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Three Things to Know: James Dolan’s Knicks still don’t know how to pick their battles

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) James Dolan’s Knicks still don’t know how to pick their battles. Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” is technically a military book, but in reality it is a 2,000-year-old treatise on how to win at conflict. Within its pages is a lot of wisdom on how to get the upper hand in conflicts by outsmarting an opponent, about how to win the war on the home front and not just on a battlefield. Ideally, it’s better to win without a costly battle rather than charging headlong into a fight. One of the book’s biggest lessons is simple:

Choose your battles wisely.

James Dolan and the Knicks never seem to do that. The Knicks owner and his organization charge headlong into the next unwise fight, time and time again.

The latest is the kerfuffle with Knicks superfan Spike Lee, who says he is done with the team for this season (not that he is missing much). We could get into the details of the back-and-forth between the sides from Tuesday, the potentially staged photograph and all the rest, but that misses the larger point.

Dolan, an unpopular owner, and his organization picked a fight with the public face of Knicks’ fandom — a battle Dolan and the Knicks cannot win on the PR front. Lee does not shy away from confrontation or publicity, did the Knicks even consider this as they put out a press release that they likely though ended the conversation but really just escalated it?

Dolan lost this battle before it started.

And over what? Which entrance to the arena Lee uses? That’s the hill the Knicks want to die on? Celebrity customers bend the rules in every walk of life (fair or not), and the reaction of business owners is usually “the customer is always right.” If a behavior needs to be addressed, it’s done out of the spotlight – and kept out of the spotlight, no matter what — to help everyone save face. It’s basic business. It’s putting the customer first.

Not at Madison Square Garden. On a night the Knicks got their best win of the season — knocking off the red-hot Rockets, with RJ Barrett putting up 27 points — nobody is talking about that because Dolan’s ego and the Knicks PR “machine” got involved. Dolan and the Knicks didn’t pick their battles. Again.

Hope you’re enjoying your first week on the job, Leon Rose.

2) Caris LeVert drops 51, leads Nets from 17 down in the fourth quarter to knock off Celtics in overtime. There are plenty of excuses lined up if Boston wants them: Jayson Tatum was out, Kemba Walker was on a minutes limit, then Gordon Hayward’s knee bruise and Jaylen Brown’s hamstring had them missing key minutes down the stretch.

It doesn’t matter. If Boston is really the second-best team in the East, it has to find a way to win a game against a banged-up sub-.500 team the Celtics led by 17 to start the fourth quarter.

Enter Caris LeVert. Brooklyn’s athletic wing scored 26 points in the fourth quarter, all 11 of his team’s points in overtime, and sparked the Nets comeback from 21 down in the second half to beat the Celtics 129-120 in overtime.

It’s one of the best wins of the season for the Nets, who will make the playoffs as the seven or eight seed in the East. Brooklyn put up a franchise-record 51 points in the fourth to complete the comeback.

It was the worst loss of the season for the Celtics. Marcus Smart wanted to blame the officials — his foul on LeVert with 0.2 in regulation allowed overtime to happen — and had to be held back and taken off the court after the game so he didn’t go after them.

Smart can be pissed at the officiating, but this loss is on the guys in the Boston locker room, not the refs. The Celtics surrendered a 51-point quarter, Brad Stevens didn’t make many adjustments as the walls crumbled, and a team that has been “next man up” all season long wasn’t in this game, the bench struggled.

The priority for Boston has to be getting Hayward, Tatum (illness) and everyone healthy — the Celtics don’t want these things to linger through the final six weeks of the season. That said, the Celtics are currently the three seed in the East and are now one game back in the loss column from the Raptors for the two seed. Boston has lost two in a row and heads to Cleveland, where the Celtics need to right the ship.

3) Anthony Davis scores 37, the Lakers keep on winning and the 76ers keep on stumbling. The Lakers were not caught looking ahead. They have big tests coming up — the Bucks on Friday night, the Clippers on Sunday — but first Anthony Davis and LeBron James made sure they took care of business against Philly.

Davis led the way with 37 points (he had a red-hot second quarter), while LeBron had 22 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds during a 120-107 win against a 76ers team still without Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons due to injury (plus Josh Richardson missed the game due to a concussion).

Philly fell to 9-23 on the road and they sit as the six seed in the East currently. Tobias Harris was aggressive early, and finished with 18 points in the game, but foul trouble limited him. Al Horford looked a step slow next to Anthony Davis (or, really, anyone). Glen Robinson III did have 25 to lead the Sixers.

This was another quality win for the Lakers, the kind they have consistently gotten all season to stay on top of the West. They look every bit the title contenders, but the real tests on that front come this weekend.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
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Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.

NBA referee Brent Barnaky explains standing for the national anthem

NBA referee Brent Barnaky
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Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Heat big Meyers Leonard and Spurs coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon drew plenty of attention for standing during the national anthem while nearly all NBA players, coaches and referees kneeled.

Referee Brent Barnaky also stood.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

This isn’t much of an explanation. Nor does it need to be. Barnaky explained that he wasn’t countering the message of kneeling players (opposing racism, particularly through police brutality). That’s sufficient for Barnaky to maintain his neutral positioning – important for an official.

For decades, nearly everyone stood for the national anthem. For many people, that was just about following norms. Even NBA players espousing social-justice messaging previously stood for the national anthem.

But Colin Kaepernick’s brave defiance caused some people to thoughtfully consider their national-anthem posture. So, while many people continued to stand for the national anthem because that’s just was done, some made deliberate choices based on their own values. Sometimes, that led to kneeling. Sometimes, that led to standing.

The thoughtful standers blended into the crowd… until kneeling became widespread in the NBA. Now, they’re the noticeable outliers within the league.

It can take courage to go against the grain. I commend Barnaky for that – and for voicing his support for social justice and peaceful protest.

Barnaky made a personal choice that can stand alone. It doesn’t undermine what anyone else is doing.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer and Thunder’s Billy Donovan win Coach of Year from peers

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and Thunder coach Billy Donovan
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The Bucks (high) and Thunder (low) entered the season on near-opposite ends of the pressure spectrum. Despite their radically different situations, both teams have experienced success this season for a common reason:

They were well-coached.

National Basketball Coaches Association release:

Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan are the 2020 recipients of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award, the National Basketball Coaches Association announced today.

The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award recognizes the dedication, commitment and hard work of NBA Head Coaches and is presented annually to a Head Coach who helps guide his players to a higher level of performance on the court and shows outstanding service and dedication to the community off the court. It honors the spirit of Michael H. Goldberg, the esteemed long-time Executive Director of the NBCA, who set the standard for loyalty, integrity, love of the game, passionate representation and tireless promotion of NBA coaching. It is unique in that it is the only award voted upon by the winners’ peers, the Head Coaches of all 30 NBA teams. This year’s voting was based on games played from the start of the 2019-20 regular season through games played on March 11.

The depth of coaching excellence in the NBA is reflected in this year’s voting as 8 Head Coaches received votes. In addition to Budenholzer and Donovan, the following Coaches also received votes: Taylor Jenkins, Nate McMillan, Nick Nurse, Erik Spoelstra, Brad Stevens and Frank Vogel.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was third in the race — and just one vote away from creating a three-way tie, sources said.

This is not the main Coach of the Year. That’s voted on by media and will be announced later. This in a new award created by coaches a few years ago.

Nurse remains favorite for the NBA’s recognized Coach of the Year. (He was our unanimous choice.) It’s surprising he didn’t win this award. But it’s also easy to see how fellow coaches would be reluctant to honor an up-and-comer who supplanted Dwane Casey, a coach beloved by his peers and who won this award while getting fired by the Raptors in 2018.

That shouldn’t take away from Budenholzer and Donovan, though. Both had strong seasons.

After turning the Bucks into an elite team last season – winning this award and the NBA’s official Coach of the Year – Budenholzer has Milwaukee looking even stronger this season. The Bucks’ defense is historically dominant, and their role players fit so well around Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Donovan got dealt a tricky hand – an all-time great point guard in Chris Paul who’s past his peak but still in his prime and a point guard of the future in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Donovan made it work while squeezing in another point guard in Dennis Schroder. Donovan’s versatility remains an asset for Oklahoma City.