Jeremy Lin loves New York, Knicks weak transition defense. Rockets cruise to win.

22 Comments

The obvious line is easy — Jeremy Lin has always been at his best when playing in Madison Square Garden with Carmelo Anthony out.

The reality is that Jeremy Lin and his Rocket teammates are perfectly suited to expose some of the Knicks weaknesses. And some new troubling Knicks trends.

The result was Lin, James Harden and the rest of an aggressive Rockets team ran right past the Knicks, exposed their transition defense, attacked the paint and eventually handed the Knicks their first home loss of the season. Easily. The final 109-96 score made the game look closer than it was.

Lin had 22 points, 8 assists and pushed the tempo early (he had 16 and 4 of those final numbers in the first half) and was key for the Rockets to pull away from New York in the second quarter. Lin had one of his best games of the season. James Harden chipped in 28. Carlos Delfino 16 off the bench on 4-of-7 from three.

On one hand, the Knicks can write this game off. Forget it. Flush it. No Carmelo Anthony (out with an ankle injury still), no Rasheed Wallace, no Marcus Camby. Just call it an off night and move on.

But there are a few things that the Knicks should take notice out of this.

One is transition defense — New York came into this game 27th in the NBA in points per possession allowed to the other team in transition. Which is a bad matchup with the Rockets who play at the NBA’s fastest pace (99.6 possessions per game, nearly two faster than second place Dallas).

The result was, just as did their first meeting, this game felt like a 1980s throwback where the fast teams ran on everything — makes, misses, turnovers whatever. It worked for the Rockets at first as they started out 7-of-10 shooting because they attacked in transition — 16 of their first 17 points came in the paint. Houston pushed out to a nine-point lead in a signs of things to come.

But two things turned it around for a stretch — the Knicks played a spurt of better transition defense, and more importantly J.R. Smith shot 5-of-5 in the quarter off the bench and had 12 points. It was 31-29 Knicks after one quarter, one where the Knicks shot 63.3 percent themselves. It felt like we were in store for another shootout between these teams.

But the Knicks start second quarter 0-of-6, they couldn’t sustain an offensive surge without Anthony.

Meanwhile the Rockets just kept attacking — 30 or Rockets first 42 points came in the paint. They pushed lead out to 45-34. Jason Kidd was on Harden for a while and that didn’t work for New York and the lead grew. It was 56-42 Rockets at the half, Lin and Harden each with 16 on a combined 11-18 shooting with six assists. By the end of the third quarter it was a 23-point Rocket lead.

This off night defensively was not some out of the blue fluke by the Knicks — they came into this having allowed 110.2 points per 100 possessions in their last five games (via NBA.com stats). That is 26th in the NBA over that stretch and well off their 102.6 season average.

The Knicks have not played great defense of late and the Rockets exposed it. This is the kind of thing you expect Mike Woodson and Tyson Chandler to work to fix in the coming weeks. Not let it grow, not let bad habits develop.

Knicks fans looking for a bright spot, there was 29 points on 19 shots and a lot of hustle from Chris Copleland. J.R. Smith finished with 17, Chandler had 14 rebounds.

For the Rockets, maybe this is a step forward for Lin, who has struggled this season. He did well when he was paired with Harden in this game and he attacked. Of course, the Rockets went on a 16-3 run when it was just Lin on the court in the second quarter, no Harden. But baby steps, this was better than it had been.

Or maybe Lin just plays his best in the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
1 Comment

The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
1 Comment

Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

AP Photo/Nick Wass
3 Comments

Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
6 Comments

In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.