NBA Playoffs: Knicks compete early, but Heat roll late to take 3-0 series lead

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The Heat took command of their first round playoff series with the Knicks, winning Game 3 in New York 87-70 to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Matt Moore and I discussed.

Matt Moore: Ugly, ugly, grotesque basketball Thursday and it looked like the Knicks could do the improbable without Amar’e Stoudemire, relying on Landry Fields and Mike Bibby. Don’t know how that plan failed.

LeBron just shut it down in the fourth. And for once, it was the other team! Just closed them out since he had so much energy. Wade’s third quarter, James’ fourth quarter, and maybe biggest, Mike Miller couldn’t hit, Shane Battier couldn’t hit, but Mario Chalmers could and did. If the Heat find one shooter a game to do that, they’re pretty much unstoppable. The Knicks did everything you can do and it still wasn’t nearly enough.

Brett Pollakoff: You always like to talk about whether or not a way a team wins (or is winning) is sustainable. Well, when the Knicks were leading in the second quarter by 11 at 40-29, what was the plan to get there? Let Miami start off the game up 9, then watch the Heat get bored and start jacking ill-advised three-pointers while you attack the paint to get easy looks, and finally, make sure the Heat go without a field goal for a stretch lasting almost 12 minutes?!

Yeah, definitely not sustainable.

Also, it didn’t hurt that LeBron played less than five minutes in the third due to foul trouble, which allowed him to play all of the fourth and score 17 (!) in the final period to finish things off.

So, two things: First, this was NOT a good game, and was nothing like the tough games in the 90s, right? Low-scoring and close does not equal interesting or exciting hard-nosed playoff basketball.

And second, how easily does the Heat win Game 4, having taken the (admittedly shorthanded and depleted) Knicks’ best shot?

MM: Horrible, awful game. The worst game I’ve seen since Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. Just terrible play, a lack of focus, bad shooting, needless fouls, a mishmash of movement. Sluggish and bad. I think it was like the 90’s, but only because I don’t overromanticize  bad basketball at any level.

I think the Knicks probably win Game 4. The Heat have no reason to let the Knicks win, should be able to coast, just have to not have a complete letdown. So naturally, they’ll let up. Also, two days in New York, with that crew of magazine-interview’in’, fashion-show-appearin’, mega-party-goin’ jokesters? No way the Heat come in fresh. Gentleman’s Sweep for the Heat. Let them win one, you know, to be polite. Melo is LeBron’s friend, after all.

How big was James though, in just choking the life out of New York down the stretch?

BP: I think the Heat got the excessive partying out of their system before this one, especially as evidenced by that first-half scoring drought. Besides, even if they hit the NYC club scene hard before Game 4, are the Knicks really able to do anything about it? Carmelo Anthony was 7-for-23, J.R. Smith was 5-for-18, and Steve Novak only attempted one three-pointer all night. As currently constructed, they simply don’t have the offensive weapons to hang with Miami for 48 minutes, and they certainly don’t have a point guard who can create easy, wide-open looks for the rest of the team.

(Seriously, Baron Davis is still out of breath after that and-1 drive in the first half, and might not recover until the offseason.)

LeBron coming out and scoring 11 straight Miami points to start the fourth was huge. Wade’s run in the third was equally important. A team like New York can’t stop these guys for an entire game, and the way the rest of the top teams in the conference are seeing players go down, Miami is going to have a much easier path to the Finals than expected.

Since the Knicks appear to be done, what do they need to improve upon before next season to actually win a game in the playoffs? In addition to not having their starting, $100 million power forward rip up his hand punching inanimate objects, of course.

MM: I’m not sure there’s much the Knicks can do. They’re flawed at their core. Melo and Amar’e doesn’t work. It was a bad plan conceptually from the start, and they’ve wed themselves to the player it’s harder to find a star to fit around. I’m sure James Dolan will spend some money trying though.

BP: I agree that Melo and Amar’e doesn’t work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Sure, it would require a complete re-design of the offense from the top down, but the Knicks have a lot of money invested in those two, and I don’t see them being able to (or even wanting to) cut ties with either of them over the summer.

What’s clear, though, is that when the Knicks have everyone back healthy, they’ll need a creative, offensively-minded coach to make all of the pieces fit. Someone like Mike D’Antoni might be just the person to … Oh. Right.

NBA promotes five referees, including two women, to full-time status

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Ashley Moyer-Gleich is eight years removed from playing in the NCAA Division II tournament. Natalie Sago officiated her first game six years ago, and the players were sixth-grade girls.

They’re in the NBA now – as part of one of the most elite sororities in the game.

Moyer-Gleich and Sago are among five officials who were promoted Thursday by the NBA to full-time status, making them the fourth and fifth women in league history to have that designation. They join former league refs Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner and current official Lauren Holtkamp as women to get formally hired.

“It’s difficult not to say Ashley and Natalie aren’t the second and third `women referees’ being added to the staff,” NBA vice president and head of referee development Monty McCutchen told The Associated Press. “But true equality comes when they’re just going to be `referees’ on our staff. And that’s what we’re really trying to achieve, this sense that their work warrants their advancement.”

The league also promoted Mousa Dagher, Matt Myers and Phenizee Ransom to the full-time level. Dagher further adds to the diversity of Thursday’s moves – he was born in Syria and moved to the U.S. as a 15-year-old in 2006. Myers spent more than a decade in the G League, and Ransom was there for six seasons.

“It’s such a momentous experience, to be working toward being part of the top of your craft and joining our staff,” Holtkamp said. “I’ll never forget getting the phone call and the same will be true for all five of these referees. And Natalie and Ashley, to know they’re joining our staff full-time, I’m beyond excited for them and what this means professionally and personally.”

Moyer-Gleich and Sago have both worked five NBA games this season – three regular season, two preseason. That was enough to confirm what McCutchen and other league officials have known for some time.

They’re ready.

“It’s been unreal, really,” said Sago, whose father has been a referee for more than 30 years. “It’s just been a very fast path for my officiating career and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve had great role models, Lauren being one, and other NBA referees at these camps who kept saying, `You’ve got something.’ And all of a sudden, bam, I got the phone call and it’s such an honor.”

Sago got the call from NBA senior vice president and head of referee operations Michelle Johnson as her flight from one G League game to another earlier this month was taking off. She had to wait nearly two hours before she could call her father to give the news.

Her rise was also rapid: She got spotted at a Division III game in St. Louis – a Sunday afternoon game before about 15 fans – about three years ago and invited to an NBA camp.

“It’s very unique, how quickly it’s happened,” Sago said.

There will be a day when Moyer-Gleich, Sago and Holtkamp – along with any other women who follow them, something that seems quite likely with 17 other women working games in the G League this season – will get judged like any other referee, without the `female’ disclaimer.

They all know that day isn’t here yet.

“Everything that we do, that’s in comparison to the same exact thing our male counterparts might do, will be magnified,” said Moyer-Gleich, a standout player at Millersville University in her native Pennsylvania before starting her ref career. “What we do will be held under a microscope. Right, wrong, indifferent, I have come to peace with that.”

Palmer worked 919 contests before retiring in 2016. Kantner refereed 247 games between 1997 and 2002. Holtkamp has been assigned 214 games, and former non-staff official Brenda Pantoja – who never made the full-fledged ranks – was part of seven crews in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

The NBA has made hiring more women throughout the league a top priority, and that extends to the refereeing roster. Over the summer, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said it was “a bit embarrassing” that the league currently has only one full-time female referee.

“I know that I’m good enough,” Moyer-Gleich said. “I know I belong there.”

McCutchen and other top NBA executives agree. He stressed that there was no mandate to hire women. His charge, he said, was to hire the best refs, period.

“I am committed that this be egalitarian,” McCutchen said. “If you can do the work, if you can stand up to the standards of our league but not the standing of our players and apply the rules, that should be open to any package it shows itself in.”

 

Rajon Rondo to have surgery on fractured right hand

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The Los Angeles Lakers did not want to put a timeline on his return when they announced Wednesday night that Rajon Rondo had fractured his hand. Officially the timeline was “weeks.”

It’s going to be more than a couple of weeks — Rondo will have surgery on his right hand in the next day, something confirmed by Luke Walton.

Lonzo Ball has been starting for the Lakers and that will continue (the 1-3 pick-and-roll with Ball setting the pick for LeBron James was something Portland had no answer for). The challenge is depth beyond Ball, the Lakers don’t have another traditional point guard on the roster. Luke Walton said Brandon Ingram will play some at the point now.

Ball said he is up for the added responsibility.

 

Carmelo Anthony’s time with Rockets over, will be away from team but on roster

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You will not see Carmelo Anthony in Rockets’ red ever again.

This is not a huge surprise, he has been away from the team for three games now, ever since his 1-of-11 shooting disaster in Oklahoma City. Both sides have been ready to move on and that has become official.

“After much internal discussion, the Rockets will be parting ways with Carmelo Anthony and we are working toward a resolution,” Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey said in a statement. “Carmelo had a tremendous approach during his time with the Rockets and accepted every role head coach Mike D’Antoni gave him. The fit we envisioned when Carmelo chose to sign with the Rockets has not materialized, therefore we thought it was best to move on as any other outcome would have been unfair to him.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story and added some details.

The problem is there is not a good landing spot for Anthony around the league, so expect this to drag out (as I reported before would likely be the case). Anthony may not want to go to a rebuilding team, and even if he did why would a young squad such as the Kings or Hawks want to take the ball out of the hands of their young learning-on-the-fly playmakers to give those shots to Anthony? On the other end, Anthony just showed he isn’t going to readily accept a role and blend in with a contender. That doesn’t leave a lot of options, and while there were rumors about the Lakers, Heat, Pelicans, and others kicking the tires on bringing him in they each seem to have decided it’s not a great fit.

In 10 games for the Rockets this season coming off the bench, Anthony averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, shot just 40.5 percent overall and 32.8 percent from three, plus the Houston defense has been 10.4 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court. At this point in his career, that’s pretty much who Anthony is. Anthony wasn’t the root cause of the Rockets’ slow start to the season, but he wasn’t fixing any defensive or three-point shooting problems, either. At this point, Anthony is a bench/role player in the NBA but feels entitled to a larger role and more deference from teams. With all that, it could be a while before a team steps up to take a chance on ‘Melo.

Tracy McGrady: Carmelo Anthony should retire

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Carmelo Anthony seems done with the Rockets.

Where should the former star go next? Tracy McGrady has a recommendation.

McGrady:

I honestly think Melo should retire. I really do. I don’t want him to go through another situation like this, and people are just pouring negativity on this man’s legacy. I really think, because it hasn’t worked out the last two teams, just go ahead and — you have a Hall of Fame career — just go ahead and let it go.

For what it’s worth, McGrady talked about coming back in 2014. Maybe he retired too soon. However, he said he’d return only if a team made him its focal point.

Some stars transition well into being a role player. Vince Carter is a prime example.

Others don’t. Anthony seems to fit the latter category.

But that doesn’t mean he should retire.

Anthony shouldn’t worry about McGrady or anyone else struggling to watch him decline. If he wants to keep playing and an NBA team will sign him, Anthony should sign. He doesn’t owe it to us to ensure we feel comfortable with his career. It’s his career.

Besides, Anthony’s legacy will be defined by his time with the Knicks and Nuggets. These late years will be forgotten. McGrady is known for the Magic, Rockets and Raptors. Nobody remembers his time with the Knicks, Pistons, Hawks and Spurs. The Basketball Hall of Fame practically even said his time San Antonio didn’t count!

That said, it might not be Anthony’s call. Maybe there’s a team so desperate for a scoring backup power forward, it’d benefit despite Anthony’s ego and defensive deficiencies. But Anthony might just be finished.

If that’s what NBA teams collectively decide, that’s how it goes.

But whatever say Anthony say still has, he shouldn’t worry about McGrady or any of the many like-minded watchers.