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Associated Press

With four straight wins on road, Knicks believe they are a team figuring it out

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LOS ANGELES — If the playoffs started today, the Knicks wouldn’t just be a playoff team, they’d have home court in the first round.

More importantly, after winning five-of-six and four in a row on the road, they believe they are that good, that they are figuring it out. Together.

“I love the camaraderie of this team,” Joakim Noah said Sunday night. “From the beginning, no matter what’s thrown at us, no matter what people are saying, I think it’s really important, especially in New York, that the camaraderie stays tight. Because, when you win it’s like they put you on a pedestal, and when you lose it’s the end of the world, they try to find anything to make a headline out of, and it’s just the nature of playing for the Knicks. It’s not like that anywhere else.”

The Knicks will be on a pedestal, at least a small one, after a 118-112 win over the Lakers Sunday night. The win improved them to 14-10 on the season, and they are the current four seed in the East. It’s too early to celebrate, but the Knicks feel optimistic that they are on the right track.

The right track would mean getting the ball to their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, more often. Porzingis had a monster night — 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots — and he got help from a hot shooting Derrick Rose, who started the game 8-of-8 from the floor and finished with 25 points on 12-of-15 shooting.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me, and they were giving me the lane,” Rose said.

To a man after the game, the Knicks talked about this latest run being a function of team chemistry.

“We want to build a culture of winning, and I think we’re taking baby steps toward that,” Porzingis said.

“Trusting, just trusting one another, just believing in what we’re doing, our schemes offensively and defensively, guys feeling comfortable,” Carmelo Anthony said.

“In the first half, they were doubling Carmelo,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We did a good job of passing the ball and he had about five or six assists at halftime (it was five). That’s how you know you have a good team, when a guy gets doubled, kicks out of there and you get easy shots and easy looks.”

“I figured out the double team early, we were spacing out… just kind of making the right play,” Anthony said.

Have the Knicks figured it out? Time will tell, but there is still one big reason for concern that these Knicks are not as good as their record: Defense.

The Knicks are winning in spite of their defense, and that could ultimately be their undoing. It almost was against the Lakers, except Los Angeles’ defense was worse.

“Well, you know I think we really stopped them in the fourth quarter…” Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek tried to say with a straight face. Then he laughed. “We gave up 37 points in the fourth quarter. Good thing we had a couple of guys — Derrick (Rose) was great, Brandon (Jennings) got hot there and hit a couple threes, Courtney (Lee) hit some big threes for us in the fourth quarter.”

The Knicks have the 26th ranked defense in the NBA this season, and it has been two points per 100 possessions worse during this six-game streak. The Knicks are running and shooting their way to wins in spite of the defense, but that only works for so long.

“We have to stop fouling…” Rose said. “The way the NBA is, if you go down big, the first thing you do is start shooting threes. We just have to contest the shots a little bit harder and communicate while we’re out there.”

Rose — who returned after missing two games with back spasms — was impressive, pushing the pace in transition, and he was fearless going at the Lakers bigs knowing that there was no shot blocking to slow him.

“He’s been moving really well all year,” Noah said. “He’s getting more and more confident in his game, the way he’s moving, his floater is coming back — his floater game was really on tonight.”

The Lakers got D’Angelo Russell back on the court Sunday (in limited minutes), as well as Nick Young. Lou Williams continues to look like a sixth man of the year candidate, he comes in and not only gets buckets by attacking, but does little things such as getting in Derrick Rose’s way the second he got the outlet pass to prevent a break and force the Knicks to come up and run a half court. He finished with 24 points.

The Lakers can get credit for coming from behind in the second half to make the game close for a stretch, but as bad as the Knicks’ defense can be the Lakers defense makes it look like the 2004 Pistons. The Knicks had the players to make the Lakers pay for that, even on a night ‘Melo was off (4-of-15 shooting). The Knicks have depth and can score a variety of ways.

Whether they are a four seed — or for that matter, are even in the playoffs — come late April will be about the other end of the floor. They need to find some defense.

At least they’ve found some chemistry. It’s a start.

Klay Thompson sparks Warriors’ rally in 4th to beat Wolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Klay Thompson scored 30 points and the Golden State Warriors roared back to avoid their first set of consecutive regular-season losses since 2015 with a 116-108 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night.

Stephen Curry had 22 points and nine assists, and the Warriors extended their NBA-record streak to 111 regular-season games without losing two in a row. They trailed by 10 to start the fourth quarter, but opened the period with a 25-4 avalanche to turn the tide.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points and 18 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins scored 25 for the Timberwolves (6-18), who lost their fourth straight game.

Kevin Durant had 22 points on 6-for-21 shooting, and Draymond Green scored 18 for Golden State while going 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.

Zach LaVine scored 25 points and hit five 3s for the Wolves.

The Warriors were coming off a 21-point loss Saturday to the Grizzlies and were playing their fourth game in five nights, and it was clear from the start that they were a little weary.

Just when Curry appeared to be heating up, hitting back-to-back 3s midway through the third quarter, the best shooter on the planet tossed up an airball on the very next possession. Between that ghastly miss and Durant missing a wide-open layup, it was clear the Warriors were just a bit off for the second night in a row, something that hasn’t happened in the regular season since April 7, 2015.

The Wolves closed the third period with a 14-1 run, but Thompson scored 12 points in the first 5 minutes of the fourth to rally Golden State.

RECORD STREAK

The Warriors lost three straight games to Cleveland in the NBA Finals in June, but remain proud of surviving the gauntlet of the regular season the way they have. The streak is 16 games longer than the second-place Utah Jazz, who went 95 straight from 1997-99.

“It’s one of the most impressive streaks that I can think of in my experience in the NBA,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before the game.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Curry passed Steve Nash for 17th on the career list for 3-pointers. … Durant started the game 3 for 17, but was 3 for 5 in the fourth. … C Zaza Pachulia was out again with sprained right wrist. … Kevon Looney started at center despite being listed as questionable with a sprained right ankle.

Timberwolves: Minnesota outrebounded Golden State 51-37. … F Nemanja Bjelica missed his second straight game with a sore right ankle.

REUNITED

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau has been friends with Warriors assistant Ron Adams for more than two decades. Adams worked under Thibodeau in Chicago, and the Wolves coach said that when he got the job in Minnesota this summer he called Adams and “begged him” to leave Golden State and join him.

“They have such a great organization that I knew it was kind of tongue-in-cheek,” Thibodeau said. “I know how happy he is with the situation that he’s in.”

 

No triple-double, but Russell Westbrook dominates second half, Thunder beat Celtics

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook‘s triple-double streak ended at seven games — tied with Michael Jordan but two short of Wilt Chamberlain’s record — however, he scored 23 of his 37 points in the second half to help the Oklahoma City Thunder defeat the Boston Celtics 99-96 on Sunday night.

Westbrook had 12 rebounds, but just six assists. His triple-double run was the longest since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The NBA record is nine in a row by Philadelphia’s Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

Steven Adams scored 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting and Enes Kanter added 14 points for the Thunder, who have won seven of eight. Oklahoma City got away with making just 14 of 27 free throws.

Al Horford scored 19 points, and Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley each added 18 for the Celtics.

Russell Westbrook says he doesn’t care about winning MVP, wants title

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It is far, far too early to have a serious MVP discussion in the NBA.

But if you were, Russell Westbrook would be the favorite. Other guys would and should get mentions — James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, et al. — but Westbrook is averaging 30.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 11.3 assists per game, with a dozen triple-doubles and leading the Thunder to a 14-9 record.

Westbrook, you excited to be the early leader in this race?

That is exactly what you would expect Westbrook to say.

Of course, he’s only got a shot at one of those two things this year, and a ring isn’t one of them. No matter how well he plays.

Thunder’s Victor Oladipo with nasty fall, sprains wrist, leaves game

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Ouch.

Late in the first quarter Sunday night, Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo closed out hard on Boston’s Jonas Jerebko — Oladipo leaped to block the shot, Jerebko put the ball on the floor to drive baseline, Oladipo got his legs taken out and then had a nasty fall.

Oladipo left the game and will not return, officially because of a wrist sprain (although my guess is there may be more things hurting than just his wrist).

Something to watch over the next few days, to see if Oladipo will miss more time. The Thunder are 10.4 points per 100 possessions better this season when Oladipo is on the court this season.