porzingis
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.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.