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Three Things to Know: Knicks snap 18-game home losing streak, Spike Lee finds out at Oscars

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Knicks snap 18-game home losing streak, Spike Lee finds out at Oscars. The key to the Knicks winning their first game in Madison Square Garden since Dec. 1 apparently was to have superfan Spike Lee on the other side of the country.

Lee was at the Oscars in Los Angeles, winning one for Best Adapted Screenplay for ““BlacKkKlansman” (and not being thrilled with the “Green Book” best picture win) when Samuel L. Jackson informed Lee the Knicks won.

Lee appears to yell back “We’re trying to tank,” which is just what Adam Silver wants for the league on a national broadcast. Not that the tanking has gone great suddenly, the Knicks have now won 2-of-3. Don’t worry about lottery though, the Knicks still have the second-worst record in the NBA, which means a 14 percent chance of Zion Williamson and a 47.8 percent chance of picking fifth or sixth.

Early on Sunday it didn’t look like the Knicks would win, they were doing very Knicks things.

Then things turned around as the Knicks got good games from guys who could be part of whatever future is to come in New York. Damyean Dotson led the way with 27 points, knocking down eight 3-pointers along the way. New point guard Dennis Smith Jr. had 19 points and 13 assists (plus a spectacular missed dunk), and Mitchell Robinson added 15 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks.

Everyone talks about Sacramento and maybe the Lakers passing the Clippers for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Spurs are tied with the Clippers for the 7/8 seed and have lost 6-of-7 on the Rodeo road trip (with one game remaining, Monday in Brooklyn). They are the team in real danger of falling out in the West, although fivethirtyeight.com has San Antonio with an 85 percent chance of making the postseason. The Spurs remaining schedule is tougher than the Clippers and Kings, Gregg Popovich and company need o find some wins once they get back home.

2) Raptors fall to Magic, seem destined for the two seed… which may not be such a bad thing. Orlando is suddenly playing good basketball — they have won 8-of-10 and are now just a game out of the playoffs in the East. They have done it with the best defense in the NBA over the last 10, giving up just a point per possession, and the offense has been solid, resulting in a +13.6 net rating. Orlando has simply been good.

The latest victim, the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors — without Kawhi Leonard for the night — scored 98 points per 100 in Sunday’s game. Toronto just could not finish over Orlando’s length, shooting 46.2 percent in the paint for the night. While Marc Gasol (who started) showed some chemistry with Kyle Lowry, the big man the Raptors picked up at the deadline was wholly outplayed by All-Star Nikola Vucevic all game. The holes in Gasol’s game at this point in his career are showing up and being exploited.

Next up for the Raptors is Boston on Tuesday, that should be a real test.

With Sunday’s loss, the Raptors are two games back of the Bucks for the top seed in the East and seem unlikely to catch them. The Raptors are also 3.5 up on the three seed and hobbled Pacers, and 5.5 up on the four-seed Sixers. Which is to say, the Raptors seem destined for the two seed — and that could be a good thing, so long as the Pacers hold on to the three seed. If the standings stay in this order for the top five, the Raptors crush the Pistons/Hornets/Magic in the first round, while the Pacers get a gritty but beatable Brooklyn team, and the Celtics and 76ers have a brutal first-round matchup. In the second round, the Raptors would face the Nets/hobbled Pacers, while the Celtics/Sixers winner gets the Bucks. Suddenly the Raptors are through to the conference finals having avoided the most dangerous teams, they should be fresh. There are 23 (or so) games left and the standings can shift, but things could be lining up well for Toronto.

3) Ja Rule’s halftime show in Milwaukee did not go as planned. On the bright side, it went better than the Fyre Festival.

Ja Rule seems a pretty good get for Saturday night in Milwaukee and a far better option than most NBA halftime shows (not Gary The Amazing Sladek chair stacking good, but good). It didn’t work out that way.

Ja Rule came out on the court wearing a Bucks’ Ray Allen throwback jersey… and after that things got weird. When he wanted to start he turned to his DJ and said “Are we ready?” Then, when the music didn’t start, “I guess not.”

Later, Giannis Antetokounmpo came out and was taking warmup shots while he was still performing… this wasn’t exactly players racing out at All-Star to see J Cole perform.

When Timberwolves official Twitter chimed in, Ja Rule cursed them.

Not sure Ja Rule’s curse is anything worse than what Jimmy Butler already did to the Minnesota franchise this season. And he’s wrong about Karl-Anthony Towns, at least for a long while — KAT’s five-year max extension starts next season. He’s locked in for a while. Now, if Ja Rule could get Andrew Wiggins out the door….

Australian NBL pumps breaks on report LaMelo Ball has bought a team

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It was a stunning headline, especially considering LaMelo Ball is just 18:

He bought a team in the Australian National Basketball League, specifically the Illawarra Hawks, the team he played for some last season. It’s an insane story.

And it’s not quite true. At least not yet. The NBL released a statement that pumped the breaks on the idea of a sale to Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson. Part of the statement reads:

“The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season. At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.

The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.

Did LaMelo and his manager jump the gun? Or, is this a negotiating ploy by the NBL and Stratford to get more money by jacking up the price on a sale?

Those two follow a host of other questions, including what percentage of the team would Ball and his manager own? What would their involvement be?

Ineligible for college stateside, Ball chose to play in Australia under the NBL’s Next Stars program. It worked, he’s projected to be a top-five, maybe top-three pick. He left the NBL after suffering a season-ending foot injury, although that came under a cloud of criticism from Hawks owner Stratford.

The ultimate revenge would be to buy the team, if that is actually happening.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.