NBA Playoffs: The Knicks get swept

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It looked like the Knicks were going to give the Celtics a run for their money after the first and second games of the series were so close, but the Knicks didn’t have the same energy in New York that they did in Boston, and the Celtics were able to sweep the Knicks out of the playoffs on Sunday.

On offense, the Celtics were able to succeed because Rajon Rondo looks like Rajon Rondo again. Rondo didn’t look quite right offensively in the last part of the regular season. He averaged 11.2 points per game on 40.3% shooting in April’s regular-season games, and he was even worse in March.

Against the Knicks, Rondo looked dominant, averaging 19 points on 50% shooting and 12 assists per game for the series. When Rondo doesn’t have his game working, the Celtics are forced to rely on isolation play and contested jumpers for much of their offense. When he’s on, they become a team that attacks the rim and punishes defenses with open catch-and-shoot jumpers. On Sunday, Rondo was feeling it. He got to the basket at will, actually managed to hit four jumpers, and set his teammates up with open mid-range jumpers, threes, and shots at the rim. Assuming the Heat win one of their next three games and face the Celtics in the second round, Rondo’s performance will be key, especially since he struggled offensively against the Heat all season long.

Boston’s supporting is still a concern, as Jeff Green and Delonte West still aren’t contributing and Shaq still isn’t healthy, but if their four best players are all doing their jobs, they’re a nightmare matchup for anybody.

Defensively, the Celtics were able to hold Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to go a combined 15-44 from the floor. While the free throw line kept Anthony from having a completely inefficient night, Stoudemire and his injured back looked two steps slow, and Kevin Garnett completely dominated him on both ends of the floor.

With Anthony forced to be a volume shooter, Amar’e shut down, and Billups in a suit, the Knicks needed their supporting cast to step up. The results were gruesome and predictable. Outside of a few out-of-nowhere jumpers from Anthony Carter, the Knicks’ supporting cast had nothing for the Celtics, and shot a combined 15-44 from the field — exactly what Carmelo and Amar’e shot. Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, and Shawne Williams couldn’t find the rim with a map, and Jared Jeffries and Landry Fields were both complete non-factors.

If the Knicks’ big three can develop some chemistry over training camp and the beginning of next season and stay healthy, the Knicks have a lot to look forward to, even with their anemic supporting cast. If they actually manage to make some upgrades and Landry Fields can re-find his game in the off-season, they could be a force to be reckoned with in the East. But in 2011, the Knicks simply didn’t have any answers for the Celtics’ blend of defense, experience, chemistry, and talent.

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis out 1-2 weeks with sprained finger

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This is bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.

Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.

Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).

Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).