Carmelo Anthony admits his optimism is being tested. What about desire to stay in New York?

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With 26 games left to go in the season, the New York Knicks are 5.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the East. Let that sink in for a second. The eight seed Atlanta Hawks are on pace to win 39 games this season, to get there the Knicks need to go 18-8 the rest of the way.

It’s pretty hard to be optimistic if you’re a Knicks fan, especially after a loss to the Hawks this Saturday. Even if you are Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony has never missed the playoffs in 11 NBA seasons and was asked about possible missing the playoffs by Newsday:

“I can’t imagine what that’s like,” he said. “I’m not even trying to think about that at this point. We still got a lot of basketball to play.”

But Anthony admits his optimism is “definitely being tested” this season, and you wonder if his desire to stay with the Knicks is too.

Everything around the Knicks right now is about Anthony staying in New York.

At All-Star weekend Anthony said he would take less money to make the Knicks more competitive. Of course, if he’s taking less money he can do that by walking on to a Bulls team (after they amnesty Carlos Boozer) that is ready made to contend if Derrick Rose is healthy.

But Anthony wants to remain a Knicks.

“At the end of the day that’s my first priority, to stay,” Anthony said while meeting with the media in New Orleans All-Star weekend. “That’s my first priority. My priority is to figure it out, let’s figure it out together… My priority is not to just because I say I want to be a free agent, is to go leave. I never was a guy that comes into a situation and basically when it’s not going well to leave like that. That’s not my personality.”

But he also has to look at the Knicks roster and payroll situation and see that next season is going to look similar to this one — maybe they can make moves that shore up the perimeter defense and get the Knicks hitting threes again (two of the things missing from the 54-win team last year) but real improvement is not going to come until 2015 when the decks are cleared for some runs at free agents. Then, can the Knicks convince Rajon Rondo and/or Kevin Love to come?

It’s going to be an interesting summer for Carmelo Anthony. And each ugly Knicks loss makes it more interesting.

LeBron James passes Wilt Chamberlain for fifth on all-time scoring list

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LeBron James followed Wilt Chamberlain’s footsteps in establishing himself as a great player then joining the Lakers.

Now, LeBron has passed Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list.

LeBron scored 44 points in the Lakers’ win over the Trail Blazers on Wednesday to move ahead of Chamberlain for fifth in career points. LeBron now trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

The leaderboard:

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LeBron had his finest game with the Lakers on Wednesday, posting 44 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks in a 126-117 victory. He tried and failed to get a triple-double late, but he still got the win and an enhanced place in NBA history.

Next up for LeBron: Jordan, the only top-six all-time scorer who never played for the Lakers.

76ers lose Jimmy Butler’s, Timberwolves win Robert Covington’s and Dario Saric’s first games with new teams

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Jimmy Butler had 14 points in his Philadelphia debut, but the 76ers collapsed late and lost at Orlando, 111-106, after Terrence Ross hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 8.7 seconds left that helped the Magic finish off a big comeback Wednesday night.

Orlando scored 21 straight points in the fourth quarter, then held the 76ers without a field goal over the final 3 1/2 minutes.

Nikola Vucevic had 30 points for the Magic, including two free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining.

Joel Embiid finished with a triple-double of 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for the 76ers, who lost for the seventh time in nine road games. J.J. Redick led Philadelphia with 22 points but committed two turnovers in the final 31 seconds.

Butler played 33 minutes and shot 6 for 12 from the field. The four-time All-Star was acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade.

Meanwhile in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves improved to 2-0 since trading Butler with a 107-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points and 16 rebounds. Andrew Wiggins scored 23.

The game was Minnesota’s first with forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric. They were acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers along with injured guard Jerryd Bayless in exchange for the disgruntled Butler.

The trade was completed Monday, meaning Covington and Saric did not join their new teammates in time for the Timberwolves’ 120-113 victory over Brooklyn that night.

Covington started Wednesday, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He drained a pair of long, catch-and-shoot 3s in the third quarter as the Timberwolves were trying to hold off a Pelicans comeback.

E'Twaun Moore scored a season-high 31 and Anthony Davis had 29 points and 11 rebounds for the Pelicans, who had won three straight.

TIP-INS

76ers: Embiid made all three of his 3-pointers in the first 4:09 of the game. … Ben Simmons is 23 for 28 (.821) from the foul line at home, and 22 for 44 (.500) on the road.

Magic: F Jonathan Isaac played 16 minutes after missing six games with a sprained right ankle. … By winning for the fifth time in seven games, the Magic broke a four-game losing streak against the 76ers.

Pelicans: C Nikola Mirotic returned after missing two games with a right ankle sprain. He had 16 points and 10 boards. . Head coach Alvin Gentry said PG Elfrid Payton is close to returning from his own right ankle sprain, but he sat out his ninth straight game.

Timberwolves: The win was Minnesota’s fifth straight against New Orleans. . G Derrick Rose (left knee soreness) did not dress after playing 39 minutes in the win over Brooklyn on Monday. Rose is averaging 19.2 points and 4.8 assists per game this season. . Teague played for the second time in three days after missing six games with a bruised left knee.

UP NEXT

76ers: Home against Utah on Friday night.

Magic: Home against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.

Pelicans: Host the New York Knicks on Friday night.

Timberwolves: Host the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.

PBT Extra: Philadelphia has Jimmy Butler. Now what?

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Not long after the trade sending Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia was announced, there were some Sixers fans were on Twitter planning the championship parade route.

Reality, of course, is never quite so simple. The Orlando Magic made that clear knocking off Philadelphia in Butler’s debut.

What should we expect from these Sixers now? I get into it in this latest PBT Extra. Expect exceptional defense. However, are the big three of Buter/Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons willing to make the sacrifices necessary to their game to win at the highest level? We will see.

Reggie Bullock game-winner gives Pistons coach Dwane Casey victory in return to Toronto

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Revenge is a dish best served with two seconds left in a tie game.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey – certainly not thrilled with the Raptors firing him earlier this year – guided his new team to a 106-104 win in his return to Toronto tonight. Detroit erased a 19-point second-half deficit and got the ball with two seconds left, giving Casey and Reggie Bullock chances to shine.

Casey drew up a great play, an alley-oop to Glenn Robinson III. But Pascal Siakam made an even better play to knock the ball out of bounds.

The Pistons’ second play of the possession proved even more effective, as Bullock slipped toward the rim and hit the game-winner.

What a satisfying victory for Casey.