While Knicks struggle, back-up Jeremy Lin messes around and gets a triple-double in the D-League

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The New York Knicks have been dealing with quite a few issues this season, some of which are related to injury, but it was succinctly summed up on Friday night when Knicks blog Posting and Toasting wrote that they would “rather eat a cactus than watch these Knicks.” If fans aren’t quite ready to start eating desert plantlife, the intermediary between the two is probably tuning in to watch the Knicks’ NBA Development League affiliate Erie BayHawks play. And, if and when that happens, the New York faithful might be treated to some surprising performances a la the one back-up point guard Jeremy Lin turned in on Friday night.

The Asian-American Lin has shown in limited minutes this season that  he probably isn’t the answer to the problems at the point guard position for the Knicks — and there are problems, Iman Shumpert fans — but that doesn’t mean the 23-year-old Harvard grad doesn’t have potential to someday be a rotational player at Madison Square Garden. In fact, Lin may have shown off a bit of that potential while making his Erie BayHawks debut on Friday night.

Lin messed around and got a triple-double while helping lead the Knicks-operated BayHawks to a victory over Morris Almond and the Maine Red Claws. The Knicks guard, on assignment with fellow end-of-the-bench Knickerbocker Jerome Jordan, played took full advantage of his 44 minutes and 22 seconds of playing time by scoring 28 points to go along with 12 assists and 11 rebounds in the 122-113 victory.

It wasn’t the stiffest competition, as most are wont to point out as soon as they see mention of the D-League, but consider the level of play around the D-League this season: the team Lin was facing, the Maine Red Claws, cut former 20-point-per-game-in-the-NBA scorer Ricky Davis earlier in the day after the 32-year-old averaged just eight points on 39 percent shooting through the first 11 games of his comeback season; Lin’s triple-double came on the same night that Sacramento Kings assignee struggled to a five-point, two-assist effort off the bench for the Reno Bighorns; and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey recently said the talent of play in the D-League is the highest he’s ever witnessed.

Anyway, now that it’s clear that Lin isn’t going to put up a triple-double for the Knicks anytime soon and that he also wasn’t playing against the level of competition that I play with at the Bismarck YMCA, there are some bright spots that could come into play once Lin is called back up to the Knicks.

  • Jeremy Lin is better than Mike Bibby. This isn’t going out on much of a limb, but there has to be an advanced statistic available to prove that it’s true. Bibby is small, doesn’t rebound and has lost his shooting touch (the veteran point guard is shooting less than 40 percent from the field this season). If nothing else, the allure of potential being cooler than reality should be worth playing Lin over Bibby … right?
  • Lin’s out to prove that he’s more than a marketing tool. There was quite an uproar last season when Lin, an undrafted free agent, was given guaranteed money by the Golden State Warriors last season largely because he out-dueled John Wall in a Summer League game (and it didn’t hurt the marketing department that he had the large Asian-American population in the Bay Area hanging on his every move). The second-year pro was unable to stick with the Warriors out of training camp this season, however, and is now looking to prove that he has the game to back up the hype that surrounded him last season.
  • The kid can play. He was matched up against a vastly undersized Jerome Randle on Friday night, sure, but Randle was a prospect the experts at Draft Express fawned over prior to the 2010 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lin showed a quicker first step than his looks would indicate and an understanding of how to run the pick-and-roll (he and Jordan ran it beautifully a few times Friday night) on his way to the triple-double. He seems to have room for development, too, considering his basketball IQ and age are both acting in his favor.

If Lin’s able to keep building his confidence on Sunday afternoon — Maine moved the game from 5 p.m. to noon to avoid any conflicts with the New England Patriots’ playoff game, apparently — it would seem that the second-year pro deserves another shot at Mike D’Antoni’s rotation. Considering the Knicks are riding a five-game losing streak and have their fans wanting to eat cacti, it couldn’t hurt to infuse a bit of new blood — even if it is only to decide whether Lin is stuck right in the middle of ‘too good for the D-League but not good enough for the NBA’ or whether there’s actually a bit of ridiculous upside in his future.

To Bam Adebayo, Heat game days are always Mother’s Day

Heat star Bam Adebayo
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Miami center Bam Adebayo went into the locker room at halftime of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals knowing that he wasn’t doing enough.

He didn’t need to see video. Or talk to Heat teammates. Or check the stats.

He only needed to think of his mother.

“That first half wasn’t me and I had to reboot myself, man,” Adebayo said. “So, you ask yourself: Where do you come from and what’s your why? What’s your why? And for me, that’s my mom.”

Marilyn Blount, this was for you. Adebayo nearly outscored the Boston Celtics by himself in the third quarter, the Heat turned the game around and went on to win 106-101 Thursday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals — putting the kid who grew up in a single-wide trailer with a mom making something like $15,000 a year two wins away from the NBA Finals.

Adebayo had four points at the half, and the Heat were down by 13. He had 17 in the second half, when Miami outscored Boston by 18.

“Games are long and you just have to figure out different ways to impact winning,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And Bam, he understands that.”

It wasn’t just Adebayo in the second half, which is the brilliance of this Heat team — it’s never just one guy. Adebayo had 17 points after halftime on 8-for-10 shooting, Goran Dragic had 16 points in the final two quarters, Tyler Herro had more rebounds than anyone after halftime and Jimmy Butler made three steals in the final 3:40 to help Miami finish off matters.

“I’m happy to be on this team with these guys because everybody here has a different story,” Adebayo said. “We all come from nothing and that’s what’s beautiful about this team.”

He may have come from nothing. Right now, for a Miami team that is 10-1 so far in this postseason to match the best start in franchise playoff history, he’s doing everything.

He had the game-saving block of a Jayson Tatum dunk attempt in the final seconds of Game 1 of the East finals, made the NBA’s All-Defensive team, became an All-Star for the first time and won the skills competition at All-Star weekend.

He’s averaging 16.8 points, 11 rebounds and 5.1 assists so far in the playoffs; the only two players who have done that, at his age of 22 or less, in a full postseason are Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley.

“He knows what makes him tick, what makes him go,” Butler said. “He knows why he’s playing the game. Spo always says, ‘What’s your why?’ He gets it. He understands. He knows that we need him to play at an extremely high level to be successful. He’s an All-Star, All-Defensive Player. He’s everything for us.”

Adebayo could agree this offseason, whenever free agency starts, to a contract that will set him up for life, set his mother up for whatever she wants as well. He’s already looking at houses for her; these days, she’s got an apartment in the same building where her son lives, just down the street from the arena that the Heat call home.

He doesn’t hide from the past. He doesn’t forget having nothing. It doesn’t embarrass him. It inspires him.

“That competitive nature comes out when I feel like I’m playing bad and when things aren’t going right,” Adebayo said. “I think about how she fought through struggle. I feel like she was in the gym tonight. It was like I could hear her in my ear. I watched her get knocked down and get back up so many times. You see that for 18 years straight, you take that load on and feel that responsibility. And my responsibility is to provide for my mom, and the best way to make sure I can do that is to help us win.”

They’re winning. They’re the surprise of the bubble, in the sense that they’re the lowest seed — Miami was No. 5 in the East — still standing.

Two more wins, and they’ll be going to the NBA Finals. Adebayo knows they’ll be the hardest wins to get.

“It sounds crazy,” Adebayo said. “Think about the beginning of the year, when we were telling everybody, ‘We have a chance, we have a chance.’ I remember having a conversation with a couple guys, playing out how the season was going to go before it started, and they said we were a No. 7, No. 8 seed and would get knocked out in the first round.

“I took that kind of personal,” he added. “You’re not going to sit here and just bash my team like that. We’ve proven to people now that we belong in the playoffs, that we’re taking this head on. We’re underdogs. That’s our mentality.”

He’s been one his whole life.

It seems to work for him — thanks to his mom.

“Watching her, I built my competitive nature,” Adebayo said. “That’s how I learned that the strong survive.”

Report: Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Giannis Antetokounmpo absolutely dominated the regular season.

That can be easy to forget. Coronavirus caused a lengthy interruption. In the spotlight when play resumed, Antetokounmpo underwhelmed. The Bucks flamed out in the second round.

So, this timing is awkward.

But MVP is a regular-season award, and Antetokounmpo will deservedly win his second straight.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Antetokounmpo’s performance comes as speculation intensifies about his future in Milwaukee.

He’ll be eligible for a super-max extension this offseason. If he bypasses it, he’ll also be eligible for a super-max contract in 2021 free agency.

Because of this award, Antetokounmpo will now also be eligible to sign a super-max deal in 2022 free agency.

Maybe he won’t be a free agent that offseason. But this opens his options if he takes a shorter contract to let league-wide revenue rise post-pandemic and/or further assess the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo has that type of leverage. At just 25, he put himself in the pantheon of players to win consecutive MVPs:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Stephen Curry
  • LeBron James
  • Steve Nash
  • Tim Duncan
  • Michael Jordan
  • Magic Johnson
  • Larry Bird
  • Moses Malone
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Wilt Chamberlain
  • Bill Russell

Antetokounmpo has a bright future, especially with the mentality to fix his shortcomings. He must polish his skills (and maybe approach) to thrive in the playoffs. But it’s easy to project growth there.

Already, Antetokounmpo has the regular season solved.

He joins Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) as the only players to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Fun fact: Jordan’s Bulls also lost in the second round in five games the year he claimed both awards. It got better for Jordan and Chicago from there, eventually.

LeBron and James Harden finished second and third in some order for 2020 MVP. The NBA will officially announce the winner at 2 p.m. Presumably, we’ll also get full voting then.

Report: Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown bickered in Celtics’ locker room

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After their Game 2 loss to the Heat last night, the Celtics – especially Marcus Smart – made a commotion in their locker room.

What actually happened?

Apparently, Smart and Jaylen Brown got into it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown had a heated confrontation inside that locker room after the Game 2 loss and needed to be separated by teammates, multiple sources told The Athletic.

Sources told The Athletic that Smart stormed into the Celtics postgame locker room saying that other players needed to be held accountable and not simply point the finger toward him when things are going wrong. As Smart continued and his voice grew louder, sources said Brown snapped back and shouted that Celtics players must stay together and that their actions must come as a team, not individually, and that Smart needed to cool off. Those sources added Smart had verbal exchanges with a couple of the assistant coaches during the game.

None of this is new for Smart. Not jawing with a Boston assistant coach during a game. Not getting hot after a loss. Not even clashing with Brown.

This is who he is – sometimes for good, sometimes not. But the same reasons Smart thrives as a feisty player are the same reasons he was going off last night.

Brown, via Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston:

“He plays with passion, he’s full of fire, and that’s what I love about him most, to be honest. He has that desire and that will and we need him to continue to have that. There’s ups and downs with families all the time. But we embrace each other for who we are. And who Marcus is, I love him for it.”

Brown doesn’t mind a little chaos if it serves a greater purpose. He’s emotionally mature enough to handle this.

But will last night’s incident actually help the Celtics? Maybe it’ll light a fire under them to keep their foot on the gas when leading.

Offensive sets that can beat a zone defense would probably go further, though.

Gordon Hayward reportedly feels good, hopes to return for Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
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After a frustrating come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics need a boost.

Like the return of Gordon Hayward.

That is on track to happen in Game 3, although nothing is official, reports Jared Weiss of The Athletic.

Hayward has been sidelined since he suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He left the bubble for a time to get treatment, but has been back with the team, working out and going through a practice.

Gordon Hayward could be Boston’s X-factor in the conference finals — and his return may be the lift it needs. He gives the Celtics another versatile wing player — along with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — who can create his own shot and knock down open looks. Throw in Kemba Walker, and Hayward would be the fourth scoring option for Boston, making the Celtics deep and difficult to defend. Hayward also spent time guarding Butler during the regular-season matchups.