Knicks not contenders with ‘Melo, but they have hope

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Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
Shawshank Redemption

Today the New York Knicks are not title contenders.

They got their man — Carmelo Anthony has been acquired to go with Amar’e Stoudemire. But they are still a long way away from the goal. The Knicks are probably still the sixth best team in the East, certainly no better than fourth. They are not putting fear in the hearts of the Celtics, Heat or Bulls.

But they have hope.

Generally, the team that wins the trade is the team that got the best player. There is no doubt the Knicks got the best player. Anthony, for all his flaws — defense, his love of shooting the contested long two pointer and more — is one of the game’s elite scorers. At the end of the day, the game is about putting the ball in the basket and only a handful of guys in the league can do that like Carmelo Anthony. He can drive, he can post, he can drop shots from beyond the arc. Few can create their own shot or one with a hand in their face like Anthony. He is an offensive force.

The hardest part of assembling a championship team is getting one of the few elite players in the league. The Knicks now have two of them. That is a core they can put the right pieces around to contend. And that is a reason for hope.

They are not contenders now because they gave up a lot to get ‘Melo. Not necessarily too much, they got more talent back certainly, but they gave up  players that are not just a dime a dozen. Yes, they got a quality point guard in Chauncey Billups, a veteran savvy one who knows how to win. But Billups is a poor fit for Mike D’Antoni’s running system. Billups is 34 and not so fleet of foot anymore. He has one year left on his deal after this and can be bought out after next season for $3.7 million (according to Sham Sport’s figures).

The Knicks are going to miss Danilo Gallinari. They will miss Wilson Chandler but they were going to have to renounce him this summer anyway to make room to sign Anthony as a free agent. Timofey Mozgov is a project that may develop into a rotation player but you don’t let him get in the way of a deal for a superstar.

Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.
Shawshank Redemption

The Knicks are not contenders and they are farther away from it still than many Knicks fans want to admit. Your starting five is Billups, Landry Fields, Melo, Stoudemire and probably Ronny Turiaf. With a very thin bench behind them. That’s good but not great, and there will be serious questions about how well they defend.

Those fans fully expect the Knicks to go get Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, either as a free agent in the summer of 2012 or in a trade or next season.  The kind of trade that looks a lot like the one ‘Melo just got where the team has to move him or risk him leaving as a free agent.

But the Knicks very well may not be able to get those guys. We don’t know what the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will look like, however you can bet that it will be much more restrictive than what we see now. The current salary cap is $57 million and you can bet that will go down. With Anthony and Stoudemire the Knicks will already have about than $40 million wrapped up in two players. If the salary cap drops to $50-$52 million, the Knicks would not be able to sign Paul or Howard to a max deal.

Then there could be a franchise tag — something some owners became more interested in as they watched Anthony force his way out of Denver — and that could keep Paul and Howard with their current teams.

Even aside the difficulty of getting one of those two, there is the challenge of filling out a roster on a tight budget — have you noticed the lack of depth in Miami? Where they spent their money on stars and had little for everyone else? It will be even tougher to spend with the new CBA and the Knicks will have to do a lot of it. The Knicks had some nice role players but they turned out to be the price for Anthony.

Knicks fans don’t care. They got their guy. The hope, the expectations of Knicks fans are about to go through the roof.

Those fans are going to learn some hard lessons about how far away this roster is right now. That hope they celebrate today could tear them apart in a few years.

For a few days though, the Knicks got their man. They should celebrate. Today is a day that hope should be celebrated in New York.

Three Things to Know: Let’s pour one out for Phoenix, San Antonio

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Portland, Memphis win and advance to play-in series. As expected.

On a day where we expected high drama, Portland and Memphis entered with a simple and clear path: Win and you’re in.

So they did. And with that, the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers advance to a play-in series for the eighth seed in the West. As the eighth seed at the end of the eight “seeding games” in the bubble, Portland need only win one of the two to advance. Memphis has to sweep them both — a tough task.

Memphis had little trouble advancing on Thursday, taking on a Bucks team without Giannis Antetokounmpo (suspension) that was just going through the motions and waiting for the playoffs to start. Memphis won 119-106, Dillon Brooks scored 31 points, while Jonas Valanciunas scored 26 and pulled down 19 boards. There was little drama in the Grizzlies win.

Portland, however, had all the drama it could handle, barely outlasting a scrappy Brooklyn team — and it took Damian Lillard playing like an MVP to get the win.

Lillard scored 42 points and carried the Trail Blazers for stretches when their offense faltered. CJ McCollum added 25 — and moved well for a guy with a fractured back — and Jusuf Nurkic added 22 and 10. Caris LeVert had 37 for a Brooklyn team that had a balanced attack, but LeVert’s potential game-winner bounced off the rim and Portland moves on.

Portland and Memphis played in the bubble back in July in the first restart game for both teams. Portland barely won in overtime, but Memphis was led in that game by Jaren Jackson Jr., who had 33 points. He is now out of the bubble recovering from a torn meniscus. Also in that game, Lillard targeted Valanciunas in the pick-and-roll and played the Memphis big off the floor — the Grizzlies do not have a good answer for that. Portland is not going to coast to a play-in game win, but it’s difficult to picture how the Grizzlies win back-to-back games.

2) Phoenix goes 8-0, but perfect wasn’t good enough

Memphis earned their spot in the play-in — they got the win Thursday, and more importantly, they were impressive in the first 65 games before the shutdown (those games still count). It was those pre-mask days when the Suns were terrible that did them in.

On Orlando, Phoenix was perfect — 8-0 behind Devin Booker playing like an MVP. The Suns outscored opponents by 12.5 points per 100 possessions in the bubble, with an elite offense and a solid defense anchored by Deandre Ayton. The bubble isn’t going to be the same without them.

Every young entering the restart said the same thing: It was about development. It was about using bubble games to grow a young core. Except most teams — Sacramento and New Orleans, for example — threw that opportunity to the ground and went fishing. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams, did what they said and got better. The Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs, but more importantly, they set themselves up for next season.

3) San Antonio’s playoff steak ends at 22 years

The last time the Spurs didn’t make the playoffs, “Titanic” was sinking in movie theaters, “Un-Break My Heart” was being belted out on your radio by Toni Braxton, and Allen Iverson was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. It was the 1996-97 NBA season — which you just relived through “The Last Dance” because it was in the middle of the Bulls’ second three-peat.

For 22 straight seasons, Gregg Popovich led the Spurs to the NBA playoffs — and they picked up five titles along the way — but that ended in the bubble. San Antonio played well behind DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White and a four-guard lineup, but it couldn’t climb out of the hole it dug before the league was shut down.

The always sentimental Popovich was very broken up about it.

“Looking at the past doesn’t do much good,” Popovich said, via the Associated Press. “Any success we’ve had has been because we’ve had some great players.”

Popovich also shot down speculation he was going to retire, saying, “why wouldn’t I?” coach next season.

Tim Duncan. David Robinson. Tony Parker. Manu Ginobili. The list goes on and on over 22 seasons (and even includes Steve Kerr), there were great players in San Antonio. But it was the mind and personality of Popovich that brought all those ingredients together and made it work.

The Spurs playoff streak is no more. Here’s to something we may never see the likes of again.

Spurs historic run of 22 seasons in playoffs ends in bubble

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Gregg Popovich didn’t put much thought into San Antonio’s playoff streak when it was rolling along.

He’s not thinking about it now, either.

The Spurs’ record-tying run of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is over, and the longest season in team history – almost 300 days from the first game to the last – is also, strangely, over earlier than the NBA is used to seeing. The final outcome was a 118-112 loss to the Utah Jazz on Thursday night, a game that was meaningless in the standings.

“Looking at the past doesn’t do much good,” Popovich said. “Any success we’ve had has been because we’ve had some great players.”

Rayjon Tucker had 18 points for the Jazz, who finished with eight players in double figures and used their regulars either sparingly or not at all.

“You can’t say enough about the Spurs,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “They’ve been the premier franchise in the NBA for a long time.”

Keldon Johnson scored 24 points to lead seven Spurs in double figures. Marco Belinelli and Luka Samanic each had 16 for San Antonio.

The Spurs were officially ousted when Memphis beat Milwaukee, and Phoenix completed an undefeated eight-game run in the NBA’s restart bubble with a victory over Dallas.

Those games went final shortly before San Antonio-Utah started. The Spurs needed the Grizzlies or the Suns to lose to have any chance of getting into the West play-in series that begins Saturday to decide the NBA’s final postseason berth.

“It’s tough,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s more so tough putting your faith in somebody else’s hands.”

Popovich’s routine seemed normal. He met with assistants to discuss strategy before addressing players during timeouts. When someone needed a little 1-on-1 instruction, he approached and offered a word or two.

It looked just as it always does. Only this time, it was very different.

For the first time since April 1997, the Spurs played a game knowing that the playoffs were out of reach. The 22-year run of playoff spots tied the Philadelphia 76ers’ franchise for the longest in NBA history. The 76ers, starting as the Syracuse Nationals before moving to Philadelphia, went to the playoffs every year from 1950 through 1971.

With San Antonio out, the longest active postseason streak now belongs to the Houston Rockets. They’ll be in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year starting next week.

This is how long the streak went: David Stern wasn’t even halfway through his 30-year run as commissioner when it started. The Charlotte Bobcats – that’s what today’s Hornets went by then – were still 6-1/2 years from playing their first game. Pat Riley was still coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.

And now, for the first time since 1981, the playoffs will happen without either Riley or Popovich as head coaches.

The Spurs won five championships during the streak. They played 284 postseason games over those years; the only franchises within 100 of that were the Lakers (218), Miami (196) and Boston (192). And the Spurs won 170 playoff games in that span; only seven franchises have more playoff wins in their entire history.

All 170 of those wins for the Spurs came under Popovich, a total that gives him more career playoff victories than any two current coaches combined. There were 102 players who got into at least one Spurs playoff game during the streak, including current NBA head coaches Jacque Vaughn, Steve Kerr and Monty Williams.

The Spurs came into Disney as playoff long shots and felt the eight games they were guaranteed of playing during the restart would be ways to have young players grow from competition. They made it to the last possible day of contention.

“At this point, it’s been a huge success for our team and our young players, the development that we’ve talked about from the beginning,” Popovich said. “We’re very happy with what’s gone on here.”

He has given the restart rave reviews, both on and off the floor.

Popovich – an Air Force Academy graduate and the coach of USA Basketball’s men’s national team – wore a shirt pregame that read “Vote Your Life Depends On It.” He has remained outspoken on the need to end racial injustice and police brutality during the Spurs’ time in the bubble, talking about that perhaps as much if not more as he has about basketball.

“It’s important to bring these up, painful as they are,” Popovich said. “Some people talk about getting tired of hearing about it. But that’s the point. It has to change.”

 

Portland survives against Nets 134-133, advances to play-in; Suns out

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Damian Lillard looked every bit the seeding games MVP — he carried Portland for critical stretches against a scrappy Nets team and was a leader on the biggest night of the Trail Blazers season.

Portland is going on the West play-in games as the eighth seed — win one of two games against Memphis on Saturday or Sunday and the Trail Blazers will face the LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round.

All because Portland held on for a 134-133 win against Brooklyn.

The Portland win means the Phoenix Suns — the darlings of the bubble at 8-0 behind Devin Booker‘s play — are going home. As impressive as the Suns were in the bubble, they could not climb out of the hole they dug the first part of the season, before the coronavirus shut the league down.

Monty Williams — very likely the winner of the “Coach of the Seeding Games” award — deserves credit for getting his team to take advantage of the extra games and practices to get better in a way that Sacramento, New Orleans, and other teams did not.

Thursday night, however, belonged to Lillard.

Lillard finished with 42 points on the night, bringing him up to a 37.5 points per game average in the bubble.

Brooklyn tried, they threw two guys and Lillard and blitzed trying to force the ball out of his hands and anyone else to beat them. Enter CJ McCollum, who did not play like someone with a back injury on his way to 25 points.

Both Lillard and McCollum played every minute of the second half — and Portland might not have won if they didn’t.

Brooklyn’s effort and scrappy style of play has caught teams off-guard all restart long, and it pushed Portland. Caris LeVert added to his “sure we have Kyrie and KD, but I should get some touches too next season” case with 37 points.

Portland came into the restart with the goal of making the playoffs, and it is now just one win away. The first game between Portland and Memphis is on Saturday at 2:30 Eastern. If the Grizzlies win, it forces a second game, Sunday at 4:30 Eastern.

Memphis is an impressive young team, but it’s tough to beat Lillard when he is playing like an MVP.

 

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First round dates, times, matchups

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We’ve all had our fill of the seeding games appetizer, it’s time to dig into the main course: The playoffs. On Thursday, the NBA released the first-round playoffs schedule for 2020.

Those seeding games saw unexpected stars — Indiana’s T.J. Warren looking like an elite scorer — and teams we didn’t expect exploding on the scene, such as the 8-0 Suns. The playoffs promise even more of that — and a few upsets.

Here are a few more notes on the NBA’s first-round playoff schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing with the Summer League/AAU style format with four games a day spread out over the course of the day.
• Games are played every other day in all eight series.
• It will not be known who which team the West’s top seed (the Lakers) will face in the first round until the play-in games on Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday.
• The first Western Conference Play-In game is Saturday, Aug. 15 at 2:30 ET (ABC). If the eighth-seeded team wins the series is over and that team moves on to the Lakers; if the eighth seed team loses a second game will be played on Sunday at 4:30 ET (ESPN).
• The Heat and Pacers played last Monday, meet again on Friday, then next Tuesday start a best-of-7 series. Miami won that first game in impressive fashion.
Chris Paul, now wearing a Thunder uniform, will take on his former team, the Houston Rockets.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020, first round, by date (all times are Eastern):

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Play-in winner

Game 1: Aug. 18, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Aug. 20, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Aug. 22, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Aug. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD

No. 2 L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas

Game 1: Aug. 17, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Aug. 19, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Aug. 21, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 23, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Aug. 25, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 27, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 29, TBD

No. 3 Denver vs. No. 6 Utah

Game 1: Aug. 17, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Aug. 19, 4 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Aug. 21, 4 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 23, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 25, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 27, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 29, TBD

Oklahoma City vs. Houston (4/5 finish order yet to be decided)

Game 1: Aug. 18, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Aug. 20, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Aug. 22, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4: Aug. 24, 4 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee vs. No. 8 Orlando

Game 1: Aug. 18, 1:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Aug. 20, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Aug. 22, 1:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 24, 1:30 p.m. (NBATV)
Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD

No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 7 Brooklyn

Game 1: Aug. 17, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Aug. 19, 1:30 p.m. (NBATV)
Game 3: Aug. 21, 1:30 p.m. (NBA TV)
Game 4: Aug. 23, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 25, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 27, TBD (ESPN)
Game 7: Aug. 29, TBD (TNT)

No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 Philadelphia

Game 1: Aug. 17, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Aug. 19, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Aug. 21, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 23, 1 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Aug. 25, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 27, TBD (ESPN)
Game 7: Aug. 29, TBD (TNT)

Miami vs. Indiana (4/5 finish order yet to be decided)

Game 1: Aug. 18, 4 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Aug. 20, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Aug. 22, 3:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Aug. 24, 6:30 (TNT)
Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD