Knicks coach Woodson blames Beno Udrih for ill-advised three-pointer from J.R. Smith

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For the second time this season, a member of the New York Knicks launched a shot late in the game that showed no regard for how much time was remaining, the score, or the game’s overall situation. And the team’s head coach, Mike Woodson, wants to pin at least part of the blame for this most basic of mistakes on someone other than the shooter.

The play unfolded like this: The Knicks were tied with the Rockets with under a minute remaining, and New York inbounded the ball with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. After a miss from Beno Udrih, an offensive rebound from Tyson Chandler and a reset of the offense, Udrih got it back and kicked it to J.R. Smith at the top of the three-point arc with 21 seconds left.

What’s supposed to happen, here, is that Smith holds for the game’s final shot, where the worst case scenario is a miss that sends it into overtime. But Smith immediately launched a three, similar to what Andrea Bargnani did a few weeks earlier in Milwaukee.

Smith was happy to take the blame afterward, posting to his Twitter account that any “slander” directed at him for the error was indeed well-deserved. But Woodson felt others should share in the responsibility for Smith’s mistake, and said as much at his team’s shootaround on Sunday.

From Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

When Woodson was asked about it on Sunday he said: “Again, I’ve been around this a long time and you think you’ve seen it all and something creeps in throughout the course of a ballgame and you shake your head and say ‘wow.’ But it happens. It happens in all sports no matter what level it is. Unfortunately, he went blank. What are you going to do? You can’t go back and get it.” …

“The bottom line is you look at his shot but did Beno have to throw him the ball?” Woodson added. “You gotta look at that.”

The implication is that Udrih, as the point guard, should have known to hold the ball for one shot as opposed to passing to a wide open player in position to shoot. On the Knicks last possession, Udrih missed a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer.

This, quite honestly, is completely ridiculous. But in the dynamic the Knicks have created in the Woodson-Smith pairing, it was almost a predictable response.

Smith is believed to be a fragile talent that needs to be coddled to a certain extent to gain maximum results, and Woodson to his credit has had a knack for doing so, seeing J.R. play himself into a Sixth Man of the Year award last season.

But while Udrih certainly has his issues, passing the ball to an open teammate in an end-of-game situation isn’t one of them. Smith should have known the score, and this gaffe is all on him no matter how Woodson has chosen to spin it in the days that have followed.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”