It’s not pretty, but Knicks solidify playoff standing with win

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It looked like a game where both teams were battling for the right to be the eight seed — the winning team shot 35.1 percent and had 23 turnovers. Tom Thibodeau is not reviewing this tape and getting nervous.

But a gritty win counts the same as any other kind and the Knicks outhustled the Milwaukee Bucks on the way to an 89-80 win Monday night. It’s a win that moves the Knicks 2.5 games ahead of the Bucks for the final playoff spot in the east — giving the Knicks a good chance to move on (both teams have 17 games left).

The Knicks did it without Amare Stoudemire — who is now out indefinitely with a bulging disc in his back — and Jeremy Lin. That’s a lot of missing firepower.

Scarier yet, Carmelo Anthony pulled up with a sore right groin muscle in the fourth quarter — the same injury that kept him out seven games not that long ago. No word yet on the severity, but Anthony was able to play through it at the end of this one.

The Knicks won this ugliness because they were the aggressors. They attacked. They got to the free throw line 35 times, led by Anthony who was 12-12 from the stripe. They had Tyson Chandler grab five offensive rebounds as the Knicks kept balls alive and got themselves second chances all night. It wasn’t pretty but they worked hard.

I keep saying this game was ugly, let me explain:

• Knicks point guard Baron Davis shot 3-12 with nine turnovers
• J.R. Smith was 1-10 from three
• The Knicks as a team were 7-31 from three
• The Bucks were 6-24 from three
• The Knicks shot 35.1 percent, the Bucks 36.5 percent
• Monta Ellis was 2-14 shooting
• Brandon Jennings was 6-22 shooting
• The Bucks had 19 turnovers to 17 assists
• The Knicks had 23 turnovers to 16 assists (and loved their isolations)
• I can’t even count the blown layups by both teams combined.

Maybe the only guy who had a really stellar game — and certainly the only reason the Bucks were even close — was the shooting of Mike Dunleavy. He hit 10 of his first 11 for 26 points, including 5-8 from three. But by the end of the game even he could not lift the lid off the basket.

But the Knicks made plays — Iman Shumpert with a key three down the stretch and a steal from Brandon Jennings minutes later, and Tyson Chandler owning the paint on both ends. Anthony finished with 28 points on the night.

The Knicks, if everything clicks, are the kind of team nobody wants to play in the first round of the playoffs. Problem is, they are a long way from everything clicking (especially if Stoudemire is out for the season). But they can’t be a threat in the playoffs if they don’t make it and now they are a lot closer. It’s not a done deal — Knicks next two games are Magic and Hawks, and that starts a stretch where the Bucks have the easier schedule. The Bucks have three more home games while the Knicks play three more teams over .500.

But for a night in Madison Square Garden, the Knicks outworked the Bucks to get a key win. Good teams win ugly games. We have yet to see if the Knicks are actually good, but they got one of those wins Monday when they needed it most.

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.