Knicks talk defense, Lakers play it and win handily

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The talk coming into the season was how Tyson Chandler was going to change the Knicks defense.

He might, eventually. But Mike Brown has brought new energy and physicality to the Lakers defense right now — the Knicks shot 31.7 percent Thursday night (and for the season opponents are shooting only 38 percent against the Lakers).

The result was a 99-82 win for the Lakers over the Knicks at Staples. That means the Lakers are 2-2 after having started the season with a back-to-back-to-back without Andrew Bynum. Finishing .500 is a good result. Denver gets to face a better Lakers team with Bynum on Saturday.

This wasn’t a particularly pretty game. Both teams had their moments of sloppy play, like we have seen everywhere the first week of the season due to the lockout. Plus, you can blame it on both teams having poor point guard play. Or you can blame it on tired legs — the Knicks on back-to-back, Lakers on fourth game in five nights.

The difference was the Lakers attacked the rim and the Knicks settled. For example, to start the game, the Lakers were up 14-0 on points in the paint, they pounded the ball in to Pau Gasol. In the end, the Lakers had 44 points in the paint to the Knicks 26 (and a number of those Knicks points seemed to come in garbage time). Tyson Chandler tries but the Knicks team defense leaves him stranded too much.

The Lakers were up 63-51 and the half, then Kobe Bryant asserted himself in the third quarter to make sure the Lakers did not fade. Kobe had 13 points in the third alone as he abused Renaldo Balkman —including a four-point play in the third quarter where Balkman fouled Kobe 26 feet from the basket. Balkman was on Kobe a lot in this game, which is good for Kobe.

Meanwhile, the Knicks started the fourth quarter 1-8 shooting, the Lakers went on a 17-3 run and that was pretty much the ballgame. The Knicks tried to hang around but never made a serious run.

For the Lakers, it’s two wins in a row after a tough start. Their defense has been their strong suit and it is only going to improve with the return of Bynum. In the Phil Jackson era the Lakers usually went as far as their defense would take them. This is a different team, but if they keep defending like this they will win a lot of games.

For the Knicks, they are still trying to figure it out — and they are frustrated about it enough that Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler took technical fouls. After a hard-fought Christmas day win over Boston the Knicks have lost two straight on their West Coast swing. This was the second night of a back-to-back against a good team, you can just write it off. But the Knicks defense has not looked sharp and when the offense matches — a rating of 94.3 points per 100 possessions in this game — it will be hard for them to win.

No reason to panic, but New York needs to get Stoudemire attacking and not floating on the wing as much (he was 4-of-17 shooting). They need to steady their defensive rotations. They need better point guard play out of Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby. They need Carmelo Anthony to keep being this efficient (27 points on 14 shots). They need more offensive games like this from Tyson Chandler (13 points, 11 rebounds).

Overall, the Knicks look sloppy, like a team that needed a longer training camp to prepare for the season. Like the defensive message has yet to sink in.

The Lakers look like a team that hears their new coach and has made defense a priority.

Report: Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist opting in for $13 million

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The Hornets’ last hope for super-maxing out Kemba Walker and avoiding the luxury tax without trading or stretching anyone has been extinguished.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s $13 million salary locked in for next season, Charlotte faces hard choices.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

If the Hornets re-sign Walker to the super-max, sign their draft picks (Nos. 12, 36 and 52) and add no other free agents, they’d project to be about $9 million over the tax line.

Would Walker take that large of a discount? That $9 million below the super-max would be for just next season. Over a five-year contract with max raises, he’d be leaving about $54 million on the table. And that’s all to maintain a lottery team that’s not really upgrading.

Would Michael Jordan pay the tax? He never has, and I doubt this mediocre team sways him.

The most likely outcome if Walker re-signs: Charlotte trades an undesirable contract – Kidd-Gilchrist’s, Nicolas Batum‘s, Marvin Williams‘, Cody Zeller‘s) – or stretches Bismack Biyombo. Trading those rotation players would probably require a sweetener. Stretching Biyombo would create a cap hit through 2022.

So, the Hornets get even more depleted in the long-term, maybe also the short-term.

That’s the cost of overpaying so many players – including Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays hard and defends well but hasn’t developed enough of an offensive game.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.

Mavericks reportedly front runners to land Al Horford, Lakers and Clippers also interested

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Al Horford is moving on from Boston, the latest blow in a year where the Celtics went from “they will be in the Eastern Conference Finals every year for the next five years at least” to “they’re okay but have a lot of work to do.” It’s been a perfect storm of things gone wrong.

So where does Al Horford play next season?

How about next to Kristaps Porzingis in Dallas?

That’s the buzz, with the two Los Angeles teams trying to get in the conversation, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.

The Mavericks are considered favorites to land Celtics free-agent big man Al Horford, according to league sources, and the two Los Angeles teams are said to also have interest, though they both have their sights set on bigger fish like Kawhi Leonard.

Dallas makes sense for both sides.

The Mavericks have the cap space to offer Horford the $20 million or more starting salary he wants, reportedly he seeks $100 million across four years (he opted out of a $30.5 million season in Boston for the security of more years). Dallas has $31.3 million in cap space, even after Dwight Powell opting in. While they likely will reach a max deal on a new contract with Porzingis, the Mavs have his bird rights so they can sign Horford then go over the cap to re-sign Porzingis (who missed all of last season recovering from an ACL injury).

On the court, Horford can both be paired with Porzingis — two bigs teams have to defend out to the three-point line — and help limit the young big man’s minutes. While not young at 33 (and the Mavs may regret the final year of a four-year contract), Horford is the kind of glue big man who can do everything well, giving coach Rick Carlisle a lot of options. Horford can score in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good man defender and can protect the rim, and all that versatility makes him valuable. He can fit into the Dallas frontcourt rotation with Porzingis, Dwight Powell, and Maxi Kleber.

That versatility would make him a great second addition to the Clippers if Kawhi Leonard chooses to leave the Raptors to join Doc Rivers’ squad (he Leonard stays the Clippers are out of this running). While Los Angeles start Ivica Zubac at the five, Horford would be an upgrade and they still have Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Horford also could mix in at the four for the Clippers.

For the Lakers, who are looking for a third star, they could sigh Horford at a $20 million starting salary (with raises from there) without having to go through the salary cap gymnastics it would take for them to clear cap space to land someone like Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker.

Horford has fans all over the league and will have options, but Dallas is aggressive and there is a logical fit there.