Courtney Lee

Three Things to Know: LeBron James talks to Lonzo Ball and that means… nothing

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Cavaliers beat the Lakers… but who cares because LeBron James talked to Lonzo Ball. Everyone loves a good mystery. Apparently to the point of obsession. Thursday night the NBA got its big unanswered question to obsess over:

What did LeBron James tell Lonzo Ball after the game?

Somehow overshadowing the fact LeBron had a triple-double in leading the Cavaliers past the Lakers in an actual basketball game that counts, the topic of discussion has been LeBron pulling Lonzo Ball aside after the game on the court to talk to him, with LeBron wisely pulling his jersey up over his lips to foil lip readers.

This video will be analyzed like it was the Zapruder film.

When asked what he said, LeBron answered: “None of y’all business.” Good. It’s not.

LeBron is one of the few people on the planet who has been in Ball’s shoes — overhyped coming into the league, drafted and instantly thrown into the role of franchise savior. LeBron has lived up to the hype over his career, he’s been through the wars, and he has advice to pass along. LeBron also has praised Ball’s level-headedness and said he liked what he saw in the rookie’s game. Ball had 13 points and 11 assists Thursday to push a Lakers’ team that did not roll over for the Cavaliers, another game where Ball is showing improvement this season. LeBron likely said some variation of what he’s said publicly — “You have the talent kid, just put in the work, honor the game, and ignore the circus around you.”

That will not stop the speculation, rumors, and conspiracy theories. If the political world has proved one thing in the past year or two, it’s that logic and facts will not stop people from believing what they want to believe.

The “LeBron will come to the Lakers” rumors run so rampant that the man himself skipped talking to the media after shootaround or before the game Thursday just to avoid the ridiculousness. The rumors persist despite reports that call it a “longshot.” They persist despite logic — LeBron (and his agent Rich Paul) have made it clear that winning and chasing more rings will be the priorities in deciding where LeBron plays next season, and even if the Lakers could land LeBron and Paul George they are the third best team in the West right now. “But he bought a new home in Brentwood! He’s coming!” Ugh. One thing is for sure: LeBron is not basing his decision based on anything he saw in a December regular season game.

Still, the postgame conversation was fuel for the conspiracy theorists. Whatever. At least some on Twitter just had fun with it.

2) Kristaps Porzingis leaves Knicks game after tweaking knee, to be examined Friday. The scariest injuries are non-contact ones, so when the Knicks’ star forward Kristaps Porzingis went to the locker room Thursday night with one Knicks’ nation held its breath.

The good news after the game is that Porzingis was standing on his leg without a brace or crutch. Both he and coach Jeff Hornacek said it was not serious. Porzingis will be examined Friday and said he felt a little pain when his knee buckled, so the team is being cautious. Hopefully, this really is nothing, but don’t be shocked if Porzingis is out Saturday when Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder come to Madison Square Garden.

By the way, the Knicks beat the Nets behind 27 points from Courtney Lee.

3) Kevin Durant goes off for 36 points, 11 rebounds in another Warriors’ win.Stephen Curry? We don’t need no stinkin’ Stephen Curry.”

Okay, the Warriors aren’t exactly saying that, but they also are 4-0 without the point guard who was having a monster season but went down with a sprained ankle. The main reason is Kevin Durant. (Well, that and a more focused defense.) Durant went off against the Mavericks, taking control of the offense as he has done since Curry went down, scoring 37 points plus grabbing 11 boards and dishing out 7 assists. The Warriors won comfortably 112-97.

That makes eight straight wins for the Warriors, who statistically are on pace for 67 wins according to Ben Falk’s Cleaning The Glass (if you just extrapolate out the Warriors current record it’s “only” 65 wins).

Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis’ X-rays were negative, he can return

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Update: Knicks public relations:

And New York breathes a sigh of relief.

 

Tim Hardaway Jr. is at least sparking arguments of whether he’s living up to his contract. Frank Ntilikina is showing flashes. Courtney Lee has quietly been solid.

But make no mistake: Kristaps Porzingis remains, by far, the biggest reason for optimism with the Knicks.

Justise Winslow literally stepped on those dreams today.

Porzingis left tonight’s Knicks-Heat game after Winslow stepped on his ankle. Hopefully, the injury isn’t as bad as it looked. The close-up is particularly jarring.

At 10-10, the Knicks were at least hanging around the playoff race. Though I expected them to fade regardless, a serious injury for Porzingis could set them way back. They’ve been outscored by 11.4 points per 100 possessions when he sits (+4.5 when he plays).

Sometimes, these wind up being far more minor than they appear. But this also has potential to be the type of injury that changes New York’s plan for the entire season.

Courtney Lee: Some Knicks players don’t know the plays

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Three games into the NBA season, the Knicks have the worst offense in the NBA, scoring just 93.8 points per 100 possessions. They have been the worst shooting team in the NBA, with an eFG% of 46.5 percent so far (the league median is 51.2 percent), and they are shooting just 19.7 percent on corner threes and 26.1 percent from three overall. Plus, the Knicks have turned the ball over on 18.6 percent of their possessions.

And those numbers don’t do justice to how sloppy the offense has looked if you watch a Knicks’ game.

After Tuesday night’s loss to Celtics, Courtney Lee called out his teammates, while Tim Hardaway Jr. was mostly just disgusted.

Jeff Hornacek’s seat is getting a little bit warmer. He’s considered a Phil Jackson hire who is getting his chance to do things his way now, and the results are not pretty early.

The Knicks don’t have a lot of talent on the roster, and they have one of the worst point guard rotations in the NBA (which is why their name comes up in the Eric Bledsoe conversation, he would help them immensely). But the lack of cohesion on the offensive end goes beyond that. The half-court is a mess, except on the few times one player makes a good cut and another guy finds him. They need to play more in transition, but that has accounted for just 8.3 percent of their chances so far as they play at the 20th fastest pace in the league.

Kristaps Porzingis, averaging 25.3 points and 7.3 rebounds a game, has been the lone bright spot this season. It’s going to be a long winter in New York if this keeps up.

Jeff Hornacek, Knicks coaches to handle defensive plans this season

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On veteran teams, with high-IQ players, coaches often will lean on players to help with the game plan. Especially defensively. Veteran defenders know the tendencies of their opponents (having played them so many times) and can offer suggestions on what works and what doesn’t.

Jeff Hornacek came from one of those teams as a player, so he tried to do it with the Knicks last season as their coach. That would be the Knicks who ranked 25th in defensive efficiency last season. It didn’t work out so well.

This season the coaching staff in NYC is taking over the defensive game plans, Hornacek told Ian Begley of ESPN.

“We’re not doing that this year,” Hornacek said Monday. “When we go to shoot around that (defensive) plan will be in place. We’ll know the adjustments, instead of trying to give the guys the idea, ‘Hey, you guys play, you guys know these guys. What’s the best way to do it?'” Hornacek added that he may have made a mistake in giving players that leeway last season. “I played on teams that had great veteran players. We had a basic thing, but most of the time it was, ‘Okay, I’m going to be doing this, you’re going to be doing this and we worked it out.’ That’s maybe what I thought we’d be able to do last year with the guys. But that’s, we found out that didn’t work the best for us. This year we worked all summer to try to figure these things out.”

The Knicks defense should be better in part because of personnel, with guys like Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Frank Ntilikina, Kristaps Porzingis, and Willy Hernangomez in the rotation. However, it’s really about having a clear, simple plan for these guys to execute nightly and making them stick to it. Effort matters. The Knicks aren’t going to defend like the Spurs or Warriors, but they can be better. That should make Knicks fans feel a little less hopeless.

If they’re not, Hornacek’s seat will get a little hotter.

Michael Beasley on college basketball scandal: “you guys are just catching on”

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Michael Beasley was a highly recruited high school basketball player out of Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., who went on to play his college ball at the Kansas State then eventually became the No. 2 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.

He’s been the focus of recruiting battles, not unlike the ones that have taken down Rick Pitino at Louisville and led to former NBA Rookie of the Year Chuck Person being arrested.

Is this a massive scandal or just business as usual in college sports? Beasley told reporters more of the latter. He told the USA Today that reporters and prosecutors are just starting to catch on — and said college players should get paid.

“Man, you guys are just catching on. And that’s all I gotta say….

“My jerseys. They sell my jerseys. Not just me but what about Kentucky and Anthony Davis. USC and O.J. Mayo. Western Kentucky and Courtney Lee. We bring a lot to these schools and we can’t even park in front of the arenas for games. They still make us, as freshmen, park two parking lots away from the dorm rooms in the freezing cold. So do I think that guys need to be compensated for their work? Yes. Because most of us don’t make it to this level. A lot of us don’t make it to the professional level, let alone the NBA. So I do think guys should be getting paid. The NCAA is making billions: not just off basketball but off football and soccer – by the way, golf players get paid. Tennis players get paid. There are athletes getting paid at the college level. We’re just not one of them.”

For the record, Beasley said he did not get paid to go to K-State.

Also, for the record, pretty much every sports fan knows this goes on as common practice, we just turn a blind eye.

College basketball is a massive business built on a model of free labor, Beasley is right about that. Schools and the NCAA, make big money — and that’s not to mention universities luring donors to the university and stoking alumni — and while the players do get a free education (those that take advantage of it), that cost is a fraction of what the teams bring in. The NCAA’s efforts at amateurism create a black market that has shoe companies funneling money to players and coaches to get a recruit to Louisville (or has Louisville assistant coaches hiring strippers to “entertain” guys on recruiting visits). Don’t make the mistake of just singling out Louisville or Adidas schools, this is widespread. And it goes on in college football, too.

That said, I’d be shocked if we see players get paid in our lifetime. There would be too much pushback from the universities, not to mention people whose minds are stuck in the 1950s. Plus, there are a lot of questions that go with it — college softball players put in long hours and travel for their sport and to represent the university, should they be compensated as well? If so, how much? And we can go on down the line of college sports.