Knicks look very much a contender out-scoring Thunder in OKC

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What do you want from your title contender?

A superstar to lead the team? How about Carmelo Anthony with 36 points and 12 rebounds — nine offensive? He took over the league’s scoring title race with that performance.

Toughness inside? How about 19 offensive rebounds on one end and your big center Tyson Chandler contesting shots in the paint at the end on the other? (And that was without Kenyon Martin or Amare Stoudemire.)

Three point shooting? How about 10 in the first half and 15-34 for the game”

Quality play off the bench? How about 54 points and 10 threes?

Sunday the Knicks went into Oklahoma City and checked off a lot of boxes on the contender card, beating the Thunder 125-120 in a one of the more entertaining games of the season. That would be a dozen wins in a row for the Knicks as they have found their groove before the playoffs.

If you believe playoff statements can be made in the regular season, the Knicks made one this week beating a depleted Heat and an at-full-strength Thunder.

When talking about the Knicks as contenders, the hesitation was simply are not a good defensive team. There was never any doubt they could score but can they get stops? This game certainly didn’t alleviate that concern but it showed the Knicks can overcome it. On the season their defense is average (15th in NBA in points per possession) but in their 10 games before this they were allowing 1.5 points per 100 possessions fewer, which has them 8th in the NBA in that stretch.

Meanwhile, the Thunder looked beatable. Again. They have two fantastic scorers in Russell Westbrook (37 points on 27 shots) and Kevin Durant (27 points on 17 shots), but their system has a little isolation heavy and that makes them easier to defend. The difference in ball movement between the two sides was stark — the Knicks rate up there with the Heat and Spurs as the teams really sharing the rock right now.

This game was what the Knicks look like when the three ball is falling — they can score in bunches. In the first half it was the long ball that carried the Knicks — 10 threes and a total of 65 points by the break.

The other part of that was their bench. Jason Kidd was 4-of-6 from three for the game, J.R. Smith had 22, and Chris Copeland exploited his matchup with Nick Collison in the first half (Collison isn’t quick enough to cover him on the perimeter and Scott Brooks stuck with that matchup for way longer than he should have).

This was a close game — 110-109 New York with 4 minutes left — and it was the Knicks that made plays down the stretch.

It was Anthony driving baseline again, missing and getting his own rebound again and scoring. It was Tyson Chandler contesting and forcing Durant to miss a floater. It was a J.R. Smith stepback 20 footer then a possession later a 26-foot three off a broken play.

The Thunder made plays also down the stretch — Westbrook in particular with a steal and bucket, then a key three — but it wasn’t enough. When the Knicks offense is clicking they can just outscore teams. That’s what they did.

It felt like a playoff game and the Knicks have won again. They look ready for the postseason in 10 days and like a team that can do a lot of damage when it starts.

Watch Toronto’s Danny Green hit game-winning shot over Magic (VIDEO)

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The Orlando Magic gave the Toronto Raptors a bit of a scare on Tuesday night. After a close game and a late lead by the best team in the East, it was the Magic who appeared ready to snd things to overtime.

As things came to a head at the end of the fourth quarter, both teams found themselves gunning for the win as time wound down. The Raptors were up by two points when they missed a 3-point attempt by Kyle Lowry with 12 seconds to go.

The Magic grabbed the rebound and quickly called timeout. That allowed Orlando to reset themselves, resulting in an Evan Fournier bucket with just 2.3 seconds to go and the teams tied, 91-91.

Enter Danny Green.

Via Twitter:

Green hit the clutch shot with less than a full second to go, and the Magic were unable to score on a long-distance heave.

Late shot by Green helped the Raptors win, 93-91. Toronto moved to 14-4 on the year as they sit solidly in first place. Orlando is currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

Report: Sixers rookie Zhaire Smith has lost 20 pounds since allergic reaction incident

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The Philadelphia 76ers are still dealing with the apparent allergic reaction that rookie Zhaire Smith had to some kind of food material in the team facility. The team already knew that Smith had a peanut allergy, but it was revealed later that he also had a sesame allergy.

We were originally expecting Smith to see the floor again sometime in December. But now it looks like that timeline has been pushed back. According to the Ringer, Smith has lost 20 pounds since his allergic incident, and it’s not clear whether he will return this season.

Via the Ringer:

Several reports stemming from the November 9 background briefing mentioned that Smith had “lost weight” over the past month and a half, but I was told that he lost “upward of 20 pounds.” For someone who’s listed at 199 pounds on the team website, that’s significant. As is the difference between Smith not playing in 2018, as reported, and “being in danger” of not playing at all this season, which is how it was explained to me. I was also told that he had more than one procedure to address the issue, which is evidently what the Sixers meant by the fuzzy “additional medical treatment” line. (The team had no comment, according to a spokesperson.)

The Sixers are a curious source of medical drama. Point guard Markelle Fultz apparently will be seeing a shoulder specialist to further diagnose whatever issue he is having with his shooting stroke.

Even still, Philadelphia sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and they just traded for Jimmy Butler. The NBA is a weird league, so having a Eastern Conference Finals-hopeful squad with these types of issues — I suppose — shouldn’t surprise us by now.

Kevin Love says he expects to return “sometime after the new year”

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Not that it really matters because this season is a lost cause anyway, but Kevin Love is going to be out longer than expected.

Love had surgery on an injured big toe on his left foot on Nov. 2 and the team said he could be back in six weeks, which would be mid-December. Love went on ESPN’s The Jump Tuesday and said expect it to be longer than that, more like January sometime.

“There’s just no telling at this time with the weight-bearing injury what it is going to be like moving forward, but I expect to be back sometime after the new year,” he said.

Love, who was expected to be the focal point of the Cavaliers’ offense, has played in just four games this season.

There has been a lot of speculation about Love as a trade chip but don’t expect anything serious along those lines until next summer. And maybe a year or two after that. Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension that kicks in next season, and considering Love’s injury history and the apparent slight decline in his play, good luck finding a team that wants to pay him $30 million a season for four seasons. Maybe, if Love comes back and looks like a force again, some team that strikes out next summer in free agency could get desperate and be open to a trade. But don’t bet on it.

Love is going to be in Cleveland for a while. Just not on the court until 2019.

Wizards players, coach try to play down last week’s practice blow up, say they’ve moved on

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It’s no secret the 5-11 Washington Wizards are a dumpster fire. A train wreck. The “Sherlock Gnomes” of 2018 movies. It’s so bad that GM Ernie Grunfeld is finally, belatedly, looking into breaking up the core.

It came to a head at a practice last week, one where everyone yelled at everyone, Bradley Beal told Grunfeld he’d been dealing with “this s*** for seven years” and John Wall dropped an F-bomb on coach Scott Brooks. Tuesday, before taking on a hot Clippers’ team, the Wizards tried to downplay everything and say they have moved on, as noted in the video above from NBC Sports Washington.

“I said some things that I regret,” Brooks said. “Our players said some things that they regret. And right after the practice, I had a conversation to hash things out, and everything was good. And then some of our players had some conversations, and they hashed things out, and everything was good.”

Everything was good… until the Wizards stepped on the court and lost a couple more games in a row. Things are clearly not good, but the team is trying to move on as best as it can.

“You see that we’re not winning. Everyone is frustrated. At the end of the day, we have to be able to communicate with each other so we can learn from it and try to build on things together,” Porter said. “That’s the only way we can start winning games, to rally with each other instead of against each other.”

That sounds good, we’ll see if they can execute it.