VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 29
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Reports: Knicks’ Early shot in early morning robbery — According to the New York Daily News, New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg as he was leaving a strip club in Queens. According to the report, Early was riding in an Uber cab when his vehicle was boxed in by three other cars. He was then surrounded by four to six people who robbed him of his jewelry and other items before shooting him in the leg. Here’s more information from Thomas Tracy, Rocco Parascandola and Dan Good of the Daily News:
New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg in an early-morning attack after leaving a Queens strip club, police sources told the Daily News.
Early was surrounded by four to six people wearing ski masks and robbed of his items and jewelry — including a gold necklace and gold caps on his teeth, sources said.
The shooting happened after Early left CityScapes gentlemen’s club on 58th Street in Maspeth Queens.
Early was reportedly in an Uber cab, about a mile away from the club, when three cars boxed in the vehicle.
He was shot once in the knee, police sources said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition.
Employees with the gentlemen’s club declined to comment when contacted by the Daily News.
The New York Post‘s Larry Celona and Natalie Musumeci also reported on the news, too:
New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot just after he left a Queens strip club early Wednesday, police sources said.
Early, 24, was held up by six thugs wearing ski masks just after walked out of the CityScapes gentleman’s club on 58th Street in Maspeth with a woman and got into an Uber cab, sources said.
The cab drove a short distance to Maurice Avenue before three cars boxed in the vehicle at around 4:20 a.m., sources said.
That’s when the band of ski mask-wearing men ordered everyone out of the Uber car and robbed Early of some jewelry and an undisclosed amount of cash.
During the stick-up, Early was shot once in the right knee, sources said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition.
No. 2: Payne saves day for Thunder — It isn’t that unusual in NBA lore for a title contender (or winner) to have a rookie who contributes mightily to a championship effort (see also: Jamaal Wilkes, Magic Johnson, Manu Ginobili, Kevin McHale, etc.) No one is saying the Oklahoma City Thunder will win it all in 2015-16 and no one is putting rookie Cameron Payne in the stratosphere with the names listed above. But his performance last night in a victory against the Milwaukee Bucks could bolster the Thunder’s depth as the season wears on. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more:
Rookie Cameron Payne, in his second game as a rotation player, played only 15 minutes. But he scored 16 points, stealing the show in the Thunder’s 131-123 win over the Bucks.
“He’s aggressive. He’s never nervous,” Kevin Durant said of Payne. “He saved us tonight.”
Two straight Anthony Morrow 3-pointers capped the run, the second of those set up by Payne, who attacked the defense then kicked back to Morrow. As it went through, Payne leaped in the air, Milwaukee called timeout and the Thunder bench flooded the court in euphoric unison.
“(Payne) definitely sparked us,” Steven Adams said. “He got the bench hyped up.”
But even after Westbrook and Durant returned, Payne remained. “He earned it,” Billy Donovan said.
At the 8:29 mark of the fourth quarter, Payne hit a step-back 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 10. Two possessions later, he nailed a 22-footer to stretch it to 14. Then, in his final big play of the night, Payne drove, drew attention and fed Enes Kanter beautifully for his third assist.
“He’s a natural point guard, been that way his whole life,” Durant said. “I could tell when I first seen him play. He’s looking, his eyes are always moving up the court.”
Surprisingly, Payne was injected into the lineup this past Sunday against the Nuggets. And in his 12 minutes, he played well. So Donovan let him know at shootaround on Tuesday morning that he’d be the primary backup point guard against the Bucks.
Payne seized the opportunity.
After the break, Payne played 10 more minutes. He had nine points and three assists, two of those to Kanter, who finished with 23 points and eight rebounds. Those two seem to have formed and immediate chemistry for a revamped second-unit that outscored the Bucks bench 53-32 on Tuesday night.
“Yes,” Adams said when asked if Payne’s been that good in practice. “Actually seen a lot better. Not trying to put expectations on him, but he’s good, man. He can play.”
When asked postgame why Payne wasn’t in the lineup sooner, Donovan was diplomatic. He made sure to compliment the leadership of his replaced veteran, D.J. Augustin, and caution to not overreact to one game from a rookie. But it seemed clear the change is here to stay. Donovan called Payne a “jolt” to the second-unit and said “I’m prepared” to allow Payne play through the rookie ups and downs.
Tuesday was an up.
No. 3: Pistons, Van Gundy vent after loss to Knicks — At times this season, the Detroit Pistons have had a the look of a team ready to end its six season (and counting) playoff drought. At other times, they’ve looked like a squad that is still figuring out what winning is all about. They’re decidedly in the latter category the last few games and after last night’s road loss to the New York Knicks — Detroit’s third straight defeat — Pistons star point guard Reggie Jackson and coach Stan Van Gundy were quick to point out how far away a playoff spot is for the team. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press has more:
The Knicks (15-18) carved up the Pistons with a 54.4% shooting night (50% from three-point range) to shrug off the return of point guard Brandon Jennings to the playing rotation. It was his first action of the season a ruptured left Achilles 11 months ago ended his 2014-15 season.
But the focus afterward was on a Pistons defense that continued its recent trend of underwhelming performances.
“I can’t pinpoint it, but we got to be better,” Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson said when asked when did the defensive backsliding begin. “If guys aren’t willing to do it, they got to come out.
“I’m tired of losing. I’m tired of watching fans walk out of here, up 15, knowing they’re going home excited about a win. The season’s not even halfway through. This playoff thing we talk about is not guaranteed. If we want to be there, we got to come out and play like we want to be.”
The Pistons (17-15) are 10th in the Eastern Conference and 1 1/2 games behind the eighth and final playoff spot. But they are only three games from the No. 2 seed.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy isn’t the least bit concerned about playoff standings.
He pointed out Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the only guys who gave it a good effort defensively in a game where the opponent scored 25 points or more in every quarter.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, all five, get out,” Jackson said of the starting lineup. “If you’re not putting in an effort, man, what up – including myself. If you’re not here to win and you’re not here about business, get out.
“We are putting effort in, but we’re not doing it together. People are trying to play individually, people are having individual pride at times, but we’re just not protecting each other.
“There’s no communication on defense. We don’t know where any help’s at, necessarily. We’re not all five in tune like we were to start the season.”
VIDEO: Pistons fall apart in road loss to Knicks
No. 4: Rockets can’t close deal vs. Hawks, keep sputtering out West — More often than not in 2015-16, the Houston Rockets have been marked by a lack of urgency in games. That’s a point our Fran Blinebury dug into yesterday before a showdown with the Atlanta Hawks, who sported an Eastern Conference-best 20 wins. The Rockets built a 19-point first half lead on the Hawks last night, but eventually lost focus and bogged down on offense as the game wore on in a 121-115 loss. Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com was on hand for the loss and has more on the state of once-contending Houston:
It doesn’t matter that the Hawks had played in Indianapolis the night before, losing to the Pacers. They could have played in Vancouver for all anybody cared, because the Rockets just aren’t good enough, no matter what they say they have on paper and on the floor, to become a consistent team.
At the start of the season, the Rockets had the look of an elite team. Now, with a 16-17 record, they have the look of a floundering group holding onto the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
Sure, the rest of the conference behind Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City is suspect, but from what we’ve seen of this Rockets team, there is no reason to believe they will do any damage if they reach the postseason.
Rockets players can’t explain why they’ve been so up and down this season.
“It’s probably a common theme,” Ty Lawson said. “I guess at times we do stop and hold the ball or just don’t move it as much. We miss shots, and they get runouts to easier 3s and layups. Our offense creates bad defense for us.”
Added Trevor Ariza: “It’s pretty frustrating, but we’ve got to fight through it, and we have to continue to play and find ways to win down the stretch.”
The Rockets dominated the Hawks in the first half, setting season highs in points (71) and field goal percentage (.692). Then the next 24 minutes started, and the Rockets team that had played with crisp ball movement and tight defense disappeared.
“I think we just should’ve stuck with the same game plan we had in the first half,” Dwight Howard said. “We did a really good job at moving, playing fast. In the second half, we just kind of got lazy as a team, and you know we can’t do that. We’ve got to get better.”
The final box score will tell you the Rockets shot 54.2 percent from the floor and 55 percent from 3-point range. According to ESPN’s Stats and Information, Houston became the first team this season to shoot that well and lose a game.
The last team to pull a feat like this was Portland, which shot 58.2 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from 3-point range in a 112-102 loss to Utah in April 2013. But unlike the Rockets, who were ahead the majority of the game, Portland never led, trailing 7-0 at the start.
“We’re all frustrated,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Obviously, we’re not getting the results that we would like to get. There wasn’t a lack of effort. It wasn’t a lack of trying. Guys did the right things. We just didn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays, and sometimes that’s an offensive or defensive rebound. Sometimes it’s a loose ball, those types of things.”
It’s always something with the Rockets, and as the season progresses one thing is pretty clear: More things need to change.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Brandon Jennings made his Detroit Pistons season debut last night. Here are all four of the shots he took last night … Some of the New York Knicks’ players may not believe coach Derek Fisher is a great Xs and Os guy … Orlando Magic youngster Evan Fournier says he’s hoping to stay with the team long term … Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa did not join the Golden State Warriors on their trip to Dallas … Caron Bulter might not be headed to Milwaukee after all …