, though some surprising factors worsened the consequences of the extensions for Oklahoma City.

Griffin seemed more certain last summer to stay in L.A. The 2017-18 salary cap appeared on track to be higher. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t raise cap holds for first-round picks until next year. So, Adams’ deal projects to save the Thunder just $6,425,000 over the next four years relative to a max offer sheet – a paltry sum in the face of the potential cap flexibility lost this year by extending him instead of waiting to re-sign him.

The Thunder making moves earlier than necessary and salary-cap developments turning those plans especially imprudent – where have I heard this one before?