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Associated Press

Three things we learned Monday: Knicks look much better with Porzingis at center

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Honestly, Monday night was not a thrilling, well-executed, “this is how the game should be played” night of basketball. It was more of a “this is why there should only be 60 games in a season” night of basketball. Still, there are things we learned.

1) Knicks look much better when they move Kristaps Porzingis to center, Carmelo Anthony to four. Last summer, Joakim Noah was one of Phil Jackson’s big off-season moves, signing the former Defensive Player of the Year to a four-year, $72 million deal. Noah’s passing and high IQ seemed like a great fit for the triangle offense Jackson insists New York run.

In the second half coach Jeff Hornacek benched Noah — and the Knicks looked dramatically improved.

The Knicks slid Kristaps Porzingis over to center, pushed Carmelo Anthony to the power forward slot (where he played better last season), and added Justin Holiday to the starting lineup. The results were almost instantaneous: Andrew Bogut had to chase Porzingis out to the perimeter, which he doesn’t do well, and it opened up driving lanes for Derrick Rose and allowed Carmelo Anthony to post up smaller players without Bogut stopping him. In the second half Knicks offense improved (they scored at a 90.7 points per 100 possessions pace in the first half, 115.9 in the second), their defense improved (they held Dallas to 35 percent shooting including 4-of-18 from three in the second half), they played much faster (an 81 possession for the game pace in the first half, 97 in the second), Anthony looked comfortable and had 17 points in the third quarter (he shot 1-of-6 in the first half), Holiday had 12 points in the second half, and the Knicks went on a 19-2 third-quarter run that blew the game open and led them to an easy 93-77 win.

The Knicks did most of their second-half damage from the midrange and going 5-of-9 on corner threes in the second half — it wasn’t perfect, but it certainly was better. Also, the Knicks did this against a struggling Dallas team without Dirk Nowitzki or Deron Williams. So we should be careful making big leaps after one half of good play.

Still, this is the lineup most people without the initials PJ wanted to see and it thrived, which begs the questions: Can Hornacek bench the guy Jackson just spent so much money on? Was the Noah signing for four years a mistake?

New York’s next game is Wednesday hosting Andre Drummond and the Pistons — no, Hornacek will not start “small” (Porzingis is 7’3”, he’s not small, it’s more a style thing) against a traditional, dominant center. Hornacek said the starting lineup likely would not change, that the lineup that worked so well will be used more situationally. Okay. But there are a lot of situations where that would be the better lineup. A lot. And the Knicks need to use it.

2) Russell Westbrook may not be able to save Thunder. Once again on Monday, Russell Willson was a force of nature — 33 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists. That included a vicious dunk.

But the rest of the Thunder were bad. Oklahoma City players not named Westbrook shot 32.8 percent, the team’s defense has been atrocious the past 10 days, and there are serious depth issues. The result on Monday was the Thunder’s fourth straight loss (dropping them to 6-5 on the season).

This team has issues. Steven Adams is not yet a guy who can live up to a $100 million contract (he can grow into it) and they don’t have a floor spacing big who can defend well enough to deserve to start next to him. There are spacing issues and fit questions all over this roster. Which most nights is leaving Russell Westbrook against the world, and that’s a recipe for a .500 team. An entertaining one, but not a real threat. Westbrook signed on for more of this, he’s in, but Sam Presti has some work to do to get a better fitting roster around him.

3) Boston’s defense, late-game execution cost them again, this time in loss to Pelicans. We’ve gone over this before in three things, so we’re not going to beat the dead horse tonight, but Boston went up against one of the worst offenses in the NBA Monday night and allowed 102 points per 100 possessions, and that again cost them the win.

Well, that and some ugly late-game execution. Down one with :24 seconds left the Celtics out of time out play was Avery Bradley pounding the ball for five seconds then trying to hit a 27-footer over Anthony Davis (which he tipped). Fortunately for Boston, the ball went out off the Pelicans so the Celtics called another timeout with :14 seconds left to set up another inbounds play under the basket. The result: A Tim Frazier jumping in front of a Marcus Smart pass for an easy steal. And yet, thanks to a missed free throw, it was a two-point game that Isaiah Thomas layup tied it at 105-105. Just :07 left, no Pelicans’ timeouts, so Frazier pushes the ball up court, stops at the arc, pump-fakes — and Kelly Olynyk leaps into him for the obvious foul. Free throws and ball game Pelicans.

That’s a tough loss for Boston, which needs to get Al Horford and Jae Crowder back because these are the kinds of bad losses that sting.

Bulls’ Otto Porter out at least one more month with fractured foot

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The Chicago Bulls miss Otto Porter. He was a starter on the wing for nine games, scoring 11.2 points per game, hitting 40 percent of his threes, playing solid defense, and the Bulls offense was 8.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he was on the court. He’s a steadying influence as a veteran.

However, he has been out the last 16 games with a foot injury, and he’s going to miss at least another month, the Bulls announced Tuesday. The Bulls said Porter saw a specialist and he “confirmed the bone injury and healing response in Porter’s left foot consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”

What that means for Porter is another month in a boot.

Chandler Hutchison‘s bruised shoulder has him in street clothes, too, which means Kris Dunn will remain the starter for now. Denzel Valentine has used a bump in minutes to show some growth in his game, play fairly well, and make a push for even more run of late.

But without Porter, the Bulls are not the same.

 

 

Report: Kevin Love would prefer to play for Portland if traded

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are listening to trade offers for Kevin Love.

Love’s reaction to this is essentially “whatevs.” He’s been in the middle of trade rumors for four years now, it’s as constant and annoying in his life as taxes.

However, if he is going to get traded, he’d prefer to go home to Oregon and play for Portland, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Love would prefer to play for his hometown Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple league sources. The Blazers make perfect sense as a destination for Love; they need help for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after the team has been decimated by injuries….

The Blazers have the salaries to make a deal work with the expiring contracts of Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) or Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million).

There were previous reports Love just wants to go to a contender. That said, there is logic to him wanting to go home, and there is a good fit in Portland, a team that needed help at the four before injuries rocked the roster. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game.

Making a trade work is trickier. Bazemore has to play a much larger role after Rodney Hood was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, his availability is up for debate.

Hassan Whiteside can make the trade numbers work with his expiring contract, and Whiteside won’t be missed once Jusuf Nurkic (and even Zach Collins) returns from injury. However, the Cavaliers are going to want draft picks or young players to help with their rebuild to make this trade. Would the Blazers throw in a protected first to make this happen?

There also is this question any team trading for Love has to ask itself: Do we want to take on the three-plus years remaining on his four-year, $120 million contract? That’s a lot of money and years for an All-Star player who is productive but aging, and also has a lengthy injury history.

Portland can also try to trade for Danilo Gallinari and his expiring contract with the Thunder, which has a lot less risk involved.

Love, however, would be popular in Portland, and he would help the team.

Jaylen Brown: Celtics nicknamed Grant Williams ‘Ben Simmons’ due to missed 3s

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Celtics rookie Grant Williams on 3-pointers in his first 20 games: 0-for-25.

0-for-25!

Nobody else has ever started a season that cold.

Of everyone else to attempt at least 25 3-pointers in their first 20 games, nobody made fewer than two. Of everyone else to miss all their 3-pointers in their first 20 games, nobody attempted more than 17.

Finally, Williams made a 3-pointer in Boston’s win over the Cavaliers yesterday.

Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, via NBC Sports Boston:

We were calling him Ben Simmons for the longest. But he knocked one down, and knocked them down, too. So, shoutout to both of those guys.

Yes, 76ers guard Ben Simmons barely shoots, let alone makes, 3-pointers. But it seems as if Brown realized mid-answer he shouldn’t provide bulletin-board material to a rival.

Too late.

Simmons has gotten called a coward numerous times by people in Boston due to his refusal to shoot 3s. Becoming the butt of the joke with fellow NBA players? That’s something else entirely.

We’ll see how Simmons responds, but many around him – including Philadelphia coach Brett Brown – have been urging him to hoist more 3s. It’s hard to see this inspiring Simmons to actually change his game.

Paul George says there’s more to his Pacers exit: ‘I promise you, I’m not the one to boo’

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In 2017, Paul George told the Pacers he planned to leave in free agency the following year. It wasn’t a trade request, but George knew his message would likely prompt Indiana to deal him. He wanted out.

George said he preferred the Spurs. (Or was it the Lakers?) The Pacers dealt him to the Thunder.

Now with the Clippers, George returned to Indiana and got booed.

George, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

“You know, someday I’ll do a tell-all and tell the leading events of how I left Indiana,” George said. “And I promise you, I’m not the one to boo.”

“… I’m not gonna share the teaser,” George later added. “… I like being the villain. I’m here two nights out of the year. The people they should boo is here a lot longer than I am.”

Maybe George felt he got wronged. Maybe George actually got wronged.

But fans generally side with their favorite team over a star player who chose to leave.

It’s hard to imagine a set of circumstances where Pacers fans would boo someone other than George for his exit. My hunch: His grievances are significant to him but wouldn’t persuade Indiana fans. Still, I’m at least curious about his full story.