Spurs go ice cold, Knicks win big at home

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Against a San Antonio Spurs frontcourt that features two incredibly productive 7-footers in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson had no choice but to go big. It was finally time to provide the answer to all the questions the New York media has been pestering him with. It was time to dust off a player who hasn’t started a game all season. It was time to turn to a guy the Madison Square Garden crowd has a long-standing relationship with. Woodson had to go with…

Marcus Camby.

You weren’t expecting someone else, were you? With all the fuss over who starts and who sits, Woodson played the matchups with 38-year-old Marcus Camby, having Amare Stoudemire come off the bench and shake off the rust in his second game back.

And guess what? It worked beautifully, as the Knicks went big and won big in a 100-83 victory that snapped San Antonio’s seven-game winning streak.

Camby may actually be made of rust at this point, but the guy knows how to defend the basket. Wall him up next to Tyson Chandler, and that’s length that can block out the sun. Although the Knicks offense was a bit gummy with some spacing issues, the defense completely shut down all paths to the basket. Everything was pushed outside, and the Spurs gladly drifted there. As a near 40 percent 3-point shooting team on the year, it didn’t take much convincing.

Problem was, the Spurs couldn’t hit a shot. With absolutely noting falling from the perimeter (9-for-34, 26.5 percent), the Spurs were stymied offensively. But more importantly, on a night they scored just 83 points, only 12 of those came in the paint.

That a really impressive number for the Knicks’ 20th ranked defense. Although the Spurs got quite a few open looks on the perimeter (if you don’t count waitress defense), going with more size shut down any post game from San Antonio. Every trip down for the Spurs seemed to be one-and-done, as they collected a paltry seven offensive rebounds despite all the misses. In an incredibly half court oriented, slow-paced game, the Spurs were deprived of any easy chances at the rim almost entirely.

While Camby, Stoudemire and Chandler may have scored only 22 points in a combined 69 minutes, the beauty of the Knicks roster is that there are very, very defined roles for each player. J.R. Smith (20 points) came in and gave a big boost as a slasher, Pablo Prigioni did an excellent job running the pick-and-roll (9 assists) and creating turnovers, and the Knicks still functioned reasonably well as an offensive unit, even with Carmelo Anthony (23 points) spending a decent amount of time on the perimeter.

Where the game completely turned, however, was when the Knicks went small to start the fourth quarter. It was like the Spurs were playing an entirely different team. Already leading by 9, the Knicks rattled off a 15-2 run that included two Steve Novak 3-pointers to really put the game on ice. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich responded by pulling all his starters, something you get the impression he might have wanted to do anyway with the Spurs playing their fourth game in five nights.

Outside of tonight’s big win, it’s an interesting exercise to look at the Knicks in the scope of a title contender. They play about as well at home as any team in the league. They can shoot themselves into any game. They have a star who can control a game late.

But the big question, of course, is that 20th ranked defense. That’s just not the trait of a title contender, despite everything else that may point you there. There is an awful lot of data that shows you that top-10 defenses in efficiency are the only teams that go on to play for the title. Sometimes the 11th or 12th ranked defense will sneak in, but never the 20th. While it’s hard to imagine Stoudemire helping at all defensively, but Woodson has shown the ability to play matchups pretty well. That may not be enough to allow Jason Kidd to stay with lightning quick guards, for example, but scheme can often hide personnel.

And as the Spurs can attest to tonight, manufacturing and making open threes can do an awful lot for you as well — no matter whether you’re big or small.

Dallas who? Yogi Ferrell reportedly quickly agrees to new contract with Sacramento

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Yogi Ferrell has been a solid backup point guard for the Mavericks the past couple of years, and this summer he wanted to re-sign with them — but he did so on a bad contract for him. He didn’t take the one-year qualifying offer for $2.9 million on the table, instead agreeing to a $2.5 million contract with a team option for $2.7 million the next year — he took less money and gave Dallas all the power.

Ferrell backed out of that deal — not a good look, even if it was the right move for him.

Quickly, he found a better one with the Sacramento Kings, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

That’s more money, but we do not yet know if the second year is fully guaranteed.

In Sacramento, Ferrell will come off the bench behind De'Aaron Fox at the point, and he should get plenty of run. Guys like Buddy Hield will love playing with him, and Ferrell is not big, but he is durable (he played all 82 games last season in Dallas).

This is a solid signing by the Kings, and for Ferrell it appears to be a better deal.

Dallas has had more than one player back out of a deal with them. It’s unlucky.

New 76ers big Mike Muscala in February: I don’t like the 76ers because they, especially Joel Embiid, talk a lot of trash

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The 76ers are trading for the Hawks’ Mike Muscala, which makes sense on multiple levels.

1. Philadelphia wanted a stretch four after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal.

2. Muscala, on an expiring contract, carries no long-term drawbacks.

3. Because Muscala can also play center, that allowed the 76ers to dump Richaun Holmes and clear a roster spot for Jonah Bolden.

But Muscala might have to answer for these February comments about Philadelphia and Joel Embiid.

Muscala on the Road Trippin’ podcast (hat tip: Jeff McMenamin):

I don’t like the Sixers.

I just don’t like them. I just feel like they talk a lot of s—, especially Embiid.

I understand there’s going to be some trash-talking. But I just feel like – I don’t know. Sometimes, I just – I respect players that just let their play do the talking. And I think sometimes, it just gets excessive, especially with Embiid.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the league. I think it’s entertaining, and I think people can feed off of that. In a weird way, I respect him for being to do that, because it takes a lot of guts and confidence, at the same time.

This is a deal, but it’s not necessarily a big deal. The NBA has a long history of players clashing as opponents then meshing as teammates.

The biggest difference here is Muscala’s comments were public.

Sometimes, it takes a conversation to clear the air. Occasionally, the grudge lingers. But usually, this is just dismissed as just the byproduct of competition and moved past.

I doubt Embiid – who, for what it’s worth, is an excessive trash-talker – holds this against Muscala, save maybe a few jokes. I’m even more confident Muscala isn’t joining Philadelphia loudly espousing his anti-trash-talk stance.

Besides, trash-talking is way more fun when on a winner like the 76ers rather than a loser like the Hawks.

Report: After deal with Warriors leaked, opposing players called DeMarcus Cousins about reneging

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DeMarcus Cousins agreeing to sign with the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA.

But a few astute players noticed he hadn’t yet put pen to paper.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

As soon as word leaked that Cousins was Bay Area-bound, players around the league began calling him to gauge his mindset, and some even attempted to influence him to change his mind.

Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was one of the players who wanted to know what was going on.

“Shout out to my dog CJ,” Cousins said with a laugh. “I mean, it’s funny of course. But me and CJ have that type of relationship where we rap about all that type of stuff. In a way he was congratulating me, but at the same time he was dead serious [about what I was going to do]. But at the end of the day, I think he understood my situation and kind of where my mindset was with the whole situation. That’s my dog for sure.”

To be fair, it’s unclear whether C.J. McCollum encouraged Cousins to sign with the Trail Blazers.

I find this especially interesting as players are lining up to criticize the Raptors for their handling of DeMar DeRozan. Apparently, not all players find verbal agreements binding. Yogi Ferrell and Nemanja Bjelica clearly don’t, and I doubt only those two called Cousins about backing out with the Warriors.

Everyone is trying to get an edge, and people’s boundaries differ. I believe in honesty as a mandate, but I’m perfectly fine with misleading people and hiding behind technicalities in these situations. To some, I go too far. To others, I don’t go far enough. It can get messy when our ethical boundaries don’t neatly align.

Cousins upheld his pledge, maybe because he believes in standing by his word – but at least because he probably still viewed the Warriors as his best option. Which is mostly the point. The easiest way to remain honest in these situations is having a thorough understanding of all relevant factors before promising to sign somewhere.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri apologizes to DeMar DeRozan for ‘maybe a gap of miscommunication’

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DeMar DeRozan has made his stance clear: The Raptors lied to him before trading him to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.

Today, Raptors president Masai Ujiri explained himself.

Eric Koreen of The Athletic:

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

Ujiri should have not have lied to DeRozan. If he did, Ujiri should face immense criticism for it.

But I don’t know whether Ujiri lied and am definitely not assuming he did.

He didn’t necessarily owe it to DeRozan to explain exactly where negotiations with San Antonio stood. If Ujiri said he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan and truly meant that but was also trying to trade DeRozan, saying he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan wouldn’t have been a lie.

There’s no point in upsetting a player you might keep – as long as it doesn’t require dishonesty. I’m OK with misleading technicalities. That’s on players and agents to decipher.

As Ujiri said, his job is to win. That’s sometimes a messy and upsetting process.

There is some room for kindness, but it’s often at times like this – after the player is traded. I believe Ujiri went out of his way today to praise and try to placate the likable DeRozan. That’s why I don’t take Ujiri’s apology as an admission of wrongdoing. Better just to be nice now.

A couple weeks ago, Ujiri’s role was different. He was trying to negotiate a high-stakes trade, not please a potentially outgoing player.

As long as Ujiri did so honestly, I’m OK with that.