Three things we learned on Wednesday: Knicks, Sixers seem headed in opposite directions

Associated Press
8 Comments

Here’s what you missed around the NBA while trying to put out the fire your pet tortoise caused

1) The Sixers have won 3-of-4 and look confident; The Knicks on the other hand… 
It’s amazing how one shot, one comeback can change perceptions, alter the feelings around an entire franchise. Or in this case, two franchises.

The shot was Philadelphia’s T.J. McConnell’s game winner Wednesday night to beat the Knicks. Of course, it was preceded by the Knicks blowing a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Joel Embiid banking in a three-pointer, then Kristaps Porzingis — New York’s best player — air balling a wide-open corner three to give the Sixers a chance. Credit due to Sixers coach Brett Brown here — most coaches would have called a timeout on this final play and tried to assert some control by setting up a play, but a defense scrambling in chaos is the best time to score and Brown kept his hands in his pockets and trusted his team. It worked.

The Knicks are a mess. Derrick Rose was back from going AWOL and had an efficient 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting — he was still -21 for the game (that stat can be misleading, but here it speaks to problems on the defensive end). The Knicks have lost 9-of-10, have fallen out of the playoffs, and are five games below .500 with their next five games being against teams in the playoff chase — the Bulls, Raptors, Hawks, Celtics, and Wizards. New York needs wins in there or it’s going to get ugly. And when it gets ugly James Dolan tends to step in. There’s some old-school Chicken Little “the sky is falling” going on amongst Knicks fans right now, and it’s hard to blame them. What exactly is the reason for hope right now?

The Sixers, on the other hand, have won 3-of-4 and there is a growing confidence about them. Having Joel Embiid does that. If a franchise is going to tank like nobody has ever tanked before through the process and struggle for a few years, it needs to come out on the other end with a franchise cornerstone player or two. Embiid, after a long wait, seems to be that guy. Ben Simmons may be as well. Hopefully, we get to find out this season and see them together. There are a lot of questions about how all the pieces fit together in Philly, there are other draft picks and prospects yet to arrive, but this feels like a team that has turned the corner and is heading in the right direction. There is a reason for hope.

2) Russell Westbrook racks up 18th triple-double of season, Thunder win again. I’ve run out of ways to praise Russell Westbrook. Remember how last season we said it was crazy how many triple-doubles he was racking up? After Wednesday, he now has 18 this season — the same number he had all of last season. The Thunder have 42 games left. Westbrook had 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists on Wednesday, and more importantly the Thunder won again, this time against a Memphis team that has been playing well of late and brings with it one of the best defenses in the NBA. There just is no defense for Westbrook.

3) We’ve got upsets: Timberwolves end Rockets win streak at 9; Trail Blazers comfortably beat Cavaliers. There were a couple other games of note, from the “good teams can’t win every game” category. For one, Minnesota was playing good enough defense, getting 28 from Andrew Wiggins, 23 from Karl-Anthony Towns, and 20 off the bench from Shabazz Muhammad. Oh, and the Timberwolves were racking up highlights.

Portland looked like a playoff team — something that hasn’t happened consistently of late — playing its best game of the season and thrashing Cleveland 102-86. The Blazers dominated this game from the start and got 27 points and another strong game from C.J. McCollum, and when the Cavaliers worked to take the ball out of his hands, Allen Crabbe stepped up with some quality playmaking. Considering the travel problems both teams had just getting to snowy Portland for this game, the Cavs can write this one off and not think about it. The Blazers (who had a harder time getting back home for this game, they landed in Seattle and took a bus) get a quality win out of it.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

0 Comments

To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

0 Comments

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

0 Comments

Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Bulls’ Zach LaVine not available via trade

0 Comments

Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.