John Wall looks like All-Star, Knicks look like the Knicks, Wizards cruise to win

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For Wizards fans, early Christmas afternoon was a chance to bask in the warmth of John Wall’s improved game and have dreams of playoff wins dance in their heads.

For Knicks fans, it was pretty much a lump of coal.

In the first of a five-game slate on Christmas Day the Wizards raced out to a first quarter lead and put it in cruise control much of the afternoon, leading by double digits almost the entire game, as the Wizards basically embarrassed the Knicks winning 102-91.

Wall was the star for the Knicks — he had nine points and six assists in first quarter, leading the Wizards to put up 34-points in the first 12 minutes. That’s he most they have scored in the first quarter all season. The Wizards were up by 11 after the first quarter and never were threatened again.

Wall finished with 24 points, 11 assists and six rebounds and was just orchestrating the game. Plus he was doing things like this.

The real noise in the game came in the fourth quarter when Wall took a hard foul from Quincy Acy in transition — Wall bounced up and shoved Acy, something he admitted after the game he shouldn’t have done. Acy came back at him and basically tried to throw a punch — which he pulled, it didn’t land, but the damage was done. Acy was ejected and it he can expect to miss another game or two for the suspension that will come.

“Me being a key player I’ve got to keep my emotions in check and not get a technical or get ejected, that could have cost us the game,” Wall said in a televised interview on ESPN afterward. “I’ve just got to do a better job of staying composed.”

Washington showed it’s usual balanced attack with good ball movement — Bradley Beal had 17 points, Kris Humphries had 14 (and beat Amare Stoudemire off the dribble a couple times), Nene had 12, Rasual Butler 11. The Wizards got 50 of their points in the paint and basically did whatever they wanted on offense.

The Knicks slogged on offense, there was very little ball movement and that led to Carmelo Anthony getting 34 points, mostly from the perimeter and mostly contested — 21 of Anthony’s 28 shots were contested, he hit 11 of those.

The Knicks have lost 16-of-17 and it showed just how far this roster is from the top teams in the East (and the Wizards are a top team, a potential Eastern Conference Finals participant). They don’t defend, they don’t share the ball, they don’t play good team basketball, and Derek Fisher can’t seem to motivate the troops. The Knicks are just a mess.

But things will get better next year, Phil Jackson promises. For now, just use the lump of coal to keep warm.

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.