Michael Beasley

Joel Embiid screams and points at Michael Beasley, whom Robert Covington dunked on (video)

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T.J. McConnell stole the show in the 76ers’ win over the Knicks last night.

So, Joel Embiid took whatever opportunity he could to taunt an opponent, even if it wasn’t his own play.

This Robert Covington dunk on Michael Beasley sufficed. Embiid earned a technical foul for his celebration.

Kristaps Porzingis said he was tired after back-to-back, not making excuse

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Welcome to Kristaps Porzingis‘ world, where every word that comes out of his mouth is scrutinized, analyzed, and often blown out of proportion. Take these comments from the other night after a loss to the Wizards:

“I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m so tired right now… We’re in a tough stretch. The mental part doesn’t help at all. When it’s mentally tough, you don’t have it in you.’’

This plays right into the Porzingis durability questions — he’s missed double-digit games in both of his NBA seasons, and more telling his game faded the second half of both seasons. Just 38 games into this season — and with the Knicks only one game out of the playoffs in the East — history seemed to be repeating itself.

Porzingis tried to pump the brakes on that saying his comments were about playing in a back-to-back, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“All I know is, of course, after playing a back-to-back everybody feels tired,” he said. “If you don’t feel tired, you didn’t play hard…

“Of course, it’s physically harder (as the team leader). That’s something I was preparing myself for,” he said Friday. “It’s not something where all of a sudden (it) hit me. I’ve prepared myself for it and I have to be ready for it if I want to be the guy. There can’t be any excuses made, whether it’s so many minutes I’m playing or whatever it is.”

In his last five games, Porzingis is still scoring 20 points a game but his efficiency has plummeted — 39.1 percent shooting overall and 22.2 percent from three. He’s still having a better season overall than his previous two, but the slippage of late feels familiar.

Tired legs may be part of the story, but it’s far from all of it.

The Knicks desperately miss Tim Hardaway Jr. being healthy and in the rotation. Without him Porzingis is the only player with real gravity among the starters, the defense focuses on him, and KP’s passing is just not good enough to find the open guy regularly. Not that the other Knicks are moving much off the ball, that has ground to a halt as well. It’s been Porzingis against the world, and that is not just physically draining, it’s mentally exhausting, and that also is part of where Porzingis is right now.

Michael Beasley, coming in off the bench in New York, has put up numbers of late in part because he’s the only other respectably shot creator on the roster.

As the Knicks get healthy, we’ll see if Porzingis’ game rebounds. There’s just more than half a season to go and if the Knicks are going to have to get some wins on the road, and even more out of Porzingis.

Three Things to Know: Isaiah Thomas everything Cavaliers could have hoped in return

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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) Isaiah Thomas scores 17 points in 19 minutes in return, is everything Cavaliers could have hoped in return. The consensus of scouts and executives around the league is that we probably saw peak Isaiah Thomas last season (when he was an All-NBA player who was fifth in MVP voting), that the hip injury that sidelined him for the first couple months of the season would take away some of the explosiveness and shifty lateral mobility that made him such a scoring threat. The question was how far off his peak would he be? Would the Cavaliers get 90 percent of Thomas? 80 percent?

One game is not going to answer that question, but the Thomas that took to the court with 4:32 left in the first quarter (to a standing ovation) Tuesday night looked good — he did not hesitate to pull up from three, he attacked the rim (even getting knocked down once), and in 19 minutes of play had 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Thomas’ debut was everything the Cavaliers could have hoped.

Cleveland went on to get the win 127-110, LeBron James led the way with 24 points and six Cavs players got into double figures.

Athletically, Thomas looked good and at least close to his old self. Time will tell, and the Cavaliers will bring him along cautiously (he is not playing in the back-to-back in Boston Wednesday). Tuesday night was promising — and the Cavaliers need that. First, because they need another playmaker who can spell LeBron for a stretch — he is tied with Andrew Wiggins for most minutes played in the league this season. Also, the Cavaliers have maybe the toughest schedule in the NBA in December — 12 opponents who are over .500 — and they need all the scoring they can get.

By the way, Damian Lillard returned in that game, too. He had missed five games with a tweaked hamstring and dropped 25 on 15 shots in the loss, hitting 6-of-9 from three. Lillard did his damage from three, only getting to the rim once and shooting more than usual from the midrange (a credit to the Cavaliers defense more than anything). It felt like a normal Blazers game: Lillard and C.J. McCollum against the world. That was not enough on Tuesday.

2) Kawhi Leonard’s comeback looks nearly complete — 25 points in 30 minutes vs. Knicks. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have been easing Kawhi Leonard back from the quad injury that sidelined him to start the season, but the training wheels seem to be coming off.

Leonard set the tone from the start at Madison Square Garden Tuesday and finished the night with 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting (his efficiency is not yet up to where it was last season) in 30 minutes of play. His catch-and-shoot rhythm and touch are not back yet, but he was getting his shots and when the double-teams came his recognition and passing were on.

LaMarcus Aldridge continues to play like an All-Star, scoring 29 points and carving up the Knicks front line all night. Aldridge is getting to his spots on the floor (having Leonard back as a threat helps with those matchups and spacing), and when he does he’s almost unstoppable.

3) Manu Ginobili’s alley-oop pass goes in for three, referees miss it and things get weird. Manu Ginobili is so good at alley-oop passes he doesn’t need the finisher.

This is the play everyone is talking about from Tuesday night — Manu Ginobili tries to throw a lob entry pass to the fronted LaMarcus Aldridge, but instead throws it through the rim — but it bounces through the rim at a strange angle, the referees miss it and play just continues on.

When play stopped the Spurs protested (including Gregg Popovich, who admitted he didn’t see it when it happened, he was just going off what his assistant coaches said), the referees conferred, then decided it was a two, then eventually reviewed the tape and got the call right (this is why there should be instant replay). It was just a bizarre play. The pass/shot hit the back of the rim and came out at a strange angle, Michael Beasley grabbed it like it didn’t go in, and none of the three officials blinked.

Also out of this one, Gregg Popovich now fifth on coaching win list — passing George Karl — after Spurs beat Knicks.

Kristaps Porzingis owns 0-of-11 shooting night with Kobe quote

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Last night, the Michael Beasley show came to Madison Square Garden as he dropped 32 and led the Knicks past the Celtics 102-93.

The other story: Kristaps Porzingis was off all night, going 0-of-11 from the floor. Let’s explain this with a visual aid.

After the game, Porzingis owned it and laughed about it, saying the game was only close because of him. He also quoted one of the great unconscious gunners in NBA history, Kobe Bryant.

“Kobe says you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, well today I missed all 100.”

Well played Porzingis… well, after the game. Not so much the game itself.

Porzingis will be in an intriguing Christmas Day matchup with Joel Embiid and the 76ers (if Embiid is healthy and plays). Expect him to be sharper then.

Three Things to Know: Toronto is best team you’re not talking about

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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) DeMar DeRozan drops 45 on Sixers, and the Raptors are the best team you’re not talking about. The Toronto Raptors have won 11-of-12, same as the Warriors and Rockets in that stretch, and they have a better net rating (+13) in those dozen games than either of those much-discussed powerhouses. Toronto has the best defense in the NBA and the third best offense in the league in that stretch. The Raptors have been flat-out destroying teams.

It’s time to talk about just how good the Raptors are this season.

You can ask the Sixers. DeMar DeRozan dropped 45 on them Thursday — while TNT was showing other teams — and Toronto beat Philadelphia 114-109. DeRozan is evident of the changes the Raptors have made on offense, hitting a career-high six threes Thursday night.

DeRozan thrives in the midrange, he has taken 62 percent of his shots there this season (hitting a very good 48 percent of them), but last season he took 71 percent from there — now he’s getting to the rim more and taking more threes, leading to the highest true shooting percentage of his career, 58.7. He’s become more efficient, a microcosm of Toronto as a whole. Last season as a team the Raptors took 41 percent of their shots from the midrange, this year that is down to 30.3 percent, and what is up are shots at the rim some and three pointers a lot. DeRozan is isolating less, getting a few more buckets in transition, and the Raptors are moving the ball more — last season only 22 percent of DeRozan’s buckets were off a teammate’s assist, this season that’s up to 29 percent.

Toronto looked on paper like a team that would step back this season — Patrick Paterson and Cory Joseph were gone hurting their depth, and this team’s lack of ball movement made them defendable. Now, the ball moves, C.J. Miles and rookie OG Anunboy have stepped up with tremendous seasons, the depth is fine, the defense is better, and the Raptors haven’t missed a beat. Record wise, they are right there with Cleveland and Boston at the top of the East, but nobody is talking about them that way. Maybe it’s time to do that.

The Raptors have made this 11-of-12 run against a softer part of the schedule, something that will change as the calendar flips to 2018, but on the season they have the same strength of schedule as the Warriors (middle of the NBA pack). The Raptors are legit, knocking on the door of the top two teams in the East this regular season. Can they break through that door in the postseason is the question, but I wouldn’t count this team out.

2) Michael Beasley goes off for 32 as Knicks beat Celtics. Every team has rough stretches over the grind of an 82-game schedule,  a few games of terrible performances on both sides where any of 29 other NBA teams could beat them. Boston seems to be in one of those. The ballet that was their switchable defense seems off, the offense is inconsistent and relying too much on Kyrie Irving, and the rebounding problems are back. Blame a busy part of the schedule, blame injuries, blame the new Republican tax plan if you want, these things happen to teams.

Thursday night you can blame the Knicks’ Michael Beasley, who dropped 32 on the Celtics and was getting MVP chants at the Garden.

The Knicks got that despite Kristaps Porzingis going 0-of-11 from the field. This is the kind of quality win the Knicks need as they fight to stay ahead of Miami and Philly for one of the final playoff slots in the East. It’s also a reminder that the Knicks are good at home (15-5 this season) but need to find a way to win on the road because those games are coming (2-9 so far away from MSG).

As for the Celtics, they need to snap out of this by Christmas Day, when they will be showcased against the inconsistent Wizards (who you know will bring it that day).

3) Bulls win streak ends at six, but I guess the Cavaliers are pretty good. The Bulls couldn’t keep winning forever. The dream had to die. And like so many dreams of opponents in the last decade, they died in the hands of LeBron James.

Cleveland beat Chicago 115-112 Thursday in a game where the Bulls were competitive most of the night but it ended with the Cav’s 12th straight home win. That ended Chicago’s win streak at six, and for Bulls fans it’s a little bitter to see Dwyane Wade making plays to beat them after he bolted after one season in the windy city. It was Wade and the Cleveland bench outplaying everyone on the Chicago bench not named Nikola Mirotic that got Cleveland the win. For the Bulls, they fought hard on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, but in the end, like every other team in the league, they did not have an answer for LeBron James, who had 34 points and 9 assists.

Some Bulls fans will lament that with this little win streak, the Bulls would now be fourth in the NBA Draft Lottery (Atlanta, Memphis, and Dallas are worse), but you can’t ever blame a team for playing hard and winning. That’s the sign of a good culture being built amid the rubble. If you’re rooting for your team to lose, that’s a hard life as a fan.