Kurt Helin

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George Karl: Knicks could use a strong point guard next to Carmelo Anthony

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George Karl apparently forgot for a second he’s not an ESPN analyst anymore and not the coach of the Sacramento Kings — he didn’t have to offer advice on Carmelo Anthony and fitting in with the Knicks.

Then again, Karl has coached Anthony for most of seven seasons in Denver, and he knows the superstar’s game as well as anyone. So when he was asked what he would do to help get Anthony going in New York next year, he gave an interesting answer.

“I would go get a great point guard and then find some good big guys. I think you have a stud scorer [in Anthony] — get me a brain, get me a quarterback and then fill in the pieces with maybe second-tier big guys,” Karl said in an interview with ESPN New York on Tuesday morning. “The efficiency of big men in this league, there’s only about five or six of them….

“We had the most success when we had Andre [Miller] and/or Chauncey [Billups] — when we had a point guard that kind of orchestrated the rhythm of the offense,” Karl said.

There’s some real logic to this: ‘Melo is a ball stopper of the first degree on offense. His natural tendency is to hold the ball and look for a way to attack, usually in isolation. Which plays right into the hands of the Tom Thibodeau-inspired defenses that the majority of NBA teams use. It leads to inefficient ball. However, get in a real quarterback and he can keep the ball moving, push it in transition more, get other guys touches and make sure Anthony gets his as well.

The problem? That’s not how the triangle works (at least as Phil Jackson runs it). It’s not an offense for a traditional, old-school one. Go ask Gary Payton about being a triangle point guard.

You can make a very good argument — one I would say will bring quicker results — that this summer the Knicks should slide away from the triangle, because ‘Melo is not a natural fit for it. Instead, bring in a quality point guard. They will be out there and available, either through free agency or trade (this is a golden age for quality point guards in the league). Then populate the roster with shooters (and a few guys who can defend) and go to work.

But Jackson and the Knicks seem wed to the triangle and proving it can still work. If so, ‘Melo has to adjust, something Karl also noted.

“Carmelo is a very bright basketball IQ guy, so the triangle is going to be different for him. I think it can enhance some of his skills and I think he’s going to have sacrifice some of his commitment to playing the way maybe he’s played in the past,” Karl said.

Can he do that? Should the Knicks ask him to?

It’s going to be another hot and interesting summer in New York.

P.J. Hairston has had a rough rookie season

Minnesota Timberwolves v Charlotte Hornets
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“He should be a rotational player in this league, his future is predicated on how much he wants it and how much he wants to put in the work to get it.”

P.J. Hairston has not put the work in.

The statement above was what Hornets assistant coach Patrick Ewing told ProBasketballTalk about their first-round pick Hairston way back at Summer League.

He hasn’t come close to fulfilling that promise, getting in 35 games this season and averaging 5.6 per when he does, but shooting 32 percent. Hornets coach Steve Clifford benched Hairston on Sunday due to a missing a weight training session, and when asked about it Clifford did not pull any punches speaking with Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

“Potentially he could be a starter. He can shoot with range and rebounds for his position,” Clifford said. “But he hasn’t developed any way to play to make his teammates better….

“P.J., to me, has the chance to be a very good player,” Clifford said. “His approach has to be where he is constantly learning what the NBA game is about. He’s hasn’t done that well….

Clifford said Hairston has gotten this far on talent and competitiveness and now “if you want to be a good player, you’ve got to learn this league.”

The list of missteps for Hairston is long:

• Getting into an altercation with high schooler at a pick-up game this summer (charges were dropped).

• Signing with an “agent” who was not certified to do business with the league (the players’ union does the certification).

• The missed workout was just the culmination of whispers about his work ethic and focus.

• Plus he had the worst flop of the year (he was fined for his one).

Some guys turn things around; but Hairston has a lot of work to do.

Russell Westbrook confirms he will play Wednesday night vs. Sixers

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Saturday, RussellWestbook had surgery to repair fracture to his zygomatic arch — what you and I would call that bone on the side of your face.

Wednesday night he will return to the NBA hardwood.

It was expected Westbrook would be back quickly, and he confirmed that he will be back Wednesday night when the Thunder take on the Sixers. Royce Young of ESPN has the report from shootaround.

Westbrook will play wearing a mask. A clear mask, for the record.

Westbrook has had an MVP-caliber season, carrying the Thunder back into the playoff picture while Kevin Durant has been in and out of the lineup with foot issues (he is still out as of Wednesday). Over his last five games, Westbrook has averaged a triple-double: 30.6 points, 11.8 assists and 10.6 rebounds a game. He may not always be the most efficient player, but there is nobody in the league who puts more pressure on a defense with their attacking style.

He has broken out of Durant’s long shadow this season. More than that he’s just a guy who loves to play, he’s going to be tough to keep off the court injured or not.

Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday: The Hawks clinched playoff spot in front of Josh Smith

Houston Rockets v Atlanta Hawks
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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while going down the rabbit hole on conspiracy theories on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

1) The Hawks are officially in the playoffs. The first of the 16 NBA playoff slots have been filled — the Atlanta Hawks are in. They locked it down by coming from behind to beat the Houston Rockets in what was the most fun game of the night. With James Harden out for the night after going Bruce Lee on LeBron James, the Rockets had guys step up, such as Terrence Jones (18 points on 11 shots, plus eight rebounds) and Jason Terry (21 points). The Rockets also took advantage of a sloppy and defensively disinterested Hawks team in the first half. But while everyone was watching Josh Smith play games with the Hawks crowd, the Hawks players woke up. Atlanta went on a 21-3 run in the third quarter to take the lead, sparked by the guard play of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. The Hawks are going to finish the top seed in the East, and as well as Cleveland is playing Atlanta is still a legitimate threat to come out of the conference.

2) The Denver Nuggets are undefeated in the Melvin Hunt era. When a coach gets fired — particularly one that completely lost the locker room — the players often come out with a more energy. That’s what happened with the Nuggets on Tuesday, they got 26 points from Danilo Gallinari and beat the Bucks 105-96. Ty Lawson had his best game in a while, and Kenneth Faried was doing this.

3) LeBron James moved past former teammate Ray Allen on the all-time scoring list. LeBron dropped 27 points on the Celtics in a blowout win (he was +35 on the night), and that was enough to move LeBron past his former teammate Ray Allen for 21st on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. When it’s all said and done, LeBron is going to be a lot higher on the list, but this was a nice milestone. And LeBron was putting up points with flair on Tuesday.

4) Rudy Gobert has arrived in Utah and the Jazz are far more interesting. I don’t know that the Most Improved Player award can go to a second-year guy — players are supposed to make a leap between their rookie and sophomore campaigns — but Utah’s Rudy Gobert is making his case. He has become a defensive force in the paint and on Tuesday, against a depleted Memphis team (no Zach Randolph) Gobert had 15 points (on 10 shots) and 24 rebounds. He was central to the Jazz knocking off the Grizzlies. Utah will lose more game than it wins the rest of the way, but this team has become a tough out nightly. They are building something.

5) Jeffery Taylor was dunking, and the Hornets could be a playoff team. The fine folks at NumberFire ran the numbers and figured out of the six teams battling for the two final playoffs spots in the East, the Hornets had the second best chance of getting in (behind the Pacers). With their win over the hapless Lakers, the Hornets moved into a tie for the eight seed in the East. Plus, they had Jeffery Taylor doing this:

Josh Smith calls Hawks fans “bandwagoners”

Houston Rockets v Atlanta Hawks
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For nine seasons, Josh Smith was launching ill-advised jump shots while wearing an Atlanta Hawks jersey. Smith is an Atlanta native who averaged 15.3 points and eight rebounds a game for a Hawks in those years, alternating between showing off his stunning athleticism and poor decision making. The Hawks were largely mired in mediocrity during his run, which ended when he bolted for Detroit a couple years back.

Smith returned to Atlanta in a Houston Rockets jersey on Tuesday night, and Hawks fans let him hear it — every time Smith touched the ball they booed. He played back, hitting a big three then shushing the crowd.

After the win Smith didn’t hold back his thoughts, speaking with the fantastic Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.

“I mean, those fans are fickle, very fickle and bandwagoners,” Smith said. “It really doesn’t mean anything to me.”

First off, this is a different Hawks crowd than Smith is used to because they are into the game. The team changed their marketing strategy and focused on the people living in the city (not the suburbs), and that combined with just winning change the feel in the building.

“It’s’s been really fun to be a part of, just seeing everyone get behind us,” Kyle Korver told PBT recently. “We truly have a home court advantage now.”

That said, I’m not sure Smith deserved boos. He was who he was on the court in those years in the ATL, and off the court he was very active with area charities.

“I’d been here for nine years, and all I did was positive things in the community and with the basketball team,” Smith said.

The Hawks had the last laugh, coming from double-digits down to pick up the 104-96 win. The Rockets were without Dwight Howard and James Harden for this one. And it showed. But the Hawks will take the win, which clinched a playoff spot with the win.