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.

Rumor: Did Porzingis want out of New York because he didn’t want to play with Durant?

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In less than a year, Kristaps Porzingis went from the anointed savior of the Knicks franchise to being traded to the Dallas Mavericks to make way for whatever and whoever is next. It was a turn of events that shocked and angered much of the Knicks fan base.

After the trade went down, the spin machines got busy. The Knicks said that Porzingis requested to be moved, and while there was some push back about that from KP’s camp there was no question he had his frustrations with the Knicks and might have looked around as a restricted free agent. Why did he want out? Did he not trust management? Or was it something else… like who the Knicks are reportedly targeting as a free agent? One Kevin Durant.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe floated that last theory on his podcast Friday:

“I don’t think he was psyched about playing with Durant. I don’t know how directly that was verbalized to the Knicks, but I’m confident that it wasn’t something that was his Plan A, he wanted to be the face of the franchise.”

That apparently was not said to the Knicks.

Expect push back from Porzingis’ camp on this.

There is a whole lot of speculation in this rumor, starting with the Knicks being able to land Durant (even though most sources I talk to around the league see that as the most likely outcome this summer). KD’s star would have been brighter than Porzingis’, but in New York there is plenty of spotlight to go around. Was sharing the stage really an issue?

Porzingis’ frustrations likely had many layers and cannot be defined by Durant alone. If he didn’t trust ownership and management, can you really blame him? We’ll never really know how much of a factor Durant was — or, was not — in that mix.

Where Porzingis landed, he and Luka Doncic are the face of the Mavericks going forward. Mark Cuban and Dallas bet big on them. The question now for Porzingis is was that a good gamble?

Watch Kawhi Leonard strip DeMar DeRozan, get dunk to put Raptors up for good

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DeMar DeRozan was welcomed back to Toronto Friday night with a standing ovation — DeRozan is still the most beloved Raptor in franchise history.

But with the game on the line, Kawhi Leonard showed everyone why Toronto made the trade.

Leonard stripped the ball from DeRozan at midcourt and took it in for a dunk that put Toronto up for good.

The Spurs missed their next shot and a couple Leonard free throws after that iced it.

Leonard had 25 points in the game while Pascal Siakam added 22 — those are the two guys who can make this postseason in Toronto different from the previous ones.

Draymond Green reportedly to switch agents to Rich Paul

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This summer, the Golden State Warriors need to deal with the free agency of Klay Thompson (expected by sources around the league to re-sign and stay) and Kevin Durant (those same sources think he leans toward leaving).

The following summer of 2020 it’s Draymond Green who is up. Will he have a max offer waiting from the Warriors?

In anticipation of what’s to come, Green is reportedly switching agents to Rich Paul, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green is close to hiring Rich Paul of Klutch Sports as his basketball representation, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

He was previously repped by Wasserman.

Paul most famously represents LeBron James and Anthony Davis, although he has a number of other clients.

I’ll say about this switch what I said when Davis switched to Klutch at the start of this past season: Rich Paul is not the guy you hire if the plan is just to automatically sign the contract put in front of you.

Green is a former Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-NBA player, and this season he is averaging 7.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game. However, there has been debate around the league about whether his next contract should be a max, or more accurately, should it be a max at the full five years? Or at the four years other teams can offer? The defensive versatility Green brings Golden State is unquestioned — the Warriors are not the Warriors without his ability to guard fives effectively — he is a fantastic passer, and he is the emotional bellwether for the team in many ways. However, he’s shooting 25 percent from three this season (and teams dare him to take that shot now), doesn’t really create on offense (the Warriors can easily hide that with their starters right now), and there are thoughts that he hits free agency at age 29 and his game will not age well. Green also has had a very public clash with Kevin Durant.

What the Warriors will do with Green may hinge in part on happens this summer. If Durant decides to re-sign with Golden State could they then look to trade Green? Also, Green is extension eligible this summer, but with the Warriors cap situation, the raise the Warriors could offer Green will be well below what he likely makes on the open market in 2020. There are a lot of moving parts in the Warriors’ future. And Green’s.

It looks like Rich Paul will be part of that future now as well.

Grizzlies’ standout rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. out indefinitely with deep thigh bruise

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Jarren Jackson Jr. looked like a future franchise cornerstone in Memphis this season. He’s averaged 13.8 points a game, shot 35.9 percent from three, grabbed 4.7 points per game, played good defense as a rookie, been improving, and as the Grizzlies enter a rebuild he will be what the team is building around in the paint.

However, he’s going to miss some time now with a thigh bruise, the team announced Friday night. From the official announcement:

Grizzlies forward/center Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a deep thigh bruise and will be out indefinitely. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Expect the Grizzlies to be cautious and take their time bringing him back, he may no return this season. In part because they should be cautious with an injury to a future cornerstone, but also in part because they are trying to hang on to their draft pick this year, which is top eight protected (otherwise it goes to Boston). Currently the Grizzlies have the sixth worst record in the league and only a four percent chance of losing their pick, but fall farther back in the standings and the odds get even better they keep it.