Improved Knicks no match for elite Mavericks

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The Knicks have been playing winning basketball lately, but the set of circumstances they faced heading into Thursday night’s contest against the Mavericks was simply too much to overcome. Playing for the fourth time in five nights, in the second game of a back-to-back, on the road, against one of the league’s elite teams, New York looked to be a step slow from the start, and trailed by as many as 26 points before falling by a final of 127-109.

It was a tough spot for the Knicks, but let’s be honest: they probably weren’t going to beat this Dallas team anyway. The Mavericks are elite — stacked with talent, size, and a multitude of scorers. They move the ball as well as any team in the league to get open shots. And against a sluggish and shorthanded Knicks team that was playing without Chauncey Billups for the sixth straight game due to a thigh injury, Dallas took advantage from the very start.

Amar’e Stoudemire opened the game by hitting just one of his first eight from the field, Carmelo Anthony started off 3 for 10, and by halftime, the Mavs had put up 72 points while holding New York to a dismal 34.2% shooting.

Stoudemire’s 18-point third quarter helped cut a Dallas lead that reached as many as 26 points down to 13, but his team wasn’t able to get any closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

Speaking of Stoudemire, he picked up his 16th technical foul of the season in the second quarter, after getting tangled up with Brendan Haywood while the two were fighting for position. If it stands, it will result in a one-game suspension, but there’s a pretty good chance it won’t. This one was extremely questionable, and once the level-headed folks at the league office take another look at it in the next day or so, it’s more than likely to be rescinded.

Coming into this contest, the Knicks had won three straight, four of their last five, and had posted a record of 6-3 since making the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York city.  The team is certainly improved, and the circumstances may have conspired to make this already tough game in Dallas even tougher. But the bottom line is that the game may also be seen as a way to measure just how far away New York is from an overall talent standpoint to truly compete with the league’s top teams.

This gap isn’t what it once was when the season first started. It is still there, however, and it is still substantial.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.

Kristaps Porzingis reportedly gave Knicks wish list of trade destinations: Nets, Clippers, Heat, Raptors

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.

But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.

Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.

The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.

But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.

Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.

Kyrie Irving on video with Kevin Durant: ‘Me and one of my best friends talking’

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The Knicks opened double-max cap space for next summer. Kevin Durant‘s company is moving to a new office in New York. Kyrie Irving backed away from his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics.

Plenty of people were already connecting dots when this video emerged of Durant and Irving talking at the All-Star game (in which, not for nothing, they jelled).

Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops:

Irving, via MassLive (warning: language in the above video):

It’s just crazy. This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun. It doesn’t make the league fun. Nobody helps promote the league even more by doing bulls— like that, of just putting fictitious things on what we’re talking about. It’s crazy.

It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free agency meeting? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about it? That’s what disconnects me from all that s—.

That wasn’t a denial.

Still, it’s hard to believe Durant and Irving really discussed free agency in a hallway with so many people passing. There are far more discreet places to have that conversation.

Like a restaurant in Miami where they were spotted together:

I understand Irving’s exasperation with this, just as I understood Durant’s testiness over constant speculation. They should be allowed to spend time together as friends without it turning into a bigger deal.

But there is immense interest in where they play next year. People will continue to search for clues – some that prove insignificant, some that might prove significant – about the stars’ futures.

So, I’m at least glad Irving addressed this. It’s going to get discussed either way. Better for him to enter his perspective into the conversation.

Report: Hawks didn’t clear John Collins’ airplane dunk until shortly before dunk contest

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There were two memorable dunks in this year’s dunk contest:

The Hawks nearly stopped us from seeing that latter spectacle.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN on Saturday:

Now, there’s a little curve ball here. The last update that I had was that the Hawks hadn’t approved John Collins jumping over an airplane yet and that they were a little bit were worried that he was going to trip on it and injure himself.

After watching the dunk, I understand the Hawks’ reluctance. Collins broke the plane!

At least he seemingly emerged unscathed.