Kurt Helin

Anthony Davis finishes off-the-backboard alley-oop pass (VIDEO)

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This is an impressive finish, but credit Terrence Jones for the better pass. It was creative.

The result was the dunk of the night — Anthony Davis finishing an off-the-backboard alley-oop pass.

Beyond this play, Davis had a rough night — 14 points on 17 shots — but the Pelicans got 23 from Jrue Holiday and beat the Suns in OT, 120-119.

Three things we learned Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis leaves Lakers fans wondering “what if?”

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — Notes from deep inside Staples Center on a Sunday night.

1) Kristaps Porzingis puts on show in Los Angles, beating Lakers while fans dream of what might have been. You can’t blame Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers for drafting D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick — he’s a gifted passer, shot the ball well in college, and after working him out they saw a potential star. He’s showing promise (at worst, he’s going to be a good point guard in the league for years.)

However, the most talked about player in the 2015 draft was Kristaps Porzingis. He was 7’3” with t a 7’6” wingspan, moved fluidly on the court, and had three point shooting range. However, even the scouts that thought he had the most upside in the draft (him or Karl-Anthony Towns) considered KP a major project that could take years to develop. If he developed at all. He was higher risk and higher reward than Russell (the point guard was going to be solid at worst, where Porzingis had a long line of Euro bigs who went bust in front of him), and most GMs play it safe in that spot rather than risk a potential job-ending bust. Porzingis fell to the Knicks with the fourth pick (one Phil Jackson tried to trade out of on draft night, but that’s another story).

No need to be patient for Knicks fans, Porzingis has already developed into the best player on the team.

Sunday night, Porzingis came to Staples Center and put on a show for Los Angeles fans — 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven blocked shots, leading the Knicks to a 118-112 win over the Lakers. It was the blocks that may have been most impressive.

“I was just trying to protect the rim as always, and they didn’t really have a stretch four so I was able to be closer to the basket,” Porzingis said after the Knicks . “I told my teammates not to foul because I was going to go for the block close to the rim, and I was able to do that.”

Porzingis was scoring inside, hitting threes, showing off an impressive array of shots for a second-year player, and also displaying a great feel for the game. He also got help. In the first quarter, it was Carmelo Anthony passing out of double teams in ways that left the Lakers defense scrambling. In the fourth it was Brandon Jennings hitting threes and pushing the ball in transition (he had 15 in the quarter). Then there was the hot shooting of Derrick Rose, 12-15 for 25 points on the night, with his floater in full effect.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me, and they were giving me the lane,” Rose said.

You couldn’t watch the game and not be wowed by what Porzingis can do. Lakers fans were. And you can’t blame them for daydreaming about what might have been.

2) Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak ends at seven games. See, he sucks. Thunder get win anyway. It doesn’t always have to be the Russell Westbrook show for Oklahoma City… okay, yes it does, and he’s usually up to the task, but sometimes he gets help. Westbrook’s triple-double streak ended at seven games against the Celtics, but he still had 37 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. He had 13 in the fourth quarter when the Thunder outlasted the Celtics for the win. He was flat-out phenomenal again.

The difference in this game was angry Russ got some help — Thunder players not named Westbrook shot 15-for-22 in the second half. The Thunder outscored the Celtics 24-13 in the final eight minutes of the game. Despite that, Marcus Smart got a clean look at a three to tie it at the end of regulation, but missed. But the story wasn’t Boston and it’s at times disjointed offense on the night. It was Westbrook falling short of a record but getting the win he wanted more.

3) Minnesota falls again, this time to Golden State, now Thibodeau takes his team back to Chicago.
There is no shame in losing to Golden State, but it’s how the Timberwolves did it that will sting — they caught the Warriors on the fourth game in five nights, coming off a blowout loss, and looking fatigued. This would be a “schedule makers’ loss” for the Warriors.

Except Golden State went on a 25-4 run to open the fourth quarter and pull away enough to hold on for the win. Klay Thompson poured in 14 of his 30 in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves shot 36.8 percent in the fourth, didn’t hit a shot outside the paint in the quarter, plus just didn’t defend well. Sure, the Warriors have another gear that the Timberwolves do not have (actually, a few of them), but this was a tired Warriors team at the end of a road trip that could have been beaten. Instead, it was the Warriors that showed heart.

We all thought Tom Thibodeau would whip the Minnesota defense into shape, they would defend like beasts, and we would see this team take a step forward this season. Clearly, there is some disconnect between Thibodeau and the players right now, and it’s up to the coach and GM to fix that.

But first, Thibodeau has to take his team back to Chicago. That should be interesting.

With four straight wins on road, Knicks believe they are a team figuring it out

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — If the playoffs started today, the Knicks wouldn’t just be a playoff team, they’d have home court in the first round.

More importantly, after winning five-of-six and four in a row on the road, they believe they are that good, that they are figuring it out. Together.

“I love the camaraderie of this team,” Joakim Noah said Sunday night. “From the beginning, no matter what’s thrown at us, no matter what people are saying, I think it’s really important, especially in New York, that the camaraderie stays tight. Because, when you win it’s like they put you on a pedestal, and when you lose it’s the end of the world, they try to find anything to make a headline out of, and it’s just the nature of playing for the Knicks. It’s not like that anywhere else.”

The Knicks will be on a pedestal, at least a small one, after a 118-112 win over the Lakers Sunday night. The win improved them to 14-10 on the season, and they are the current four seed in the East. It’s too early to celebrate, but the Knicks feel optimistic that they are on the right track.

The right track would mean getting the ball to their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, more often. Porzingis had a monster night — 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots — and he got help from a hot shooting Derrick Rose, who started the game 8-of-8 from the floor and finished with 25 points on 12-of-15 shooting.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me, and they were giving me the lane,” Rose said.

To a man after the game, the Knicks talked about this latest run being a function of team chemistry.

“We want to build a culture of winning, and I think we’re taking baby steps toward that,” Porzingis said.

“Trusting, just trusting one another, just believing in what we’re doing, our schemes offensively and defensively, guys feeling comfortable,” Carmelo Anthony said.

“In the first half, they were doubling Carmelo,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We did a good job of passing the ball and he had about five or six assists at halftime (it was five). That’s how you know you have a good team, when a guy gets doubled, kicks out of there and you get easy shots and easy looks.”

“I figured out the double team early, we were spacing out… just kind of making the right play,” Anthony said.

Have the Knicks figured it out? Time will tell, but there is still one big reason for concern that these Knicks are not as good as their record: Defense.

The Knicks are winning in spite of their defense, and that could ultimately be their undoing. It almost was against the Lakers, except Los Angeles’ defense was worse.

“Well, you know I think we really stopped them in the fourth quarter…” Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek tried to say with a straight face. Then he laughed. “We gave up 37 points in the fourth quarter. Good thing we had a couple of guys — Derrick (Rose) was great, Brandon (Jennings) got hot there and hit a couple threes, Courtney (Lee) hit some big threes for us in the fourth quarter.”

The Knicks have the 26th ranked defense in the NBA this season, and it has been two points per 100 possessions worse during this six-game streak. The Knicks are running and shooting their way to wins in spite of the defense, but that only works for so long.

“We have to stop fouling…” Rose said. “The way the NBA is, if you go down big, the first thing you do is start shooting threes. We just have to contest the shots a little bit harder and communicate while we’re out there.”

Rose — who returned after missing two games with back spasms — was impressive, pushing the pace in transition, and he was fearless going at the Lakers bigs knowing that there was no shot blocking to slow him.

“He’s been moving really well all year,” Noah said. “He’s getting more and more confident in his game, the way he’s moving, his floater is coming back — his floater game was really on tonight.”

The Lakers got D’Angelo Russell back on the court Sunday (in limited minutes), as well as Nick Young. Lou Williams continues to look like a sixth man of the year candidate, he comes in and not only gets buckets by attacking, but does little things such as getting in Derrick Rose’s way the second he got the outlet pass to prevent a break and force the Knicks to come up and run a half court. He finished with 24 points.

The Lakers can get credit for coming from behind in the second half to make the game close for a stretch, but as bad as the Knicks’ defense can be the Lakers defense makes it look like the 2004 Pistons. The Knicks had the players to make the Lakers pay for that, even on a night ‘Melo was off (4-of-15 shooting). The Knicks have depth and can score a variety of ways.

Whether they are a four seed — or for that matter, are even in the playoffs — come late April will be about the other end of the floor. They need to find some defense.

At least they’ve found some chemistry. It’s a start.

Klay Thompson sparks Warriors’ rally in 4th to beat Wolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Klay Thompson scored 30 points and the Golden State Warriors roared back to avoid their first set of consecutive regular-season losses since 2015 with a 116-108 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night.

Stephen Curry had 22 points and nine assists, and the Warriors extended their NBA-record streak to 111 regular-season games without losing two in a row. They trailed by 10 to start the fourth quarter, but opened the period with a 25-4 avalanche to turn the tide.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points and 18 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins scored 25 for the Timberwolves (6-18), who lost their fourth straight game.

Kevin Durant had 22 points on 6-for-21 shooting, and Draymond Green scored 18 for Golden State while going 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.

Zach LaVine scored 25 points and hit five 3s for the Wolves.

The Warriors were coming off a 21-point loss Saturday to the Grizzlies and were playing their fourth game in five nights, and it was clear from the start that they were a little weary.

Just when Curry appeared to be heating up, hitting back-to-back 3s midway through the third quarter, the best shooter on the planet tossed up an airball on the very next possession. Between that ghastly miss and Durant missing a wide-open layup, it was clear the Warriors were just a bit off for the second night in a row, something that hasn’t happened in the regular season since April 7, 2015.

The Wolves closed the third period with a 14-1 run, but Thompson scored 12 points in the first 5 minutes of the fourth to rally Golden State.

RECORD STREAK

The Warriors lost three straight games to Cleveland in the NBA Finals in June, but remain proud of surviving the gauntlet of the regular season the way they have. The streak is 16 games longer than the second-place Utah Jazz, who went 95 straight from 1997-99.

“It’s one of the most impressive streaks that I can think of in my experience in the NBA,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before the game.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Curry passed Steve Nash for 17th on the career list for 3-pointers. … Durant started the game 3 for 17, but was 3 for 5 in the fourth. … C Zaza Pachulia was out again with sprained right wrist. … Kevon Looney started at center despite being listed as questionable with a sprained right ankle.

Timberwolves: Minnesota outrebounded Golden State 51-37. … F Nemanja Bjelica missed his second straight game with a sore right ankle.

REUNITED

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau has been friends with Warriors assistant Ron Adams for more than two decades. Adams worked under Thibodeau in Chicago, and the Wolves coach said that when he got the job in Minnesota this summer he called Adams and “begged him” to leave Golden State and join him.

“They have such a great organization that I knew it was kind of tongue-in-cheek,” Thibodeau said. “I know how happy he is with the situation that he’s in.”

 

No triple-double, but Russell Westbrook dominates second half, Thunder beat Celtics

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook‘s triple-double streak ended at seven games — tied with Michael Jordan but two short of Wilt Chamberlain’s record — however, he scored 23 of his 37 points in the second half to help the Oklahoma City Thunder defeat the Boston Celtics 99-96 on Sunday night.

Westbrook had 12 rebounds, but just six assists. His triple-double run was the longest since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The NBA record is nine in a row by Philadelphia’s Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

Steven Adams scored 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting and Enes Kanter added 14 points for the Thunder, who have won seven of eight. Oklahoma City got away with making just 14 of 27 free throws.

Al Horford scored 19 points, and Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley each added 18 for the Celtics.