PBT Season Preview: The New York Knicks

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Gallinari_celebrates.jpgToday starts PBT’s run through every team in the NBA, looking at the changes and upcoming season. Every weekday from now through the start of the season a new team will be the focus. We start with the Knicks and will spend this week in the Atlantic Division.

Last season: An uninspiring 29-53 record that was not good enough to make the playoffs, for roughly the 495th consecutive season. And, as always, it was Isiah’s fault.

Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni, who if the Knicks really struggle again will find out just how much fun the New York media can be.

Key Departures: David Lee, Chris Duhon, Al Harrington, Jordan Hill

Key Additions: Amare Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, Kelenna Azubuike

Best case scenario: Making the playoffs. Well, unless they find a way to trade for Carmelo Anthony, then the expectations would fast become unreasonable.

For that to happen: First, the Carmelo to New York trade is about as likely as Jessica Alba calling me today (the Knicks don’t have the picks and young players Denver would want in a trade; if Melo is coming to the Knicks it is as a free agent, meaning he is willing to forego $10 million or more). So lets take that off the table and talk about this team making the playoffs with the roster it has.

This radically remade team would have to gel quickly, and that would start with Raymond Felton growing into the Steve Nash role faster than expected. Felton is actually a very efficient scorer in transition — last season for the Bobcats he shot 66.4 percent in transition. The question is can he direct and set up guys well at that pace. Felton also is going to have to be better as the pick-and-roll ball handler, and he shot 47 percent in that role last year  – defenses know and fear what Stoudemire does as the roll man, they will back off and dare Felton to make them pay.

The rest of the key players like Anthony Randolph and Danilo Gallinari — who we think will have pretty big years — would have to find their sea legs quickly.

The Knicks also would have to play passable defense, particularly in transition — last season the Knicks gave up more points per possession in transition than they scored. That has to change. Also, the Knicks need to get good rebounding and production out of Ronny Turiaf at center. Or Eddy Curry… yea, that could happen.

More likely the Knicks will: Be the most fun Knicks team to watch in years, however will take some time to gel. They may well get off to slow start. They won’t play great defense. There will be flashes of what Randolph can do, Stoudemire will throw down over people, Gallinari should take a step forward. There are pieces here and they are going to be entertaining to watch.

But how to fit all the pieces together will take time. Look for some D’Antoni to throw out wild lineups for a while, trying to find what works. Can a Felton/Toney Douglas backcourt work? Traditional positions will be out the window as Stoudemire may get some run at the five and the three, all with the goal of just finding lineups that work. By the end of the season, if they are healthy, expect the Knicks to be playing better.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Just like it took time to climb out of the hole the franchise was in, it will take time to build something meaningful. These Knicks will be so much more entertaining and fun that the losses will not sting as much. There is hope now, you will see it building. Live with that, enjoy it, revel in it. Don’t expect at title right now, expect to have fun.

Oh, and you can safely bet on a season that no matter what the team does on the court there will be a tidal wave of speculation about every decent free agent or trade piece out there.

Prediction: 38 wins, an improvement but in a new and deeper East they will miss the playoffs again by a few games. That will lead some in New York to question if D’Antoni and Donnie Walsh have done what they promised. But those people will forget how far they had to come. The Knicks will be the best they have been in years, with a promise for the future intact. That is a bug step out of the hole for this franchise.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Kyle Korver’s playing time: Brad Stevens ‘threw us for a loop’ by not playing Semi Ojeleye

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James is obviously the Cavaliers’ best player. Cleveland’s second-best player? Usually Kevin Love, but Kyle Korver has made a case lately.

So, how did Korver play just 19 minutes, including none in the first quarter, in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night? That was his playoff low, besides Game 1 against the Pacers, when he was still recovering from injury.

Blame Boston coach Brad Stevens removing Semi Ojeleye from his rotation.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue:

Well, initially, he’s been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game. He didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.

This won’t slow the talk of Stevens being a genius. He neutralized one of Cleveland’s best players simply by not using a limited rookie.

Still, Lue’s strategy held some merit. Korver is a defensive liability, but Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it hard to take advantage. Ojeleye’s biggest strength, his physical strength, is of limited utility in trying to stick tight to Korver on the perimeter.

In Games 1-4, Cavaliers with Korver on and…

Ojeleye on:

  • Offensive rating: 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 102.1
  • Net rating: +9.9

Ojeleye off:

  • Offensive rating: 97.0
  • Defensive rating: 109.5
  • Net rating: -12.5

That said, Korver is too good to plant on the bench. Other perimeter options – J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green (who actually played fine last night) – are just so unreliable. Lue shouldn’t just wait for the perfect matchup to use Korver.

But will Lue get it, anyway?

Stevens:

We believe in Semi and we think he’s a big, huge part of our team. It would not be a shock if he plays a ton for us in Game 6.

Lue better develop a plan for using Korver in Game 6 Friday, with contingencies based on Stevens using or not using Ojeleye. I wouldn’t trust Stevens’ declaration one bit, and Lue doesn’t want to get thrown for a loop again.

PBT Extra: Rockets showed defense, resilience, can Warriors show same in Game 5?

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Game 4 was an epic game, and the Houston Rockets proved they are a serious threat to knock the Warriors off the top of the mountain. They took Golden State’s big punch to start the game (a 12-0 run) and Stephen Curry haymaker in the third, cranked up their defense, got a great game from Chris Paul, and evened the series at 2-2.

Heading back to Houston, we can expect more of the same out of the Rockets Thursday night — they know a win in Game 5 puts them in a very dominant position in the series.

The question is, do the Warriors have another gear? That’s one of the topics I get into in this PBT Extra. For a few seasons now, the Warriors have been able to play lockdown defense and hit tough shots in the clutch, with Kevin Durant making them especially hard to stop, but in Game 4 when it got tight they looked tired and slow. Houston’s ball pressure threw Golden State off its game, and fatigue had set in for the Warriors. Can they not only go on big runs but slow down Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets’ attack?

Thursday night is going to be interesting.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.