Mike D’Antoni says Carmelo Anthony is having an MVP season

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LOS ANGELES — Mike D’Antoni coached Carmelo Anthony for parts of each of the last two seasons while owning the head coaching job with the New York Knicks, so he knows as well as anyone how much Anthony can dominate a game at times.

Part of the reason D’Antoni ended up resigning as Knicks head coach, however, was due to an inability to coexist with one of his star players, and find a way to properly utilize his skill set within the team’s offensive system.

Anthony has made a leap in his abilities this season, and has helped lead the Knicks to a record that now stands at 20-8, just percentage points back of the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Before the Lakers faced the Knicks on Christmas Day, D’Antoni was asked to give his thoughts on Anthony this year, and the Lakers head coach said he believed his former player was having an MVP season.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said, when asked if Anthony should be in the MVP conversation. “They’re one of the top teams, and he’s definitely a big reason why they’re there so yeah, you’d have to talk about him.”

When asked who else he thought should be considered, D’Antoni went with some other obvious choices.

“Durant’s always there, LeBron’s always there,” he said. “I think you have to be one of the top three or four records. Right now somebody’s probably slipping by, but I would say those are the names.”

The name that was “slipping by,” obviously, was that of his own star player, Kobe Bryant.

Bryant leads the league in scoring at 29.9 points per game, but D’Antoni knows that his team would have to show measurable improvement for Bryant to even be considered this season.

“Well, if we can get up to where we need to get up to,” he said, referring to the Lakers slow 14-14 start after being reminded that Bryant’s name was noticeably absent from his list. “But we’ve got to get up there. I don’t think you can put anybody [as] MVP when you’re below .500. That just doesn’t work.”

L.A. is now exactly at .500, after a 34-point performance from Bryant helped lead the Lakers to a 100-94 win over Anthony’s Knicks on Christmas Day.

Russell Westbrook wears Craig Sager-inspired Jordan 1s

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The second anniversary of the death of NBA broadcasting legend Craig Sager is on Dec. 15 of this year, a span that has seemed too quick for those of us who grew up watching the colorful sideline reporter.

Sager passed in 2016 due to complications from leukemia, and the outpouring in his memory since from those around the NBA has been significant. While Sager is no longer with us, his memory lives on.

Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook pay tribute to Sager’s memory with a pair of custom Air Jordan 1s inspired by Sager’s famous sideline attire.

Via Twitter:

Sager was known for wearing crazy patterns, everything from hounds tooth to polka dost to tartan. I think Westbrook’s shoes paid fitting homage to Sager’s sartorial flair.

Perhaps Jordan would be willing to join forces and put the shoes on the market to benefit the Sager Strong Foundation? I’m sure these would sell well and come at a premium.

Karl-Anthony Towns misses free throw as Mavs fans chant ‘Jimmy Butler’

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Jimmy Butler is still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, largely for reasons that are beyond the capacity of most rational NBA fans.

Butler continues to play with a team as they enter the beginning part of the season, although owner Glen Taylor and his front office are professing to still be looking for a suitable trade partner.

Meanwhile, the tension between Butler and teammates Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns must be palpable. It certainly has affected Towns at least in one way, as the Timberwolves big man missed a free throw after Dallas Mavericks fans chanted Butler’s name during one of Towns’ trips to the line

Via Twitter:

It’s hard to say whether Towns missed that free throw simply because of the chance or because sometimes guys miss free throws. Towns is an 84 percent shooter from the charity stripe, so you’d expect him to miss one once in a while.

Things continue to be weird in Minnesota, and this odd homeostasis can’t last for long.

Video appears to show Rajon Rondo spitting at Chris Paul

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Did Rajon Rondo spit on Chris Paul?

That’s the question everyone’s asking after Saturday night’s big brouhaha between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets which led to several objections and coming suspensions from the league office.

Various angles have been analyzed at length on social media, and indeed it was always apparent the NBA viewing public-at-large would get to the bottom of things. Around 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, we came to our logical endpoint.

Thanks to this new video, it does appear that Rondo spit at Paul.

Via Twitter:

The NBA league office is still reviewing the tape, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski they appear to have the clip in question in hand.

There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to the coming suspensions. First, how much Brandon Ingram will be penalized for instigating the entire thing with his shove in the back of James Harden. Ingram also came in with a flying punch to Paul’s face that might be looked at a bit more severely.

Second, both Paul and Rondo landed punches, but if Rondo indeed did spit on his competitor that’s a level of disrespect — not to mention responsibility for making the first move against Paul — that might get him a tougher sentence.

We haven’t seen a real fight in the NBA in some time, where actual punches were landed and things got more serious than just guys running between tunnels underneath Staples Center. How the league punishes these guys this early in the season will dictate to us in the future how they feel about this kind of tension spilling over into violence.

Check out Nikola Jokick’s perfect shooting triple-double

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Phoenix star rookie Deandre Ayton, welcome to the NBA. Please try to guard Denver’s Nikola Jokic in your second game.

That didn’t go well. Jokic finished with a triple-double of 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. However, it’s how he got there that was impressive: 11-of-11 from the field shooting, 10-of-11 from the free throw line, zero turnovers, four steals, and he threw in a blocked shot for good measure.

Jokic was +29 on the night and the Nuggets won 119-91. Denver is 2-0 to start the season.