Knicks continue recent strong play with win over Heat

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NEW YORK — The Knicks got their third straight victory and fourth in five games by taking care of the Heat 102-92 on Thursday, and while everyone on both sides pointed to New York’s defense as the reason behind their success on this night, offensively it was as simple as the team finally knocking down some shots.

“We’re starting to figure it out defensively a little bit,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said. “I felt our traps and rotations were pretty good. And then when we had to switch, guys set down and really took it upon themselves to try to keep the ball in front and not give up plays at the rim. I thought that was the difference tonight.”

“A lot of late rotations, loose balls and offensive rebounds kind of broke the momentum,” Erik Spoelstra said outside the visitors’ locker room afterward. “Offensively, we were not really up to our game in terms of moving the ball, trusting the pass. We were more stagnant than normal and that hurts.”

It’s tough to trust the pass when there were so many errant ones being fired all over the place. Miami appeared to be out of sync all night long, but it’s unclear just how much of that had to do with what the Knicks were doing. It’s true New York limited switching and kept players in front of them for the most part, but the Heat were out of sorts, and had far more than their usual share of sloppy and disjointed possessions.

The Heat were far from shut down by the Knicks defense in the second half; they shot 54.5 percent from the field and committed just seven turnovers over the final two periods. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 52 points on 23-of-32 shooting, often getting into the paint seemingly at will.

But they simply couldn’t stop the Knicks.

Carmelo Anthony was matched up with James most of the night, and overcame a slow 6-of-16 start to finish the game by hitting six of his last eight shots. The Knicks as a team shot 63.2 percent from the field over the final 24 minutes, and hit eight of their 14 second-half attempts from three-point distance.

“They did a good job of junking it up,” Chris Bosh said. “A lot of switches. It took us a while to figure out, I don’t think we ever really got into a good rhythm offensively. There weren’t many plays that we could go back to. It was tough, and I mean, we’re not going to play well offensively every night, but that’s when our defense really has to keep us in the game.”

And it didn’t.

The Knicks were without several of their normal rotation players, but the team is beginning to hit its stride nonetheless. Tyson Chandler was unavailable due to an upper respiratory infection, Beno Udrih missed the game due to a knee injury, and then there was J.R. Smith, who was benched by Woodson after his consecutive games with shoe-untying antics got him fined $50,000 by the league office.

Woodson refused to address the Smith situation at all before the game, and stuck to those non-responses afterward even after Smith’s DNP-CD that came as a surprise.

“Not gonna comment on that, on J.R.,” Woodson said. “Just talk about the game.”

“It was a joke, but a joke gone wrong,” Smith said afterward, and also mentioned that he came to the arena fully expecting to play, and hadn’t had a conversation with Woodson at any point about his status.

The players who did produce, however, did so at a higher level than usual, especially offensively. Still, the way the Miami offense appeared to be so extraordinarily out of control had the Heat searching for answers, which kept coming back to crediting the New York defense.

“They did a good job of switching everything and keeping bodies in front of us,” James said. “For the most part, it worked.”

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.

Magic reveal orange uniforms

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It’s already difficult enough to flip on an NBA game and quickly determine which team is which. The home team could be wearing any color, so the same is true of road teams. Each team has had so many alternate jerseys in recent years. It’s disorienting.

Now, the Magic – whose primary colors have always been and remain blue, black, white and gray – might be wearing orange?

At least Orlando, because of the fruit (and, I guess, if you want to stretch it, sunshine), has a real connection to orange. That’s why these are the “orange uniforms,” even though they’re mostly gray.

I just beg of the powers that be: Please don’t have the Magic wear these against the Suns. I’ll never figure out which team is which.