Kurt Helin

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Knicks to get Derrick Rose back Tuesday. They could use him.

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It’s a lot of fun to watch Brandon Jennings come in with the Knicks second unit and just get out and run. The tempo changes, the flow of the game changes, and the Knicks are far more entertaining.

They’re just not better. Jennings is not terribly efficient, and neither is the Knicks bench. Derrick Rose has had his best season in a while — averaging 16.4 points per game, he was moving better laterally and was quicker than we have seen since the knee injuries began — and with that the Knicks have been 7.5 points per 100 possessions better when Rose is on the court.

But back spasms had sidelined Rose the last three games — all Knicks losses. Put Jennings in with the starters and they have been 5.7 per 100 possessions worse as a lineup. So it’s good news for New York that Rose should return Tuesday, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“That’s the plan,” (Rose) said after participating in a full practice on Monday. “I just want to put all these injuries behind me and get on with the season….

“I think it’s just a one-shot thing,” he said. “Before I fell I wasn’t worried about it. Things like this are going to happen. It comes with the season — bumps and falls. I just got to find a way around it. I can’t let it get to me mentally.”

The Knicks host the Pacers on Tuesday, and on Sunday will host the Celtics in the tip-off of the Christmas Day games.

New York cannot afford a prolonged slump, they are currently the six seed in the East but are just a game ahead of nine-seed Detroit. Only two games separate the four seed and the 11 seed in the Eastern Conference right now, no team can afford to be off their game for long.

Report: Rockets’ Clint Capela will miss time with fractured fibula

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The Houston Rockets have won 10 games in a row, and in that stretch of time a Mike D’Antoni team has been the second best defense in the NBA. Seriously. On the season the Rockets have risen to 14th in the league in defense — ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Big man Clint Capela has been a big part of the Rockets’ success — he’s an improving rim protector — but it looks like the team will be without him for a while. A report out of L’Equipe, the very respected French sports publication (remember, Capela is Swiss and has connections to France), says the Rockets’ center has a fractured fibula and will be out for several weeks at least while that heals.

From Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle:

In the Rockets’ 111-109 win over the Timberwolves on Dec. 17, Capela left the game early in the second half after banging knees with Karl-Anthony Towns.

Coach Mike D’Antoni said on Monday that Capela will miss Tuesday’s game against the Spurs and was getting an MRI. The Rockets have not released any information about the results.

Most likely the delay in the team making it official is a second MRI or test. It will come.

Capela is averaging 11.8 points and 8 rebounds a game. Expect to see more Nene Hilario and Montrezl Harrell at the five. Also, this is D’Antoni we’re talking about, so expect him to experiment with smaller lineups that have more shooting (Ryan Anderson at the five anyone?).

Sixers GM on Nerlens Noel rumors: “I will not make a bad deal for this organization”

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Nerlens Noel wants to play and isn’t happy when he gets eight minutes run in a game, let alone when he is a DNP—CD, as happened Sunday.

Coach Brett Brown said he wants to take a long look at how Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor fit together (it’s been ugly so far), so Noel isn’t going to see the court for a while. And Brown doesn’t feel bad about it.

Of course, Noel trade rumors are swirling — he wants out, but other teams watch his body language, look at his injury history, and the offers are not exactly impressive. Noel’s recent comments about his playing time certainly didn’t help. If things stay this way, there is not going to be a deal, Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo said Monday, via Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I will not make a bad deal for this organization,” pointing out this is the first time the Sixers have had all centers healthy for evaluation on the court.

“I can understand where he’s frustrated that he comes back and faces the same situation that he faced at the beginning of training camp,” Colangelo said of Noel. “But I don’t think at any point we’ve been in a position as an organization to actively pursue a trade of any of the centers given the fact that there was so much uncertainty with respect to their health and their availability.”

Riiiight. I’m not in a position to date Margot Robbie, he is in a position to make a deal. Colangelo as been in position since last summer, when he talked about balancing out the roster. Everyone knows he wants to make a deal, which adds a lot of pressure to make a good one. If there were an offer he thought decent on the table, Colangelo would pull the trigger. There just hasn’t been. And as a GM, it’s Colangelo’s job to try to downplay his desire to make a deal, hence the comment above. Even though he knows Noel is a restricted free agent next summer and if the Sixers don’t trade him by the February deadline then some team will try to poach the young center next July.

Colangelo is not wrong that, so long as they have Noel on the roster, they should keep experimenting with big man lineups to find what works. We saw last year Okafor and Noel didn’t work, and so far in 58 minutes together Okafor and Embiid have been outscored by 11.9 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the defense is a disaster when they are paired (small sample size theater here, but it doesn’t look good).

Colangelo said they will try Noel in some lineups soon enough.

“This is not a benching. This is just a moment of realization that we’ve got a lot of talent on this team and not everybody can play. At some point, you will see him out on the court. When that is, again, it doesn’t need to be black and white with respect to timing or number of games.”

It’s official: Blake Griffin out 3-6 weeks for knee surgery

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Every year we seem to predict the slide of the Clippers when Blake Griffin goes out injured. Then the team plays well while Griffin is in a suit thanks to a heavy dose of Chris Paul/DeAndre Jordan pick-and-roll. Then people start asking “would the Clippers be better off without Griffin?” Then everyone who understands how basketball works shakes their head.

Let the cycle begin anew.

Monday the Clippers made official what was reported on Sunday: Griffin is going to miss some time for a clean-up knee surgery.

Griffin had been playing the best basketball of his career to start the season, particularly on the defensive end. He hasn’t been quite the same in recent weeks. Griffin still puts up numbers — 21 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game — and is at the heart of the second-most used five-man lineup in the NBA, the Clippers starting five. That group is outscoring opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions but when the Clippers go to the bench things get shakier. Now Rivers will need to rely on the bench.

This also could cost Griffin a lot of money. Griffin can — and will — use his early termination option this summer and become a free agent. The way Griffin played at the start of the season, he would have been in the crowded mix at forward for the All-NBA team. If he makes the team this season, the Clippers can offer him the “designated player” extension in the new CBA — 35 percent of the salary cap, meaning a five-year, $207 million contract. Except now with this injury, it becomes considerably less likely Griffin makes the All-NBA team. To qualify to be a designated player, someone must make the All-NBA team that season, or have made it the two prior seasons — Griffin didn’t make it last year, again due to injury. He would not qualify for the extension (the Clippers can still offer five years, but starting at just more than $30 million, not north of $35 million).

Expect the Clippers to start Austin Rivers at the three and slide Luc Mbah a Moute to the four. Also expect to see some Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, and Alan Anderson.

Week 9 NBA Power Rankings: Houston rocketing up rankings

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We’re sorry about the lazy wordplay in the headline. I blame the stress of the holidays for not coming up with something better. Houston has flown all the way up to third in the rankings, Utah has climbed to seventh, while the Sixers stay out of the bottom thanks to Brooklyn.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (24-4, Last Week No. 1). Finally, on Christmas we get the Warriors vs. Cavaliers rematch, but this time around the Warriors have JaVale McGee. Oh, and Kevin Durant (though McGee has played pretty well this season). Stephen Curry said it this week, what Durant has brought to Golden State is another level of versatility. Durant slid into Harrison Barnes’ slot in the “death lineup” and they are outscoring teams by 25.6 points per 100 possessions. When Durant and Curry are on the floor together, the Warriors outscore opponents by 16.4 per 100. Also for Warriors this week, interesting game vs. Utah on Tuesday.

Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (22-5, LW 3). As you would expect from the Spurs organization, the retirement of Tim Duncan’s jersey was classy, emotional and just flat out on point. That Sunday win over the Pelicans was first of five games in seven days for the Spurs, including games on the road against the Rockets, Clippers, then the Trail Blazers on the second night of a back-to-back. Rough stretch, guys will get rested. Of course, the Spurs have Christmas Day plans, taking on the Chicago Bulls in the second of the ABC games.

Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (21-7, LW 5). The real key to the Rockets 10-game winning streak? They are allowing 98.4 points per 100 possessions on defense, second best in the NBA in that stretch (Memphis). They are up to 14th in the NBA in defense overall this season — that’s better than Cleveland — and have played well on that end since the return of Patrick Beverley. People are still asking if the Rockets are for real, there’s a good test of that Tuesday night when the Spurs come to town.

Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (19-6, LW 2). Despite the uproar over Tyronn Lue resting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love all in one game in Memphis last week, the fact is Lue is keeping a tight rotation most nights and leaning on his stars. LeBron has played the second most minutes of anyone in the NBA in December. Lue needs to trust his bench more — and those guys need to earn that trust. Of course, big showdown against the Warriors on Christmas where Lue should lean on those stars.

Raptors small icon 5. Raptors (19-8, LW 4). Toronto has the best net rating in the NBA over the last 10 games, and the best offense in the NBA this season (yes, better than Golden State). Key to that is Kyle Lowry with the bench lineup continues to just destroy teams — Lowry with Cory Joseph, Lucas Nogueira, Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Ross are +30.3 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents this season (better than the Warriors “death lineup” in nearly as many minutes). Patterson with the starters also has been impressive for the Raptors.

Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (20-8, LW 6). After a 14-2 start that saw them playing better than any team in the NBA, the Clippers have gone 6-6 — and now will be without Blake Griffin for a few weeks due to knee surgery. The Clippers starters with Griffin are the second most used lineup in the NBA and are +16.2 per 100 possessions, when they go to the bench the Clippers struggle. Los Angeles is about to go to the bench a lot. The Clippers “travel” to the Lakers on Christmas — I like that idea, a matchup where both teams get to spend the days with their families before the game, no travel.

Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (18-10, LW 9). Winners of five in a row and eight-of-nine, all while they still can’t get healthy (no George Hill, yet). They still just keep winning games, with the second-best defense in the NBA this season and a top-10 offense. While everybody is talking about the Warriors vs. Cavaliers on Christmas, the Jazz take on the Warriors Tuesday in a very interesting test (same with the Toronto vs. Utah game Friday).

Grizzlies small icon 8. Grizzlies (18-11, LW 7). The Grizzlies got Mike Conley back last Friday, sooner than expected, but the rust is still there as he shot 5-of-23 in two games. The Jazz went an impressive 7-2 while Conley was out. To me, that moves the Grizzlies into the “yes, they are going to make the playoffs for sure” column. Thank Marc Gasol for that. How good is he playing? Here is what Utah coach Quin Snyder said: “Marc Gasol has been the best player in the NBA the last 10 games.”

Thunder small icon 9. Thunder (16-11, LW 8). The Thunder stumbled last week on offense with Victor Oladipo out, although things looked better when Anthony Morrow slid into the starting lineup and provided some shooting. Something else that should help is the return of Cameron Payne in the next couple weeks, improving the backup point guard situation. Russell Westbrook gets a star turn on Christmas day, and should put up strong numbers against a struggling (to be kind) Minnesota defense.

Celtics small icon 10. Celtics (15-12, LW 11). Think the Celtics didn’t miss Isaiah Thomas? They lost three of four when he was out recently, and won both games since he returned. Granted, the toughness of the schedule played into that, but the Celtics are not the same without Thomas in the lineup. What should please Celtics fans more is the team’s improved defensive play the past couple of weeks. The Celtics tip-off the Christmas Day games against the Knicks

Hornets small icon 11. Hornets (15-13, LW 10). They had lost four in a row until picking up a victory against Atlanta Saturday, and the key factor in that remains the bench play. When Kemba Walker is on the floor, the offense is a force. When he sits, and when Steve Clifford leans on the bench, the team struggles at both ends of the floor. Interesting game against the stumbling Bulls on Friday.

Bucks small icon 12. Bucks (13-12, LW 15). Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player in the NBA to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. The guy just does everything (except be consistent on jumpers), and they have surrounded him with enough shooting — including from Jabari Parker — to make it all work. They have a tough home-and-home with Cleveland this week.

Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (14-14, LW 16). They enter a softer part of the schedule for the next couple of weeks — this is when good teams, playoff teams, pad their win totals. The Pacers have seemed to play up-and-dwon to the competition. The new CBA “designated player” rule makes things interesting the next couple of years for certain players such as Paul George — if he makes the All-NBA team he’s in line for a potentially much larger raise. He’s one of the early test cases, if he qualifies.

Wizards small icon 14. Wizards (12-14, LW 20). The Wizards have won five-of-six and they got on this hot streak because of their the offense – they are 6.6 points per 100 possessions better in the last six games (the defense has remained basically flat just 0.4 points per 100 possessions better). Also, the bench has been playing much improved (they had nowhere to go but up). The Wizards have been shooting very well from the midrange, we’ll see if they can sustain that.

Pistons small icon 15. Pistons (14-15, LW 14). They have been stumbling on the offensive end, which Stan Van Gundy said has stated to impact their defense. That led to some ugly losses (Sixers, Wizards, Pacers) and sparked a team meeting to talk it out. We’ll see if that helps, but better play from Reggie Jackson (trying to get right after a return from injury and is shooting 39 percent. Rough week to try and get things right, they start against Chicago but then get the Grizzlies and Warriors.

Knicks small icon 16. Knicks (14-13 LW 13). They have lost three in a row, and it’s not a coincidence that Derrick Rose missing most of the last six games has something to do with that. Brandon Jennings is a fun spark plug off the bench, but not a great fit with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Madison Square Garden hosts the tip off of the Christmas Day games, as the Celtics come to town. The Knicks also have Indiana and Orlando in town this week, the kinds of games they need to win to remain a playoff team.

Blazers small icon 17. Trail Blazers (13-16, LW 18). They have dropped 6-of-7 and are now 8-4 at home but 5-12 on the road for the season. The defense remains dead last in the NBA, but in the last 10 games they remain sixth in the NBA in offense, keeping them afloat. However, they have nights where there is a lot of pounding the ball and watching. Also, this season the Trail Blazers have been outscored by 186 points when Evan Turner is on the court.

Bulls small icon 18. Bulls (13-13, LW 12). Losers of three in a row and that includes blowing a 21-point lead to the Timberwolves. Chicago’s offense has gone into the tank. They have an ABC, prime time, Christmas Day game against the lock-down defense of the Spurs. Watch during the game how the Bulls try to neutralize Kawhi Leonard by having whoever he is guarding the half court (usually Jimmy Butler) act as a decoy on the weak side, not involved in anything, and the rest of the Bulls will attack 4-on-4 against the remaining Spurs.

Magic small icon 19. Magic (12-17 LW 19). The defense we expected to see from the Magic this season just is not there — they are 19th in the NBA in defensive net rating, and over the last few weeks they have been much worse. What has saved them is a surprisingly good offense led by Aaron Gordon and Serge Ibaka. The new starting lineup — no Elfrid Payton or Nikola Vucevic — is 5-2.

Hawks small icon 20. Hawks (13-14 LW 17). The Hawks had an impressive win over the Raptors on the road, but also fell to both the Magic and Hornets last week. Nothing is consistent about this team, well except that their defense is no longer elite. They started the season 9-2, have gone 4-12 since, and it feels like they are more the latter team than the former.

Nuggets small icon 21. Nuggets (11-16, LW 21). Mike Malone is still searching for a front-line rotation that works, and has gone to the “start Nikola Jokic and play Jusuf Nurkic far less” lineup and that has won the team two games in a row. For as bad a start as they had to the season, the Nuggets are just a game back of Portland for the final playoff spot in the West, and if they can put together a run it gets interesting.

Kings small icon 22. Kings (10-17, LW 22). The new CBA is going to make things interesting for DeMarcus Cousins. If the Kings hold on to him past the trade deadline — as most close to the team expect — they can this summer offer Cousins the Designated Player extension, meaning a five-year, $207 million (give or take) deal beyond his current one. If he leaves as a free agent in 2018, he will make roughly $60 million less guaranteed. Will Cousins turn that kind of money down? He will be the first big test case for that rule.

Heat small icon 23. Heat (9-19, LW 25). They just got Justice Winslow back, which should help spark the team, particularly defensively. Miami is playing hard for coach Eric Spoelstra, and Hassan Whiteside has earned that massive contract from last summer, but this team just finds ways to lose close games. With this team looking out of the playoff chase, will they move Goran Dragic, Luke Babbitt, or Dion Waiters at the trade deadline?

Pelicans small icon 24. Pelicans (9-20, LW 23). In the desperate search for silver linings outside Anthony Davis, Buddy Heild had a 21-point game last week and showed off how scouts thought that jumper would. Also good news, Tyreke Evans is back on the floor for New Orleans, that should help. Also, Tim razor has been dishing the ball well and looking like a solid NBA player.

Suns small icon 25. Suns (8-19, LW 27). What player has the worst raw +/- numbers in the NBA this season. Brandon Knight, and it’s not close at -224. (While +/- has its flaws as a stat, if you have that number there are issues.)Eric Bledsoe is trying to do it all on his own — three 30-point games — but the team defense stinks (24th in the NBA) and the offense can’t make up for it.

Lakers small icon 26. Lakers (11-19, LW 24). The team snapped an eight-game losing streak in Philly Friday, but over the past 10 games this has been the worst team in the NBA. The problem isn’t the offense or defense — it’s both. Injuries played a role in the slide, but this young team hasn’t figured out how to fight through fatigue or win on the road. Christmas Day they get to host the Clippers.

timberwolves small icon 27. Timberwolves (7-19, LW 26). This team shows flashes that give you hope — such as the 21-point come-from-behind win in Chicago last week. Then they turn around and blow a 12-point lead with two minutes left and fall to the Rockets on Sunday. Is Tom Thibodeau able to reach the young core players of the Timberwolves, or are they tuning him out already?

Sixers small icon 28. 76ers (7-20, LW 28). Going into the season, Brett Brown told us he wanted to try out different big man combinations to see what fits and what doesn’t. Last year we learned Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel is a poor paring (Noel is now glued to the bench). This year learning that Joel Embiid and Okafor don’t work well together, they get killed on defense. Is Dario Saric the long-term answer at the four?

Mavericks small icon 29. Mavericks (7-20, LW 29). Dirk Nowitzki says he wants to be back by the end of the month, but nobody is sure if that will happen. No Andrew Bogut for a while either. If you’re looking for a bright spot (outside the play of Harrison Barnes), we’re sorry about this: The Mavericks are about to play six-of-seven games on the road, where they are 1-12 so far this season.

Nets small icon 30. Nets (7-19, LW 30). Jeremy Lin is back on the court, which makes this team far more entertaining to watch but not much better — they lost to the Sixers last week (they did get a win over a tired, traveling Lakers team). More bad news, the schedule this week is the Raptors, Warriors, and Cavaliers. Ouch.