Knicks get the better of Heat as LeBron misses down the stretch

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Talk about a turnaround. From losing to the Cavaliers to beating the Heat, welcome to the Carmelo Anthony era.

The Knicks did what you’d expect them to do for 3/4 of this game. They didn’t play defense, they took a lot of jumpshots, and they looked a step behind the Heat. Then all of a sudden, it came together all at once, and it was like some weird beam of contention sunlight came beaming in through the clouds. And it started with Chauncey Billups. For all the talk of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, Billups has been treated as a second-class asset, a throw-in, inconsequential and expired in terms of usefulness. But against Miami, he hit key shot after key shot, communicated on both ends of the floor, and set the tone. He was what sparked the Knicks.

Carmelo and Amar’e did the rest. Stoudemire struggled mightily in the first half against Chris Bosh, fought to a stand-still in the third, then took over in the fourth. It was his block — not his scoring, his block — on LeBron James that sealed it. It was Anthony forcing James into a maladjusted shot that enabled the block, not Melo’s stroke. Though both had it going on the offensive end as well. Stoudemire and Anthony combined to shoot 18-36 from the field, and they’ll take that any day of the week. The Big 2 are going to get their points, it just depends on whether they’re going to get them efficiently or not.

Meanwhile, the Heat?

We’ll keep asking until we’re blue in the face or they’re blown out of the playoffs. What’s it going to take for this team to play with intensity and focus? For as good as they would look early in both halves, they finished terribly, unable to get on the same page, unable to get the Big 3 involved, and unable to get the win against a playoff team. That’s losses to Boston, Chicago, and New York in the month of February.  And March? March brings a murderer’s row with Orlando, San Antonio, the Lakers, Chicago, Portland, Atlanta and the Thunder all in the same month. The Heat are running out of chances for statement games, and instead seem to wilt in the biggest moments. They have their win over the Lakers on Christmas. That was nice. And they have two wins over the Magic. But other than that, the Heat have struggled with statement games.

For as far back as the Knicks are in the playoff race, the Heat allowed them to make one tonight, by simply focusing and executing.  The Heat have proven time and time again this year that if you press, they’ll simply fall apart. If you withstand the firepower, you can overcome them on the ground.  The Knicks took the best of what the Heat could give. Then they returned the favor. The result?

The whole world has seen how far behind the Celtics the Heat are. After tonight they’ll be wondering how far behind the Heat the Knicks are.

Notes:

  • The biggest question when Melo was acquired was how he would fit into Mike D’s system, because that would determine how he fits in with Stoudemire. Instead, Anthony is integrating himself with Amar’e, working off of him in double-post sets at the elbow and block, and using it to free himself . D’Antoni has shown no impulse in trying to make Anthony into a part of his system, but instead is willing to let him use his unique talents to integrate those into the flow of the offense.
  • Moderate pace (95) tonight, which is higher but not super-high, especially for what these two teams are capable of.
  • How bad was the offense tonight for both teams, in terms of shooting? The Heat shot the best from the field at 43%. They lost.
  • The Knicks do not have a legitimate center. So Joel Anthony going -17 is pretty horrific.
  • Mario Chalmers had zero assists and 2 turnovers. Starting point guard, that.
  • Stoudemire and Anthony combined for 19 boards. It’s been a question for a long time, but those two are holding up their end of the bargain on the glass.

Report: Suns declining Jimmer Fredette’s team option, Warriors say he’ll join them in summer league

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The Suns signed Jimmer Fredette late last season, including a team option for next season in case he played well.

In a surprise to nobody reasonable, he didn’t.

So, Phoenix will move on and Fredette will fall to a lower level.

95.7 The Game:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Even with his option declined, Fredette is still under contract with the Suns until June 30. So, Larry Harris’ public revelation looks like tampering.

But the NBA’s tampering rules are vague and arbitrarily enforced. A key consideration: Whether the aggrieved team presses for action. I can’t imagine the Suns doing that.

Fredette, 30, might light up summer league – which is primarily for rookies and other young players. If he does while playing for Golden State’s team, the Stephen Curry comparisons will be inevitable.

They’ll also be misguided. Curry is a superstar. Fredette didn’t translate to the NBA, though there remains a fascination with him because he scored a lot at BYU a long time ago and still fills a great-white-hope narrative to some.

Report: Nets interested in signing Kevin Durant’s friend, DeAndre Jordan

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The Nets are hot on the heels of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

What could put Brooklyn over the top to land those star free agents?

Maybe DeAndre Jordan.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

If Jordan would help the Nets attract Durant and Irving, great. Sign Jordan.

But Jordan would also fit well at center if Brooklyn signs Durant and Irving.

The Nets need another center with Jarrett Allen, as Ed Davis hits free agency. They could ideally use someone bigger, like Jordan. Though Allen has positioned himself well as Brooklyn’s long-term center, Jordan could even start – if he comes motivated.

Jordan has drifted lately. He fell out of favor with the Clippers, never meshed with the Mavericks then finished last season with the losing Knicks rather than taking a buyout. Jordan has ability as a finisher and rim-protector, but he’s not as active as used to be, and energy is important for playing that style.

The Nets’ room exception, which projects to be worth nearly $5 million, might be the right amount for him.

Andre Iguodala’s exit line on CNBC: “Nobody’s going to the Knicks. Sorry.”

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Andre Iguodala is a smart businessman who is heavily invested in tech startups (as are several Golden State Warriors players). That — and the fact he’s a famous NBA player — made him a good guest on CNBC’s Power Lunch show Monday.

Iguodala also has a few good connections to the thinking of the Golden State Warriors’ free agents Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Here is his response when asked about free agency and the Warriors on the show.

Of course, he said he expects Durant and Thompson to come back to the Warriors, what did you expect him to say? However, it was the exit line that got noticed:

“Nobody’s going to the Knicks. Sorry.”

More and more it’s looking like that.

Sources have said Thompson is staying with the Warriors since the start, he was never in play. Durant and the Knicks have been linked all season, but suddenly rumors of him going to Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving (and maybe Durant’s good friend DeAndre Jordan) have gotten a lot louder around the league. Brooklyn may be the frontrunner, with the Clipper still on the fringes of the conversation. The Warriors may be on the outside looking in.

The Knicks want a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, but that is a two-team race between the Raptors and Clippers, with Toronto seeming to have the edge after winning a title.

The smart play by the Knicks, if this happens, is not to spend wildly on the next tier of free agents but rather to sit on their cap space, develop and add to their young core, and wait for another star. That seems to be the plan, but how long before James Dolan gets impatient and forces something stupid to happen. For the Knicks, that’s always a concern.

Atlanta trades Kent Bazemore to Portland for Evan Turner

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Portland is always on the search for some quality play and shot creation at the forward spots (something that is a long-running weak spot), and with this trade the Trail Blazers get a little better.

Atlanta is sending Kent Bazemore to Portland in exchange for Evan Turner in a straight up, two-player trade. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and has since been confirmed by the teams.

Both players are in the final year of their somewhat overpaid contracts, Bazemore will make $19.3 million while Turner will pull down $18.6 million. Atlanta does save about $640,000.

This trade makes a lot of sense for Portland. Bazemore is a quality wing rotation player who averaged 11.6 points per game, is athletic and can create shots. Last season Bazemore was on his way to a career year until a mid-season ankle injury, and while he did come back to the court he was never healthy and the same player. He’s not a knock-down three-point shooter but he has usually been at around 35 percent or a little higher five of the past six seasons (he was down to 32 percent last season because of the ankle injury). This is more than just Rodney Hood insurance, this is an upgrade.

Turner was the guy Portland counted on as another shot creator, but he could not do that consistently or under pressure. He averaged 6.8 points per game last season, shot 21.2 percent from three, and is not a great defender. He is a popular teammate and good in the locker room (something useful with a young Hawks squad), but this is not an upgrade for the Hawks.

Then why did Atlanta make this trade?

“We are happy to add Evan to our team, a veteran who we believe can help our club,” Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said in a statement. “The versatility he has shown throughout his career will be valuable for us this season.”

Beyond that, the franchise does save $640,000, which is helpful but not earth-shattering. Also, it’s a favor to Bazemore to get him on a team that went to the Western Conference Finals a season ago and is a threat going forward. However, the best reason may be the Hawks have three young players they like — Kevin Huerter, plus just-drafted DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish — at the same spot and this frees up minutes for them to play.

Whatever the reason, the deal is done.