Knicks Take Down The Heat In Thrilling Fashion

For most of the second half, you got the feeling that the Knicks had put up a good fight and had stayed with one of the league’s best teams for a good portion of the night, but just didn’t have enough firepower to counter the attacks that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade frequently unleashed. The Knicks were struggling to connect on outside shots and the Heat’s stifling defense staggered Mike D’Antoni’s offense on more than a few possessions. Every shot the Knicks took was contested and their notorious defense struggled to contain two of the game’s best offensive weapons.

But then, after stopping the Heat from breaking the game open on a few occasions by getting Amare Stoudemire a good look downlow, the Knicks started knocking down a few shots and the Heat, mainly Wade, rushed shots in transition to give the Knicks more chances than they should have had. Danilo Gallinari, who had missed four of his five triple attempts in the first three periods, hit a three with 5:20 to go to give the Knicks a one-point lead, then assisted on a triple for Landry Fields with 4:47 left to give New York an 80-78 and then hit yet another three with 1:17 left to give the Knicks the lead for good. To really seal the deal, Fields would add another triple in the closing minute to put the dagger in Miami’s heart. LeBron would come up with a pair of two point field goals in the final minute but Raymond Felton responded to each field goal with a pair of field goals and the Knicks ended up taking the game by the score of 93-88.

This was a pretty frustrating night for both sides on the offensive end. Outside of their key offensive weapons (in this case, Amare and Wade), nobody played a particularly good game with the ball in their hands.

More on the third installment of the renewed Knicks-Heat rivalry after the break…

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What's Next For The Cavaliers?

The Cleveland Cavaliers were due for a steep decline this season. During the summer, they lost their head coach and the game’s best player while their fans and players suffered a deep emotional loss as a result.

To make matters worse, their best player this season, Anderson Varejao, will miss the rest of the year because of an injury suffered in practice, Mo Williams has missed significant time, forcing rookies and mid-season free agent signings like Manny Harris, Alonzo Gee and Christian Eyenga to not only play, but start, and there have been a few occasions this season when first year head coach Byron Scott and J.J. Hickson, who is seen by many to be the future of this team, have had their disagreements.

The NBA has truly never seen such a disaster. It’s not necessarily a lack of effort that has killed the Cavs, which is the case for most bad teams that get off to bad starts, it’s just that they simply do not have the talent to play high level basketball night in and night out. Add in the fact that a good chunk of the players on this roster still don’t understand the offense that Scott has implemented while playing the worst defense in the league and it’s rather easy to get why the Cavaliers are in a historically bad position.

Ever since LeBron brought his talents back to Cleveland and humiliated the Cavs in what was basically a 50-point blowout, the Cavaliers are 1-26. The lone win came over the Knicks, who were on a two-game losing streak at the time, and it required an overtime period. Every other game has resulted in a loss for the Cavs, including a 55-point loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles.

More on the Cavs and their abysmal season after the break…

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Hornets Extend Winning Streak To Nine Games With Win Over Thunder

2010-2011 has certainly been one of ups and downs for the New Orleans Hornets. They started off the season 8-0, then regressed back to the middle of the pack of the Western Conference and with a recent 9-0 winning streak they are right back in third place of the standings.

And this isn’t one of those nine game winning streaks with a pair of games against the Warriors, a trip to New Jersey and home games against the Pacers, Pistons and Bucks. No, the Hornets have played against some of the league’s very best teams during this streak. They have three overtime victories in this stretch (over the Magic, Rockets and Grizzlies), a 41-point win over the Atlanta Hawks, a 24-point demolition of the division rival Spurs and close wins over the Bobcats, Raptors and Thunder.

Their most recent victory over the Thunder was a thriller. Not to say this was a very entertaining game from start to finish, because, frankly, the first quarter of this game was nearly unwatchable. But the Hornets and Thunder went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes, with no team creating more than a five point lead after the first period. New Orleans, who lead the NBA in points allowed per game, gave up just 89 points to Oklahoma City. During the nine game stretch, the Hornets have allowed just 96.5 points per 100 possessions, which would be the number one mark in the NBA if kept up for an entire year. What’s more impressive is that, on the entire year, the Hornets have the third best defensive efficiency in the league, trailing only the Bulls and Celtics.

The Hornets played stifling defense for most of the game against the Thunder, forcing Kevin Durant to take 18 shots to score 16 points from the field while holding Russell Westbrook to just 18 points. In crunch time, we saw what we have for many years. Chris Paul and David West took over the game. First it was Paul, knocking down a hero three to tie the ballgame and then it was West, raining in impossible jumpshots with the defense right in his face. With a minute left, following a Westbrook putback to give the Thunder a two-point lead, Paul orchestrated a beautiful play, resulting in a pinpoint behind-the-back pass to West, who promptly knocked down the 19-footer to tie it back up.

Oklahoma City actually had a chance to hold the ball for the game-winning shot but their inbounds pass with 15 seconds left was stolen by Paul. On a set inbounds play, the Hornets put the ball in David West’s hands with nine seconds left and let him isolate. He wasn’t given any room but he still managed to hit a jumper in the face of Serge Ibaka with .5 seconds left. The Thunder threw away the ball on the last play of the game and the Hornets captured yet another victory. Paul finished the game with 24 points, nine assists, four rebounds and three steals (two of which came in the final half of the fourth quarter) and West overcame early foul trouble to add 20 hard earned points of his own, eight of which came in the final four minutes of the game.

More on the Hornets and their play so far this season after the break…

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Aaron Brooks Has Played Himself Out Of A Big Contract

When the deadline to extend the 2007 rookie draft class passed back in November, nobody raised their eyebrows when they heard then Houston Rockets starting point guard Aaron Brooks was not offered an extension. Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey had previously declared that he would not hand out extensions this season due to the uncertainty of the league’s financial situation as the new collective bargaining agreement looms. Brooks was a bit perturbed by Morey’s mindset and you can’t blame either side for their stance – Morey is right to want to know how the new CBA will look before making new deals and Brooks is right to want an extension as soon as possible.

The Rockets will have to make a qualifying offer of $2,976,636 at the end of the season, according to Sham Sports, and would have the option to meet the offer of any other team that signed Brooks to a more expensive offer sheet. Back in November, this seemed like a plausible idea. Brooks was coming off of a 2009-2010 campaign that earned him Most Improved Player honors and the Rockets looked to be back as a perennial playoff team thanks to the return of Yao Ming.

But since then, Yao suffered yet another season ending injury and Brooks was demoted to the bench in favor of Kyle Lowry. The Rockets are still in the playoff picture thanks to their Kevin Martin-centric offense but they have definitely failed to meet their expectations for this season and a lot of that has to do with the disappointing play of Brooks.

More on Brooks’ regression this season after the break…

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Bobcats’ Augustin Coming On Strong

Before the season started in my preview for the Bobcats, I asked myself whether or not the Charlotte Bobcats had the worst point guard situation in the entire league. I said yes and I maintain that, at the time, the Bobcats did have the worst point guard crop in the league. But now that the Bobcats have undergone a successful head coaching change, D.J. Augustin is starting to turn into one of the league’s better point guards.

When I say that, I don’t mean he’s entering Chris Paul/Derrick Rose territory but I do think he’s gone from afterthought at the point guard spot under Larry Brown to a top 15-20 point guard in the league under Paul Silas. His overall per game numbers do not match up with the other superstars around the league but his contributions are recognized by those that have seen him play with Silas in charge, which has subsequently led to a bit more freedom on the break for the athletic Bobcats.

Since Silas took over on December 27th, Augustin is averaging 18.8 points and seven assists per game (compared to 15/6 for the year) while shooting 47% from the field and 41% from three-point land (compared to 44%/38% on the year). Augustin’s best career game came just a few days ago against the Philadelphia 76ers when he went off for a career high 31 points on 11-of-17 shooting with eight assists and four rebounds.

More on Augustin’s rising career status after the break…

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Video: John Wall Hits The Game-Winner In Rondo’s Face

Thanks to @OutsidetheNBA for the sweet video!

Are The Clippers A Good Match For Carmelo?

I recall wandering this to myself when the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors first started this summer if the Los Angeles Clippers would be a good place for him to land. The Clippers had recently lost out on all big name free agents and making a push to obtain Melo seemed like a logical idea for a team that, at least at the time, needed a wing scorer. I passed a potential Anthony deal to the Clippers off as a fun idea and not something I thought would actually take place.

After a few months of constant chatter and now that we have our first casualty of the trade talks (Mikhail Prokhorov has officially called off the Nets chase for Anthony), the Clippers, now benefiting greatly from the play of their dynamic young core and even Baron Davis, have a few intriguing pieces as well as draft picks and expiring contracts to throw at the Nuggets (thanks for the idea, Bill Simmons). It is unclear how necessary obtaining Carmelo Anthony would be for a team that already seems to be on the incline with thier potential packed roster, but I think they would rather pay Anthony max money for six years than Chris Kaman $23 million over the next two.

A package including Kaman, rookie forward Al-Farouq Aminu, Minnesota’s 2012 first round draft pick and the expiring contracts of Brian Cook and Rasual Butler could be enticing to the Nuggets. Though its not quite as good as the deal New Jersey put together, Kaman could be a big time scorer for the Nuggets in the lowpost, creating the dynamic duo of Nene and Kaman. Additionally, the Clips could take back Al Harrington’s large deal to sweeten the deal for Denver.

More on Carmelo and how he would fit with the Clippers after the break…

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DeRozan To Replace Jennings In Dunk Contest

The questionable decision to include Brandon Jennings in the dunk contest this season is no longer an issue and my plea for DeMar DeRozan to get a second chance after being robbed of the trophy last year has worked. Yesterday, Jennings pulled out of the dunk contest because of his still injured foot and [...]

Kevin Martin Fueling Rockets’ High Octane Offense

When the Houston Rockets traded for shooting guard Kevin Martin last season, I suggested that the Rockets switch up their mindset and enter games as a fast paced, Phoenix/Golden State type team that took advantage of their offensive weapons at a high tempo in order to mask their inability to defend in a half-court based game. They did up the pace a bit towards the end of the year and they finished the season ranked sixth in the league in pace.

I was a bit worried about how the offense would adapt to Yao Ming‘s return but his trip back to the sidelines assured that the Rockets would continue to push the ball up the floor and run an offense that tried to outscore teams, which, despite its lack of recent success for any team that runs that system, is the best option for a team with the personel that the Rockets have. With Patrick Patterson, a rookie that has seen sporadic minutes and has made a few trips to and from the D-League, being their best defender, it was easy to concede that this team was going to win basketball games with fluent and efficient offense.

The Rockets have had their up and downs this season but remain just three games out of the playoff picture with two looming implosions – Denver (Melo trade) and Portland (Camby injury) – providing them with a couple of wide open opportunities to notch a playoff spot.

After ranking 19th overall in offensive efficiency last season at the league’s sixth fastest pace, the Rockets have made a vast improvement this season, jumping to eight in offensive efficiency at the league’s fifth fastest pace. Remarkably, the defense has actually improved, albiet not my a wide margin. They were the 17th ranked defense in 2009-10 and are currently 15th in defensive efficiency. It may be a minor improvement but the fact that they have been able to withstand a major drop-off is pretty impressive considering the individual defensive capabilities of their players.

More on Kevin Martin and his incredibly efficient play this season after the break…

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Lakers Return To Form In Win Over Thunder And Other NBA Notes

After a disappointing loss to the Clippers on Sunday afternoon, the Los Angeles Lakers responded with a strong win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the night cap of one of the busiest hoops days of the year. The game was close throughout, with the Lakers taking the games biggest lead of 15 [...]