Like Melo’s botched dunk, Knicks tried to rise but fell flat

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NEW YORK  — Even Carmelo Anthony laughed at his muffed stuff, when he didn’t jump high enough on his dunk attempt, slammed the ball into the rim and tumbled backward to the foul line.

Not so funny for Anthony and the Knicks is how perfectly Tuesday’s blooper summed up their season.

They tried to climb high and instead fell flat on their backs.

Another season has gone from hopeful to hopeless in a New York minute, as the Knicks have dropped out of realistic playoff contention by losing 15 of 18. They looked like one of the NBA’s most improved teams when they were 22-22, and now they just look like one of the worst.

“Everything just shifted all of a sudden,” Anthony said following a 104-85 loss to Portland.

And it happened so quickly, so unexpectedly that Anthony said this season is even tougher than last, when the Knicks finished with a franchise-worst 17-65 record.

Back then, they knew they were building from the bottom. This time, they thought they had escaped it.

“We looked a while back – not even a while back, a couple of weeks ago – and we sat in the locker room, and we were I think a game (behind) or even tied with Boston at one point in time,” Anthony said. “So we had some momentum going, it just went downhill from then. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, it just went downhill from there.”

Boston is now third in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks (25-37) are third from the bottom.

Anthony is frustrated, telling a heckling fan he should ask Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan for his money back, a response for which he apologized on Wednesday.

Everyone might want a refund after the last few weeks.

Team President Phil Jackson won more championships than any coach but missed on his first attempt in hiring one, firing Derek Fisher last month after just 1 1/2 seasons. Jackson did well with the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis and did upgrade the roster but not enough to take the pressure off Anthony.

Even Porzingis’ play has tailed off lately, and that combined with the Knicks’ collapse probably ended any chance the Latvian had of beating Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns for Rookie of the Year.

Porzingis, like Anthony, can’t explain exactly what happened.

“It’s not one thing that went wrong, just can’t really pinpoint something,” Porzingis said. “It’s just maybe a few little things just adding up to each other and we’re not playing the way we should be playing and things are not going our way. But I think going through these tough times, this will make us stronger as we go forward.”

For now, they’re going nowhere. Fans booed loudly in the second half of Tuesday’s loss, save for the cheers for Jimmer Fredette as he played out the end of his 10-day contract.

And since the Knicks are no longer playing good basketball, they can’t hide the bad story lines that inevitably surround the team. Before his exchange with the fan, Anthony and former teammate Amare Stoudemire seemed to take swipes at each other, though neither mentioned the other’s name.

Jackson had to clarify a tweet that he meant as an observation about Stephen Curry but read like a comparison or even criticism, saying the NBA MVP’s game resembled former but far-less-accomplished guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

Anthony and Porzingis wouldn’t write off this season, but the damage appears to have been done. The Knicks will need to turn their attention to the summer, when Jackson will try to bolster the roster further without a first-round pick (dealt to Toronto in the failed Andrea Bargnani trade) and perhaps hire another coach if he doesn’t decide to stick with Kurt Rambis.

Perhaps he may try to trade Anthony, who has to approve any deal and has shown no interest in leaving New York. But headed toward a third straight season with no playoff appearance after never missing them previously, Anthony isn’t happy with the way things are going here.

“It gets frustrating,” Anthony said. “The losing gets frustrating.”

 

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.