Carmelo Anthony leads Knicks to complete destruction of the Lakers

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There were some who wondered whether the Lakers had hit rock bottom after losing in Cleveland to the 5-18 Cavaliers on Tuesday.

The answer? Nope.

Rock bottom officially came on Thursday in New York, where the Knicks absolutely destroyed L.A., leading by as many as 26 points on the way to a 116-107 victory, which dropped the Lakers to 9-14 on the season.

The reasons for this loss being as bad as any the Lakers have suffered this season are many, but it really boils down to the fact that the Knicks are a team playing like everything that L.A. aspired to be.

New York is a deadly offensive machine, one that plays together as a cohesive unit for the only result that matters, and that’s winning basketball games.

There’s a confidence and assertiveness in the Knicks’ game that we’ve only seen in brief stretches from these Lakers this season, and having it used against L.A. to blow them out in front of a national television audience, while showing the team just how far they have to go to reach the elite level that some teams, including the Knicks, have already reached at this early point in the season, will make this loss sting more than most.

The most disheartening thing for the Lakers might just be the fact that this game was essentially over as soon as it got started.

The Knicks lead the league in made three-point attempts per game by a relatively wide margin, so it doesn’t take a genius to decide to focus your defense on stopping New York from beating you from the outside. In fact, common sense would dictate that for the struggling Lakers to even have a chance at beating the team at the top of the Eastern Conference standings on its home floor, eliminating the momentum-swinging, game-changing shots from distance should be at the top of the defensive priority list.

The first two baskets made by the Knicks on the night? Wide open three-pointers, courtesy of Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks’ leading scorer had his way in the first quarter against the Lakers, largely due to L.A.’s poor defensive effort and rotations, but equally due to Anthony’s prior relationship with Mike D’Antoni.

Anthony had something personal to prove on this night, and the Lakers should have known better.

Instead, they let Anthony carve up their defense at will, while scoring 22 first-quarter points, on 8-of-9 shooting, including making all three of his attempts from three-point distance.

By the time Anthony was finished, the game had already been decided.

The Knicks put up 41 points by the time the first quarter had ended, while shooting almost 74 percent from the field in the process. New York led by 14 when all was said and done, and was never truly threatened the rest of the way.

Kobe Bryant tried to keep pace, and did so for a bit with 13 first quarter points of his own. But as is always the case in these types of games, when the Lakers act like they don’t know what they want to do offensively, Bryant takes complete control to try to make things happen.

There was plenty of hesitation from Bryant’s supporting cast, with a lack of sharp off-ball movement being the most glaring issue, and without players making moves to create space, or cutting with purpose to predetermined spots, the offense stagnated on more possessions than it did not.

Anthony finished with 30 points in just under 22 minutes of action, and was forced to sit out the bulk of the second half after suffering an ankle sprain. Word is that it isn’t anything serious, but with the game so out of hand, even with the Lakers getting within seven at one point, there was no reason to risk it.

It’s worth reminding that the Lakers were once again without Pau Gasol, and are still without Steve Nash. The horrific Darius Morris experiment at the starting point guard position was mercifully halted, at least for one night, while Chris Duhon got the start with Morris getting the DNP-CD.

But reserve big man Robert Sacre got some minutes, and Devin Ebanks played almost 34 of them, which further shows just how depleted this so-called team of superstars truly is at this stage of the season.

The Knicks keep on winning, but for the Lakers, it was the team’s sixth loss in its last seven games. The effort defensively is what’s most troubling, followed by the fact that offensively, Bryant will simply take matters into his own hands while abandoning the system entirely once he believes his teammates aren’t capable of providing the necessary support on a given night.

This was indeed rock bottom for these Lakers, given the quality of a Knicks opponent showcasing its talents against a team that was favored by many to be a championship contender. How long it takes for them to dig out of this hole, or whether they can do so at all, remains to be seen.

Timberwolves win first road game in 52 days, top Heat (video)

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MIAMI — Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with just under nine seconds left put Minnesota ahead for good, D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 27 points and the Timberwolves added to Miami’s late-season stagger by beating the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday night.

Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Juancho Hernangomez tied a season-high with 17 and McLaughlin added 13 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves were down by 12 with 3:59 left, then closed on a 20-5 run to get just their second victory in 20 games.

Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with 13.8 seconds left put Miami up 126-125, but McLaughlin’s layup on the next Minnesota possession put the Timberwolves on top to stay. Butler’s layup with 3.2 seconds left got blocked by Russell, and the Wolves held on.

Minnesota snapped a nine-game road losing streak, getting its first road victory since beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 5.

Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 24 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Butler — back after a two-game absence for personal reasons — had 18 for Miami. The Heat fell to 23-4 at home and have dropped seven of their last nine overall.

The Heat stayed a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia lost in Cleveland earlier Wednesday, a game where 76ers star Joel Embiid departed early because of a shoulder injury.

The Heat have had major trouble closing games of late — a 22-point lead late in the third quarter against Cleveland on Monday was frittered away in what probably was the worst loss of the season, until now anyway — and a long film session and meeting on Tuesday clearly didn’t solve the issue.

They were up 121-109 with 3:59 left, and 123-112 after a layup by Butler 24 seconds later.

And Minnesota — a team that came into the night with one win in a span of 48 days — still wasn’t finished off. The Timberwolves scored the next 11 points to tie the game, getting five of those points from Beasley and a tying free throw from McLaughlin with 46 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Minnesota’s 27 attempts from 3-point range in the first two quarters was a first-half franchise record. … The Wolves are 4-0 in road games against Southeast Division teams this season, and 6-19 in all other road contests.

Heat: Adebayo played through a sprained right ankle, pushing his consecutive-game streak to 144 — extending the fourth-longest such streak in team history. … Goran Dragic’s first basket was a 3-pointer, and that pushed him one point past Grant Long (5,473) for 10th on the Heat career scoring list. … Nunn got his third consecutive rookie of the month trophy in a brief halftime ceremony.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Wednesday marked James Johnson’s first game back in Miami since the trade that sent him to Minnesota earlier this month, a move that sent Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami from Memphis. “I think Minnesota is seeing what kind of versatility he can bring to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LOOKING AHEAD

A large contingent of fans from Slovenia were in attendance Wednesday — and more are coming Friday, when the Heat play host to the Dallas Mavericks. At last season’s Dallas-at-Miami game, more than 2,000 Slovenians were in attendance to watch their nation’s two best NBA players, Dragic and Dallas star Luka Doncic, go head-to-head.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At Orlando on Friday night.

Heat: Host Dallas on Friday night.

Trae Young blocks 7-foot Mo Bamba at rim (video)

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Trae Young might be the NBA’s worst defender.

He’s small (6-foot-1 with a 6-foot-3 wingspan). His athleticism is far from imposing. He also carries a massive load for the Hawks offensively, leaving little energy for defense.

But he still blocked 7-foot Magic center Mo Bamba at the rim.

Not a great moment for Bamba.

Joel Embiid leaves 76ers game with shoulder injury (video)

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Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons?

The debate has gained attention this season after the 76ers spent years retooling around their stars. The answer clearly isn’t neither. But that’s what Philadelphia now faces.

With Simmons already injured, Embiid got hurt in the 76ers’ game against the Cavaliers tonight.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Losing Embiid for an extended period would be a huge blow to Philadelphia, especially with Simmons already out. The 76ers (fifth place, half a game out of fourth) are right on the edge of getting home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Embiid had been playing so well lately. This is an especially tough time for a setback.

At least Philadelphia has depth to cope. Al Horford can easily slide from power forward to center. Tobias Harris might be better off at power forward than small forward, anyway. This is where Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks, acquired just before the trade deadline, come in handy as additional wing options. Kyle O'Quinn can also play behind Horford.

But the loss of talent is the biggest development, and there’s no overcoming that until Embiid and Simmons get healthy.

Zach LaVine: Trash talk directed at Dennis Schroder, not Bulls coach Jim Boylen

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During the Bulls’ loss to the Thunder yesterday, Zach LaVine appeared to say, “I have f—ing 40 points!”

Many assumed LaVine was snapping at Chicago coach Jim Boylen. But LaVine clarified his target was Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder.

Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

I take LaVine at his word.

Want to make a case LaVine dislikes Boylen? You’ll just have to point to all the other evidence.