Posts Tagged ‘Andrea Bargnani’

Driving Oscar To The Hoop


VIDEO: The Starters pick movie roles for some of the NBA’s biggest stars

It was just last week when LeBron James had to disappoint fans in the basketball and cartoon worlds by shooting down rumors that he was getting ready to star in “Space Jam 2″.

Oh, what heartbreak not to have LeBron and SpongeBob SquarePants go toon-on-toon against Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny to settle the G.O.A.T. debate once and th-th-th-at’s all, folks!

But with the Oscars ready to tip off Sunday night, it occurs to us that there were plenty of movies released in the past year that could use a slam dunking NBA touch:

Monuments Men — Who needs a fourth stone head to construct a Mt. Rushmore in Miami when more than enough in their own granite-hard trio to chase a third consecutive NBA title? Everybody from Indiana to OKC and points all around are trying to steal away with the priceless Larry O’Brien Trophy, but LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are counting not one, not two, not …


VIDEO: LeBron James makes his famous ‘Mt. Rushmore’ comments to Steve Smith

Frozen — After winning the MVP award in 2011, Derrick Rose has the next two seasons of a budding superstar career put on ice with major injuries to both knees. A hopeful city of Chicago that was ready to usher in the post-Jordan championship era has turned cold.

American Hustle — When Rose went down on Nov. 22 and was once again lost for the season, everyone expected his teammates to roll over. They even traded away a big offensive gun in Luol Deng, but producer Tom Thibodeau has done a combover and is pulling off the greatest con since ABSCAM with the Bulls sitting at No. 4 in the East with home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

The Lego Movie — First-year general manager Sam Hinkie arrives on the job in Philly and promptly locks himself in his room, where he spends all hours of the day and night trying to fit together dozens of little pieces into something that will one day look like a competitive basketball team. Or a rocketship.

Almost Human — He’s almost tall enough to bump his head on the backboard, but has 3- or even 4-point range from practically anyplace on the court. Not since the menacing Gort touched down in “The Day The Earth Stood Still” has anyone appeared as unstoppable as box-office smash Kevin Durant.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has simply been on fire in February

Vampire Academy — The front office in Brooklyn hatches a plan for world domination by forming an army around the walking undead creatures of 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry and 37-year-old Kevin Garnett. But rather than biting opponents on the neck, they were mostly toothless, ineffective and scared nobody.

Paranormal Activity — It was one to thing leap over a Kia at All-Star weekend and turn every game into a slam dunking highlight reel. But Blake Griffin eventually tired of being typecast and under new director Doc Rivers has worked on his shot, expanded his repertoire and now does unearthly, inexplicable things that nobody thought possible just a couple of years ago.

Dallas Buyers Club — For all the money, all the bombast and all the talk about positioning the Mavericks to be big players in the free-agent market and getting Dirk Nowitzki a superstar playmate after dismantling his 2011 championship, Mavs owner Mark Cuban struck out on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Right now, he’s where he used to be: stuck in the sale aisle at Sam’s Club.

Gravity — He’s 35 years old, has played 17 full NBA seasons, has more miles on his odometer than a hand-me-down pickup truck and is trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a fractured knee. Yet, 16-time All-Star Kobe Bryant simply won’t acknowledge what Isaac Newton learned sitting under the apple tree — what goes up, must come down.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks during the All-Star Game about being a spectator this season

Philomena — When the losingest, ugliest, most painful season in modern team history finally and mercifully limps to the end, executive VP of player personnel Jim Buss fires Mike D’Antoni and at a star-studded Hollywood news conference. Buss then introduces a 68-year-old Irish widow with a vaguely reminiscent limp, wearing a gray wig and with a familiar twinkle in “her” eye and says Phil-omena is back to put everything right with the Lakers.

I, Frankenstein — Team president Larry Bird wasn’t happy enough with having the best record and the most fearsome, downright scary defense in the league that was sewn together with Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson. He performs more surgery in his lab by adding Evan Turner to bolster his Pacers bench and now thinks he’s ready to take down that other monster: the Miami Heat.

The Nut Job — Everybody in the world thought Dwight Howard was out of his mind for the way he slow-walked his ugly departure from Orlando and then bolted out the door of the royal Lakers, leaving $30 million on the table. But who’s crazy now as Howard rides tandem with James Harden and has the Rockets looking like one tough nut to crack in the playoffs?

Despicable Me — As if he hadn’t done enough already to polish his reputation as someone who cannot be trusted as the cornerstone of a franchise and leader to take the Kings back to the playoffs, DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t even bother to get one of his minions to slug Patrick Beverley in the stomach and just does it himself, earning a fine and one-game suspension.

Endless Love — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager team up for a buddy movie where they criss-cross the country in an old VW bus, stopping at thrift shops to buy old horse blankets and bedsheets while exchanging long hopeful questions and grumpy one-word answers.


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has some good-natured fun with Craig Sager

The Wolf Of Wall Street — He bats his eyes at the Lakers. He flirts with the Bulls. He head fakes in the direction of any other would-be suitor that will glance his direction and then, Carmelo Anthony decides he’s got the world on a string living the high life … and hungrily signs on for a repeat performance of his lone wolf act. Then, the reviewers in the New York media give him a standing ovation and immediately declare the Knicks contenders.

Pompeii — After Isiah Thomas and Jerome James and Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton and Andrea Bargnani, a massive volcanic eruption like the one that came from Vesuvius in 79 A.D. hits Madison Square Garden. The past is finally buried under a blanket of lava, giving away at last to a new beginning.

Melo Sets Knicks, MSG Scoring Records

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Carmelo Anthony’s 62 points against the Bobcats on Friday night were the most in Knicks franchise history, the most ever scored in the current Madison Square Garden, and the most scored in the NBA in almost five years.

Kobe Bryant had the previous MSG record (61 on Feb. 2, 2009) and was also the last person to score at least 62 (65 against the Blazers on March 16, 2007). He’ll get to congratulate Anthony when the Lakers visit the Knicks on Sunday.

Here is Anthony’s shot chart from Friday. Clearly, he took too many shots from the right side of the floor.

20140124_anthony_shots

Here’s the NBA.com/stats video of all 23 of his field goals.

A few more thoughts…

  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had done a really nice job defending Anthony in the first three meetings between the Knicks and Bobcats. In those three games, Anthony shot just 13-for-42 (31 percent) with Kidd-Gilchrist on the floor, and MKG had blocked his shot five times. Well, Friday was a different story, as Anthony shot 13-for-16 with Kidd-Gilchrist on the floor.
  • Until late in the game, the Bobcats allowed Anthony to catch the ball within 15 feet of the basket. And at that point, Kidd-Gilchrist was mostly helpless, because Anthony’s face-up game was sharp. Thirteen of his 23 field goals came on catches at the mid-post or the high post. And 13 of the 23 (including five of his six threes) came without a dribble.
  • This performance came just a few hours after I wrote that the Knicks were better off without Andrea Bargnani, who tore a ligament in his left elbow on Wednesday. Now, Friday’s performance was just one game and this is not an “I told you so,” but the Knicks’ spacing looks so much better with Anthony, Tyson Chandler and three guards on the floor.20140124_nyk_spacing
    Bargnani would sometimes space out to the 3-point line, but he wasn’t a threat out there (shooting 28 percent on threes) and often liked to hang out around the elbows. Replacing him with a guard not only gives Anthony more space to operate, but also makes it harder to defend pick-and-rolls with Chandler.
  • Anthony just might have traveled on the bucket that got him points 50 and 51.
  • Through Dec. 18, Charlotte ranked third defensively, allowing only 97.4 points per 100 possessions. Since then, they’ve ranked 25th, allowing 107.4.
  • The previous high game since Bryant’s 61 at MSG was Deron Williams‘ 57 on March 4, 2012. That also came against the Bobcats.

Bargnani Injury Might Be Addition By Subtraction For Knicks

Andrea Bargnani has been a liability for the Knicks this season. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Andrea Bargnani has been a liability for the Knicks this season. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Andrea Bargnani‘s injury – he’s out “indefinitely” with a torn ligament in his left elbow – may seem like more bad news for the New York Knicks. But it’s probably the opposite.

Now, I’m not wishing injury on anybody and I hope Bargnani has a full and timely recovery. But I am here to point out that the Knicks are better off without him. This injury may have just made Mike Woodson‘s job easier.

Simply, the Knicks have been better on both ends of the floor with Bargnani on the bench. They’ve been 2.3 points per 100 possessions better offensively and 2.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively.

The defensive issues are obvious. Get Bargnani moving and he might get turned around. He might switch when he’s supposed to stay home or stay home when he’s supposed to switch (a problem that seems to be contagious on these Knicks).

Offensively, Bargnani seems like a good player and he ranks 10th in mid-range field goal percentage (among those with at least 100 attempts). But overall, he’s a below average shooter, with an effective field goal percentage of just 47.2 percent, well below the league average of 49.7 percent. And his free throw rate (20 attempts per every 100 shots from the field) is poor for a big man.

He’s big, but plays small and doesn’t do it very well. The Knicks have a lot of problems, but you can start with the guy who’s a liability on both ends of the floor, is a square peg in a system that worked pretty well last season, and has somehow played the second-most minutes on the team.

With Bargnani and Carmelo Anthony on the floor together, the Knicks have been bad. With only Anthony on the floor, they’ve been good. And with only Bargnani on the floor (in a pretty small sample size), they’ve been awful.

Knicks efficiency with Anthony and/or Bargnani on the floor

On floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Anthony + Bargnani 1,061 102.5 106.4 -3.9 -44
Only Anthony 467 106.4 100.9 +5.6 +26
Only Bargnani 196 91.6 110.2 -18.7 -78

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

It’s pretty simple. If Bargnani is on the floor with both Anthony and Tyson Chandler (or Kenyon Martin), it hurts the Knicks’ spacing offensively and requires either Anthony or Bargnani to guard the opposing small forward on defense. And if Bargnani and Anthony are out there without Chandler (or Martin), oh my gosh, are they terrible defensively.

It’s not clear on what team Bargnani would be a good fit, but it certainly isn’t this one. And the Knicks gave genius Masai Ujiri three draft picks for the right to pay Bargnani $23 million over the next two seasons. It looked like an awful trade at the time (subtraction by addition) and there’s been no need to reevaluate it.

Now, Woodson is partially to blame for giving Bargnani more minutes than anybody but Anthony, but consider the following…

1. Chandler is 31 years old and had missed an average of 19 games over the previous five seasons.

2. When Chandler broke his leg in the fourth game of the season, the only other bigs on the roster were Bargnani, Martin, Amare’ Stoudemire and Cole Aldrich.

3. At the time, both Martin and Stoudemire were limited to less than 20 minutes per game.

4. Bargnani and Stoudemire are two of the worst defensive big men of the last decade.

That, my friends, is bad roster building.

Now, without Bargnani, Woodson has no choice but to use Anthony exclusively at the four. And with Chandler at the five, they can put three guards out there with them, spread the floor offensively and be much quicker on defense.

The Knicks need Martin back from his sprained ankle to give them 12-15 minutes of Chandler relief. And they need a lot of guys (starting with Raymond Felton) to simply play better. But now we can at least see what they would have looked like had they not made one of the worst trades in recent memory.

Film Study: When The Heat Aren’t Engaged


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks handle the Heat at MSG

NEW YORK – This week’s Film Study could look a lot like last week’s. For the second straight Thursday night, a team picked apart the Miami Heat’s pick-and-roll defense.

The New York Knicks only scored 102 points (compared to the Warriors’ 123 last week) in their victory on Thursday, but it was a very slow-paced game. The Knicks had the ball just 86 times, so, in terms of efficiency, they were on par with what the Warriors did against the Heat in a much faster game a week earlier.

New York actually scored less than a point per possession (43/47) in the first half. But in the final 24 minutes, they scored a remarkable 59 points on just 39 possessions.

Like the Warriors, they executed well. The Knicks got the Heat defense moving with pick-and-roll, they moved the ball to the open man, and they made shots, hitting nine of their 16 mid-range jumpers and seven of their 18 above-the-break threes.

Having a healthy point guard helps. Raymond Felton racked up 14 assists on Thursday, while committing just two turnovers. He’s been in and out of the lineup this season, and not very effective when he’s been (relatively) healthy.

But last season, the No. 3 offense in the league was at its best when Felton was on the floor. A healthy dosage of pick-and-rolls keeps the Knicks from getting too iso-heavy and allows Carmelo Anthony to shoot off the catch, instead of off the dribble. Though Anthony led the league in usage rate last season, Felton had the ball in his hands about 70 percent more (5:40 per game vs. 3:21 per game, according to SportVU).

So, going forward, the Knicks will be better if Felton is healthy and they’re moving the ball. They’re most efficient when they’re picking and rolling, which was the game plan on Thursday. They knew that the Heat could be beat and open shots could be had with quick passes and ball reversals. And they took care of the ball against the team that has forced more turnovers per 100 possessions than any team in the last 15 seasons.

The Heat can be the best defensive team in the league when they want to be. But they generally don’t want to be during the regular season. Their disruptive defensive scheme requires a lot of energy, more than they can come up with over 82 games.

And while the Knicks deserve a ton of credit for their offensive execution, the Heat were clearly not at their best defensively. Here are some examples from a stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters when the Knicks turned a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead …

Play 1 – Ole!

With the Heat up three late in the third quarter, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire ran a side pick-and-roll. Dwyane Wade came to help from the weak side, but, instead of putting himself between Stoudemire and the basket, he just swiped at the ball as he ran by. And that’s not going to get it done.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade’s pick-and-roll defense leaves much to be desired

Play 2 – Ole! Part II

A couple of possessions later, the ball was swung to Andrea Bargnani, who was being defended by Chris Bosh, who bought on a pump fake from a guy who has shot 30 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons. Wade again comes over to help and again just takes a swipe at the ball. The result is an and-one and a lead the Knicks would never relinquish.


VIDEO: Andrea Bargnani easily drives on the Heat defense

Play 3 – Amar’e all alone

Two possessions after that, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis double-teamed Anthony in the corner. After the ball was swung around the perimeter, Stoudemire was wide open under the basket, because neither Cole nor Lewis rotated.


VIDEO: Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis fail to rotate on defense

The Heat’s semi-lackluster play spilled over to the offensive end of the floor. As the Knicks were making their run, Miami scored just two points (against a bottom-10 defensive team) over 10 possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters. They weren’t attacking and they often settled for a decent shot when a better one could have been had with a little more work.

Play 4 – Carelessness

This is just a careless pass by Chris Andersen as Cole curls out from the baseline. Andersen takes one hand off the ball and doesn’t wait until Cole has created any separation from Felton.


VIDEO: Chris Andersen throws a careless pass to Norris Cole

Play 5 – Settling

Here, Wade settles for a contested, mid-range jumper early in the shot clock instead of running the offense and putting pressure on the Knicks’ D.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade takes the contested shot rather than pressure the Knicks’ defense

The Heat have had their moments this season, but there have been a lot of games/halves/quarters/possessions when they’ve been disengaged. The same was true early last season and they went on to win 27 straight games and their second straight championship. But even in the playoffs, they seemed to turn their defense on and off, failing to win consecutive games against the Pacers or Spurs until they pulled out Games 6 and 7 in The Finals.

They still have LeBron James and they’re still the favorite to win another title. But in the middle of the season, you’re going to see teams take advantage of their indifference.

Knicks Win Again And Hope Floats


VIDEO: Balanced Knicks attack leads to 92-80 win over Dallas

DALLAS – They’re alive! Left for dead, a thumping pulse has been detected in the New York Knicks and the submarining Atlantic Division. Hide your women and children!

In the final days of 2013, the Knicks left Toronto dragging another L around their limp necks, a battered and beaten bunch. A few days later they boarded a plane bound for 2014 and the impossible Texas Triangle road trip that would swallow them up for good. Oh no, not these Knickerbockers, who picked a fine time to reveal a beating heart.

“We have lots of veterans on this team, got a couple of young guys that we depend on, but we don’t have to talk about things, man,” forward Kenyon Martin said. “We know when we’re not playing well, we know when we’re not giving the maximum effort each and every night. That’s what it’s about, man, guys looking in the mirror.”

They stunned the Spurs. Nearly shocked the Rockets, and probably should have. And then on a bone-cold Sunday night in Dallas, the Knicks, even playing without Tyson Chandler, too ill to stay on the court just minutes into the game, went nearly wire-to-wire to trip the Mavericks.

“As far as this trip goes, we have gotten out of that [dark] place,” said Carmelo Anthony, who had 15 points in the first quarter and finished with 19 in the 92-80 victory. “You can see guys doing things that as a team, as individuals we haven’t been doing all season long. It’s showing out there on the basketball court on both ends. Guys are starting to communicate more, talk more and have fun. That’s the most important thing.”

Where has this been the last two months? Don’t ask. The question is can it last?

“It’s a new year man. We’re getting bodies back,” said Martin, who fought through a tender ankle to hit 7-of-8 shots for 14 points and grabbed six boards. “If we can get everybody on the court at once that’d be a great thing.”

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle came away so impressed with the Knicks’ play in Texas that he rose up, unprompted, and strongly backed Mike Woodson and the work he’s done through an injury spat and speculation about his job.

“I marvel at the job he’s doing with this team right now given the circumstances, given all the ridiculous rumors about his job security and all the nonsense that’s being stirred up in the that media cesspool in New York City,” Carlisle said. “This is a man who’s one of the top coaches in the league, and a man of great integrity and substance. He proved that tonight. They easily could have swept this road trip. This is supposedly a team that’s dysfunctional. He’s got a great touch with that team.”

The Knicks even picked up a game on the suddenly smoking Toronto Raptors, who ascended a game above .500 and put a scare into the Heat on Sunday before being turned away. New York’s record remains unsightly, yet the win to get to 11-22 also closed the division gap to 5.5 games and to just 2.5 games behind the reeling Pistons for the final playoff spot.

But they’re not the only Atlantic squad suddenly doing work in 2014. Since the calendar changed, the NBA’s JV division has gone 9-5 with Boston racking up three of the losses. Philadelphia’s 3-0; Brooklyn’s 2-0; New York and Toronto are each 2-1. Collectively this past week they’ve taken down the West’s top three teams — Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Portland. Dallas makes four of the West’s top eight.

The Knicks, still down guards Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni, did it Friday with a collective team effort and good defense, holding Dallas to 41.0 percent shooting. Anthony had five assists, seven rebounds and a hustle block of Mavs forward Shawn Marion. Andrea Bargnani had 13 points and six rebounds. Amar’e Stoudemire had 11 points and seven rebounds. Tim Hardaway Jr. was 4-for-6 from the floor with 10 points. Iman Shumpert, a scoring machine in the first two games of the trip, made life tough on Monta Ellis and saved five of his nine points for crunch time with Dallas trying to make a run. With Anthony being doubled, Shumpert made a pretty drive past Dirk Nowitzki and then canned a big 3-pointer to ice it.

“Right now you can just see the way that guys are responding, playing,” Anthony said. “It seems like guys are having fun. We just want to build on that game by game and see what happens.”

With a tough schedule ahead that includes Miami, Phoenix, Indiana and the Clippers among their next seven games, it won’t take long to find out if the Knicks’ fight will extend beyond an inspiring trip through Texas.

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Thunder Keep Rolling With Easy Christmas Win


VIDEO: Westbrook leads OKC to easy win over Knicks

NEW YORK – Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are the league’s two leading scorers. Any comparison between the Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks ends there. And with Anthony sidelined with a sprained ankle, their Christmas Day matchup was not a fair fight. The Thunder rolled 123-94. Durant scored 29 points, Russell Westbrook had a triple-double, and neither needed to play the fourth quarter.

The Thunder are a machine right now. They’ve won 18 of their last 20 games, with the league’s second-best defense in that time. At 23-5, they are tied for the league’s best record with Portland and Indiana. They rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and, given their matchup advantages over the San Antonio Spurs, are the favorite to get back to The Finals.

Go back two months and we were wondering if they’d be able to stay near the top of the Western Conference with Westbrook recovering from knee surgery and their bench going through more changes. Well, Westbrook is just fine. He shot poorly on Wednesday, but finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in just 29 minutes.

“He had a triple-double in three quarters,” Durant said. “I think that speaks for itself.”

Health has obviously been a much bigger concern for the Knicks, but with or without Anthony, they’re a mess. The loss dropped them to 9-19 overall and 4-11 at Madison Square Garden. As if to introduce the national TV audience to their atrocious defense, they sent two guys to double-team Durant in the low post on the Thunder’s second possession of the afternoon, leaving Serge Ibaka wide open for a short jumper.

Getting into the paint relatively easily, Westbrook found more wide-open teammates throughout the afternoon. The Thunder recorded 32 assists on their 45 field goals.

“Our offense was probably the best we played all season,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said afterward. “Our ball movement, our ability to make the extra pass for shots was outstanding tonight.”

While the Knicks can’t seem to find any answers to their long list of problems, the Thunder seem to have everything figured out. They lost James Harden and then his replacement, Kevin Martin, over the last two offseasons. Yet they only broke stride when Westbrook went down with a knee injury in the 2013 playoffs.

Without Martin this season, the OKC bench has been the best in the league. While their starters had been outscored by 8.2 points per 100 possessions before Wednesday, all other OKC lineups were a plus-12.2 per 100. Their best per-possession plus-minus (NetRtg) marks all belong to their reserves. Reggie Jackson taken his experience from the postseason and turned into a serious playmaker, while Jeremy Lamb has replaced Martin’s perimeter shooting.

“They’re just buying in to what we need them to do, and they’ve been helping us a lot,” Durant said of the young reserves. “We’re just growing together.”

“I thought everybody came back focused and understanding we have to get better as a group,” Brooks added, “and not one guy needs to step up for the guys that we lost.”

And really, the Thunder depth is a perfect representation of the contrast between the two franchises. OKC is thriving because of the young players it has developed. Of its top nine guys in minutes played, only two — Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha — have played for another franchise.

The Knicks have imported most of their roster, haven’t had any kind of continuity over the last several years, and have paid the price. The latest square peg is Andrea Bargnani and the only guy they’ve had a chance to develop — Iman Shumpert — is the guy most mentioned in trade rumors.

There should be no more doubting the Thunder’s decision-making. Within the confines of a much stricter budget than New York’s, GM Sam Presti has made the right picks and his coaches have made the most of them.

“I take pride in guys getting better every year and I think it’s a reflection of our staff,” Brooks said, noting that the development of the team’s younger players is also a product of its stars’ work ethic. “We have great leaders in our locker room. They understand that how they perform and how they work trickles down to the rest of the team. And Kevin and Russell have done a great job of that.”

The Thunder continue to roll, game to game, season to season. They lose big-name players, move younger guys into bigger roles, and remain at the top of the Western Conference.

Blogtable: Offseason Hits And Misses

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Down with divisions | Missing in Golden State | Offseason hits and misses



VIDEO: Monta Ellis’ nails game-winner vs. Blazers

Which offseason acquisition has been awesome? Which not so much?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comKevin Martin is doing precisely what Minnesota needed and sought, and doing it so well that he’s rejuvenated as a player too. You’d have thought a spot with the contending Thunder team might have brought out the best in Martin but the starts and minutes he’s getting with the Timberwolves, under familiar coach Rick Adelman, have him thriving (22.7 ppg, 6.5 FTA). Worst? Gotta give a group stink-bomb award here to the Brooklyn Nets’ not-so-big four of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko for reasons — injuries, yes, but worse — that have been chronicled ad nauseam.

Dwight Howard (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Dwight Howard (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDwight Howard has made the Rockets a force, if not yet a true contender. The Rockets are still feeling their way along, have not yet found a consistent rhythm or plan of attack. Yet Howard is doing what he’s supposed to do in the middle, second in the league in rebounding and Houston is still 15-7 with much room for improvement. Runners-up: Andre Iguodala and Robin LopezOn the downside, Kevin Garnett: 6 points per game, 36 percent shooting. And I’m not sure there is a “yet.” Enough said.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comHard to argue with Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix. The Suns are 12-9 — who saw that coming? — and he’s averaging 18.6 ppg and 6.2 apg. Pretty heady stuff for Chris Paul‘s former backup. At the other end, here’s a two-for-one: Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The good news is that it can’t get any worse. Right?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBest job: Dwight Howard, followed by Kevin Martin, Monta Ellis and Marco Belinelli in some order. Most people will want to put a helmet on Howard no matter what, but the production cannot be denied. Also, I’m not ready to put Michael Carter-Williams in the conversation yet, but I could see adding him at the end of the list if this production continues and his shot gets a little better (which everyone knew would be an issue). MCW is putting up some numbers that rank among all players, not just rookies. Not coming through: Kevin Garnett over Paul Pierce. No, wait. Pierce over Garnett. Let’s just make it a field entry. Boston to Brooklyn doesn’t seem like brutal travel, but they got completely lost along the way.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDwight Howard is doing the best job. He’s not the same player he was in his Orlando heyday, but he’s still the best player among those who changed teams this summer and is still making an impact for the Rockets, who are among the most improved teams on both ends of the floor. I’m not including rookies for the second part (Hello, Anthony Bennett!), so Jared Dudley is my choice. I don’t know how your 3-point percentage can go from 39 percent to 32 percent when you go from playing for the Suns to playing alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but Dudley’s has. And he’s not making much of an impact elsewhere. The Clippers have been better both offensively and defensively with him on the bench.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Monta Ellis is getting the job done in Dallas. There is no doubt about it. He might have been the last big name free-agent to get his deal done, but he’s been far more productive than most of his critics imagined he’d be in a system that demands much more defensively than he was used to giving in either Golden State or Milwaukee. He’s not a candidate for the All-Defensive Team or anything, but he’s making strides. And he’s taken a ton of pressure off of Dirk Nowitzki at this critical stage in his career. Kudos to the Mavericks for taking the risk and cashing in … early on here. Injuries have prevented Al Jefferson from making the impact I thought he would in Charlotte. But that’s a good thing, in a roundabout way, because that means a solid team could get even more from the big man who was supposed to provide that low-post threat and presence on a nightly basis. Big Al hasn’t come through in that way just yet. He can, however, and probably will as the season progresses. And that’s a great thing for the Bobcats, who need to keep their early-season playoff groove going in the wilted Eastern Conference.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: It’s funny that you don’t hear that much talk about him, at least like we did last season, but Dwight Howard has been pretty great for the Rockets. He’s scoring 17 a game, grabbing 13.2 rebounds per game, and the Rockets are 15-7 overall. More relevantly, we don’t have to listen to endless rumors about what the future holds for Dwight. As for a guy we’re still waiting to break out, Andrea Bargnani has been pretty disappointing in New York I don’t think anyone expected him to come in and turn into Wilt Chamberlain, but I expected more than 14 and 5 per game.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I really like how Brandon Jennings is playing right now. He has paired wonderfully with Rodney Stuckey in the Pistons’ backcourt and has already made an impact as the team features in the 6th spot of the East. I am between him and Dwight Howard, who has regained his dominance in the key. As for “Superman,” the most interesting number is “22″. Out of 22. Meaning that he has played in all of the Rockets’ games. When he is healthy he can be an instant game-changer. As for the player who has not come through yet, I have to go with Paul Pierce, who is struggling with career-lows in points and field-goal percentage.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Over in Dallas, Monta Ellis is turning heads and breaking ankles as he seems to be as comfortable as he has ever been in his career. Ellis is putting up his most efficient season in years, meshing in well with his new coach and teammates. He is averaging team highs in points, assists, and steals, and has the Mavericks off to a respectable start. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Celtics-turned-Nets Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who – after all the hoopla – have had a nightmare start to the season and need to get their bearings soon to help their new team get back to winning ways.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: Apart from Iguodala, who meshed perfectly with the Warriors’ core from the start, I love the jobs that Nate Robinson and Paul Millsap are doing. Both have clear job profiles that fit their style of play, and they execute the gameplan to perfection. Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin and J.J. Redick also deserve to be mentioned. On the negative side, I think Josh Smith is the front-runner with Tyreke Evans a close second. The Pistons’ roster just doesn’t fit together very nicely, and Evans’ start in New Orleans has been derailed by injury.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 6


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe improving, may try to play Sunday | Bargnani’s ejection fires up Knicks fans | Nets’ rough season puzzles Lopez | Blazers turn to iPads for in-game help

No. 1: Bryant may try to play Sunday; says left ankle is improving — Three days ago, it was somewhat of a big deal that Kobe Bryant, who is still recovering from Achilles surgery, dunked in practice. On Wednesday, reports surfaced that Bryant would not play tonight when the Lakers travel to Sacramento. But after practicing Thursday and citing improvement in his left ankle, Kobe may be back in the lineup in a matter of days — perhaps even playing Sunday night when the Lakers host the Toronto Raptors (9:30 ET, NBA TV). ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times have reports on Bryant’s progress and potential return.

First, here’s McMenamin’s report on a potential Sunday return:

Kobe Bryant continues to hone in his aim toward a return date after spending nearly eight months sidelined following Achilles surgery.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ home game against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday is his latest target.

“I’m trying,” Bryant said after practice Thursday when asked specifically about the Toronto game. “We got to see how it feels tonight. I’m going to try to get another hard session in and then [Friday] morning try to push it again and the same thing tomorrow evening. Continue to just keep on measuring it.”

Bryant wouldn’t definitively say Sunday would be the day, but if not, Tuesday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns seems to be his next most likely comeback date.

“I think days,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said when asked to estimate how far away Bryant is from getting back on the court for a game.

“I’m not jumping through the gym by any means, but I don’t need to be able to do that in order to be a great player,” Bryant said.

The 18-year veteran said that he would “probably” have a reduced amount of playing time when he does return to game action. He averaged 38.6 minutes per game last season.

“Getting your sea legs, it takes some time to do that,” Bryant said. “That’s why we have preseason games and it builds to the regular season. It just takes awhile, no matter how much running and conditioning you do, to get out there and play is different. So, I’m sure I’ll be limited in some capacity.”

And here’s Bolch on Kobe’s improving left ankle, which is a key component to figuring out any return for the Lakers’ star:

Kobe Bryant practiced for a third consecutive day Thursday and said he felt improvement in his left ankle.

“It feels stronger this morning than it did yesterday before practice,” Bryant said, “and it’s less sore now than it was after last practice, so that’s progression.”

Bryant said he had already experienced enhanced range of motion in the ankle from a previous series of consecutive practices last month.

“After the first day or so the last time I practiced, my range of motion became restricted and everything kind of locked up and I wasn’t able to run and change directions and sprint like I really wanted to,” Bryant said, “I don’t feel like I have any limitations [now], really. The change of gear is not quite where I want it to be, but it’s easy to compensate through that and go out there and be effective.”

There was a rarity at practice: Bryant played with the second team, though it was only to allow the first-teamers to prepare for their game Friday against Sacramento.

Bryant spent the portion of practice reporters were allowed to observe shooting jumpers and free throws. He swished several long three-pointers and seemed to move with ease.

“I’m not jumping through the gym by any means,” Bryant said, “but I don’t need to be able to do that in order to be a great player.”

Bryant said he needed to break up lingering scar tissue in his ankle through movement and therapy. He said he was pleased with his conditioning but still needed to get into basketball shape.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about Thursday’s practice, his plans to return

***

No. 2: Crowd cheers Bargnani for ejection against Nets — Since coming over to the Knicks in an offseason trade with the Raptors, big man Andrea Bargnani has frustrated New York fans with inconsistent play and struggles (just like the rest of the Knicks have done all season, too). But his inspired play last night at Barclays Center against the rival Brooklyn Nets — and his refusal to back down to future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett — got cheers from the crowd. Bargnani outplayed Garnett and was even trash talking him, too, which got him tossed from last night’s game, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:

A large portion of the pro-Knicks crowd at Barclays Center stood up and cheered as Andrea Bargnani walked off the court with 8:23 left after his first NBA ejection for jawing with trash-talk king Kevin Garnett.

More impressive was as the 7-foot Italian headed for the tunnel after his second technical, the Knicks players on the court and bench were on their feet clapping too.

Bargnani had set the tone of the evening with a monstrous driving dunk down the right baseline and then ended it in style with an ejection that earned him major kudos in the giddy Knicks’ locker room.

“We need him to get upset like that,’’ J.R. Smith said. “We need him to get engaged. He played great but it was the wrong referee [Joey Crawford] making the call.’’

But his grappling and jawing with Garnett was refreshingly out of character.

“He held it down for us,’’ said Carmelo Anthony, whose profane battle with Garnett cost the Knicks a game last season against the Celtics. “He played well. He got kicked out when he didn’t think he was supposed to. Sometimes you got to do that. Tonight he was the sacrificial lamb. He got kicked out tonight, but it might have been worth it.’ ’’

It began with 9:12 left when Bargnani and Garnett became entangled and both tried grabbing each other’s jersey on the way down and pushing as they tried to get up. They each received technicals.

That wasn’t the end of it. Less than a minute later, Bargnani, after draining a 21-foot catch-and shoot, started yapping at Garnett on the way back downcourt. Crawford blew his whistle and sent Barngani to the showers with the Knicks up 30 points.

Bargnani said he was speaking English. But when Garnett, who had six points, was asked what Bargnani had said, he cracked, “I don’t understand Italian.’’

Bargnani had the last laugh, though.

“We were both talking,’’ he said. “There is no point to talking about it. We were both talking. I got ejected. I was far away from Joey. He just pointed.’’

It clearly wasn’t a subject Bargnani wanted to discuss. Unfortunately, his career in Toronto was marked by criticism he was too detached and not fiery enough.

“It’s not important,’’ Bargnani said. “The game is important and that we won. We got to use this positive energy and start building. I don’t think you can be happy about an ejection but we got the game. My ejection was just part of the game. The most important thing is we played great.’’


VIDEO: Andrea Bargnani gets ejected after trash-talking with Kevin Garnett

***

No. 3: Lopez: Nets season ‘more bizarre’ than 12-win campaign — Nets center Brook Lopez is arguably the best player Brooklyn has healthy as it plays most nights without the injured Paul Pierce and Deron Williams. Lopez has been with the Nets his whole career and has seen highs and lows, both personally and team-wise, but perhaps the worst point for the Nets as a team was a 12-win season in 2009-10. In an interview with Fred Kerber of the New York Post following last night’s loss to the Knicks, Lopez expounds on the disappointing and strange season so far in Brooklyn:

“I thought I got the craziness out of the way early, I thought I’d be done with it,” said Lopez, pointing back to the nightmare of his second season, the nauseating 12-70 record in 2009-10 when the Nets were a mere 29 games out of the playoffs. “This is definitely more bizarre than that, though.”

Yeah, tumbling to a 5-14 record after a 113-83 embarrassment against the now 4-13 Knicks Thursday at Barclays Center could be considered bizarre. Coaches and players spoke of defensive systems being inserted on the fly. That’s sort of different from the championship aspirations both teams espoused in the offseason.

Now add various injuries, the hiring of a future Hall of Fame player but unproven coach, the most widely reported demotion of an assistant coach in memory to all those thus-far failed expectations and you have REALLY bizarre.

“It’s been tough,” said Lopez, whose 24 points and nine rebounds, eight offensive, went for naught. “Obviously, it’s not going the way I think anyone planned it would. But you’ve got to stick with it. We have a lot of guys that have been around the league, been through [it] on good teams and bad teams so we know what we have to do.”

So why haven’t they done it?

“I don’t really want to blame injuries because I still feel we’re better than a lot of teams we played. I don’t know if it’s chemistry either because I’ve rarely been on a team like this where everyone really gets along with each other and respects each other,” Lopez said. “I don’t know if it’s just energy or what.”

Only 25 and in his sixth season. With all he has experienced already, the longest tenured current Net just feels like he has been around a lot longer. And despite all he has seen, he is still susceptible to surprises. Case in point: this season.

“Absolutely,” said Lopez. “I couldn’t have predicted this at the beginning of the season. I feel like I have more seasons than I do under my belt. Absolutely.”

***

No. 4: Blazers turn to iPads for in-game video — Across the NBA, teams have perhaps the deepest amount of video analysis of games, players and teams than ever before (heck, even fans can get nitty gritty with video on NBA.com/stats). The addition of SportVU cameras to every NBA arena before the season to track player movement along with the video research every team does on its own has made scouting deeper than ever. But the Portland Trail Blazers are taking that video-based scouting to a new level with their use of iPads during games to provide their players with assessments of what’s happening and what they can improve. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on this new scouting format that Portland is using:

Projectors are long gone, replaced with sophisticated computer software and tablet apps that have transformed scouting, game preparation and in-game management. Look closely at a Blazers game on television and you might spot LaMarcus Aldridge or Wesley Matthews sitting on the bench staring at an iPad. They’re watching video clips of themselves from earlier in the game, hoping to find tendencies or tips that might give them an edge.

But the Blazers’ use of iPads extends well beyond a couple of players scrutinizing video a couple of times during games. This season, the Blazers have started using iPads extensively as a tool, handing out the easy-to-use Apple devices to every player on the roster and loading them with scouting reports, defensive assignments, game clips and more. Before practices, before games — even after games on planes — the Blazers have access to hours of video at their fingertips.

“I think the league is kind of on the cutting edge, on the forefront, of video technology,” Stotts said. “With the sports in-house cameras and all the statistical data that they provide, the use of video replay and the continued use and expansion of video replay; it’s well thought out, it’s trying to make the game better, improve players, coaches, management. I think the NBA has always been on the cutting edge of digital video and this is the next step.”

Each of the Blazers has a personalized iPad, complete with a sticker on the back featuring his uniform number. When players walk into the locker room at the practice facility for a workout — or into any locker room in any NBA city before a game — the iPads are usually waiting on their chairs.

They feature a full scouting report of that night’s opponent and a variety of video clips tailored to each player, featuring clips of themselves and their opponents. Before that game against the Suns, Freeland had access to his offensive possessions not only from recent Blazers games, but also from the first meeting versus the Suns, which provided insight into how the Suns might defend him later that night. He also had access to the offensive clips of every player he might guard that night — including Plumlee, Channing Frye and Alex Len — which allowed him to look for tendencies and go-to moves just before tipoff.

Every team in the NBA uses video for scouting in one way or another. For years, organizations have housed video departments and employed video coordinators — Jonathan Yim fills the role for the Blazers — who have been instrumental in helping coaches make in-game adjustments. That used to be relegated to halftime meetings, when coaches would show clips on screens in locker rooms and tweak defensive coverages or offensive sets.

But the NBA altered its rules prior to the 2012-13 season. Now, teams are allowed to review video from any game — including the one they are playing — on the bench as long as it does not feature a live video feed. Aldridge and Matthews are the Blazers players who most often take advantage of the rule change, and they regularly peruse clips in-game on iPads.

During the first half of Wednesday night’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Aldridge was pulled from the game and, about two minutes later, an intern from the video department left the video room with an iPad and delivered it to the bench. Aldridge went on to have a monster game, recording a career-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, perhaps aided by a tip he picked up from the iPad.

Not only do players have access to the iPads for pregame scouting and in-game adjusting, they also have the ability to watch them when they travel. After every game, Yim instantly loads each player’s iPad with clips from the just-completed game in case they want to watch them as they head to the next city. It’s not mandatory that players watch video during a flight, and some purposely avoid doing so to clear their heads. But others say it helps to watch as soon as they can.

“That’s part of the reason why I don’t sleep,” Matthews said. “I’m playing the game over and over in my head. It’s easier for me to look at it right away. It’s better for me because I can look at it and I can see everything right away, rather than make it more dramatic in my mind.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks are planning an in-game acknowledgement of Kyle Korver once he breaks the consecutive games with a 3-pointer streak … Wizards center Marcin Gortat is concerned that rookie Otto Porter, Jr. might not hold up in an NBA game … A sore knee will likely keep Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams out at least one game

ICYMI Of The Night: Nothing like a nice at-the-rim denial (from DeAndre Jordan on Jon Leuer) to get your weekend started right …


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan gets up to deny Jon Leuer at the rim

Nets Take Laughingstock Title Away From Knicks


VIDEO: The Knicks thump the Nets in a 30-point win

BROOKLYN – As the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks accumulated a surprisingly sad 8-26 cumulative record, it became abundantly clear that neither team could defend to save its season. Entering Thursday’s matchup of the busted boroughs, the Knicks ranked 28th defensively and the Nets ranked 30th.

Only one of the two teams took advantage of this fact, and the Knicks ran away with a 113-83 victory at Barclays Center, ending their nine-game losing streak.

On Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony said his team was “the laughingstock of the league.” But 24 hours later, they’ve been stripped of that title.

The Nets have the worst 3-point defense in the NBA, allowing their opponents to shoot 40.3 percent from beyond the arc entering Thursday’s game. They’re slow and deliberate on both ends of the floor, but really lack the foot speed to help in the paint and then recover to the 3-point line. So it only takes a dribble drive or a ball reversal for their opponent to get an open look from the outside.

The Knicks knew this, moved the ball and fired away on Thursday, hitting a season-high 16 threes on 27 attempts. Anthony (six assists and only 12 shots) shared the ball, Iman Shumpert (5-for-7 from 3-point range) shot with confidence, and the Knicks looked like the team they were last season, when they set an NBA record for 3-point makes and attempts, ranked third in offensive efficiency, and racked up 54 wins.

Against the league’s third-worst defense, the Nets should have been similarly efficient. With Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire as two of their three rotation bigs, the Knicks have consistently been torched on pick-and-rolls this season, often escorting opposing ball-handlers to the basket.

Yet the Nets went a good 10 minutes of the first quarter without running a pick-and-roll once. They too often tried to run their offense through the post, which allowed Bargnani and Stoudemire to stay stationary. The few times they did make those guys move, they got good shots.

Part of that is coaching. Though Brook Lopez led all scorers with 24 points, the Nets’ offense could have been a lot more effective as a whole if he was catching the ball on the move more than in the post. Jason Kidd has to find a way to get the ball and his players moving offensively. It’s far too early to say that hiring him was a mistake, but we’ve seen enough to say that he’s not a very good coach right now.

Injuries are obviously an issue. The Nets are still without Deron Williams, by far their biggest threat off the dribble. With Williams sitting out for the 10th time in the last 11 games, point guard duties were again left to Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor. Livingston is athletic, but not all that quick. Taylor is quick, but shaky and inexperienced.

Still, Brooklyn could have run more pick-and-rolls with both, or with Joe Johnson, and just tried to make the New York defense move. They didn’t and they lost by 30.

Both Kidd and Kevin Garnett cited the injuries when discussing their struggles after the game. Garnett added that the Nets are making changes in the wake of Lawrence Frank‘s sudden departure from the bench.

“Those things play a big part into this,” Garnett said. “I’m a firm believer when we’re whole and we have our team full throttle, then that’s what I believe in. Obviously, I believe in the guys that’s put on the floor and we’re going to give it an effort, but when you’re playing teams, you want to play at your whole. That’s what I believe in. And I’m not going to believe anything else until we are whole.”

Before the game, Kidd said that “we all feel confident we have enough to win.” After the game, he asked not to be judged until his team is healthy.

“I think you get evaluated by being whole,” he said. “It starts there. And then once that occurs, then you’re evaluated. That’s as simple as it gets.”

Yes, the Nets are missing four of their top eight guys. And Williams’ importance became even more clear on Thursday. But the Nets still lost at home … by 30 points … to a team that hadn’t won in three weeks and is missing its most important player. The injury excuse only goes so far. And while Williams will help the Brooklyn offense, the defense isn’t going to start looking like that of the Heat upon his return.

Tyson Chandler’s eventual return isn’t going to solve all New York’s problems either. The Knicks are still a long way from digging out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, especially because they don’t get to play the Nets again until Jan. 20. But they do have a relatively soft schedule over the next two weeks and certainly found some confidence Thursday.

Will that translate into a run up the standings? Even if it doesn’t, at least they’re not the laughingstock of the league anymore.