Posts Tagged ‘Knicks’

Morning shootaround — Feb. 16

VIDEO: Highlights of Sunday’s 64th All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden


What’s next for Amar’e Stoudemire? | Westbrook bounces back in a major way | Rally in the works for LeBron, Cavs | Brotherly love shines during All-Star Game

No. 1:  What’s next for Amar’e Stoudemire? — Now that the New York Knicks are finally parting ways with their one-time savior with a buy-out, what is next for Amar’e Stoudemire? All signs point to Stoudemire packing his bags and heading back to the Western Conference, with the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns all believed to be in the mix once he clears waivers. Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein of provide some context:

Stoudemire, who was in the final season of a five-year, $99.7 million contract with the Knicks, had said he would spend the All-Star break pondering his future, specifically whether to ask the last-place Knicks for a buyout to give himself an opportunity to join a team in the playoff hunt.

“It’s not an easy decision to make,” Stoudemire told Yahoo! Sports. “Over time, we will see how things pan out. You give yourself a break during the All-Star break. You think about it with your family. … That will give me a good solid week on how to weigh out the rest of the season.”

The Mavs can offer Stoudemire only the veteran’s minimum, but he would likely have a significant role off the bench as a candidate for minutes at power forward and center behindDirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler.

“He would fit in great because we play a lot of pick-and-roll,” Chandler, who played with Stoudemire in New York the past three seasons, said recently. “Coach [Rick Carlisle] does an excellent job understanding scorers and how to get them the ball and putting them in a position to succeed. Not only that, we’ve got the best training staff in the league. That also helps.”

The 6-foot-10 Stoudemire, a six-time All-Star, has averaged 12.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in 36 games for the Knicks this season despite dealing with a variety of injuries. He missed 14 of the previous 18 games — due to ankle, wrist and knee injuries — before returning in the Feb. 6 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Stoudemire, 32, has said the decision to request a buyout would be difficult because of his loyalty to Knicks owner Jim Dolan. But he likewise acknowledged in the Yahoo! interview that the constant losing has made it hard for him to remain motivated while playing for the Knicks.

“All possibilities at this point are still open,” Stoudemire said last week. “The door is still open for that. But at the same time, I am with the Knicks now. I got to stay optimistic about things and what we are doing here. I can’t really focus on the future, because it’s not here.

“We still have a couple weeks left before it’s all said and done. It’s a decision I have to make with my family to figure out the best scenario for the near future.”

Carmelo Anthony heard about Stoudemire’s buyout shortly after the end of Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“One of the main reasons I’m a New York Knick today was because of him. To see him leave, to see the situation where it’s at today, I know what he wants and you have to respect that as an athlete as a competitor,” Anthony said. “… When he came [to New York] he brought back some excitement to the game of basketball here in New York. There was hope when he came back. People started believing in the New York Knicks again. He was the main reason for that belief and for that hope.”


No. 2: Westbrook bounces back in a major way — No one had more to prove during Sunday night’s 64th All-Star Game than Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who was not around last year in New Orleans due to injury. He made his presence felt early and often this time around, stealing the show and MVP honors on the big stage at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t by accident that Westbrook came within a point of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record of 42 points. Westbrook was a man on a mission. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman explains:

Westbrook was named MVP after scoring a game-high 41 points off the bench to lead the West All-Stars to a 163-158 win over the East inside Madison Square Garden, the renowned arena on 33rd Street and 8th Avenue in which legends have been made.

His scoring outburst, which featured 23 points coming in his first seven minutes, left him one point shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 42, which he set in 1962.

“Definitely a blessing, man,” Westbrook said. “You never want to take no games off, especially an All-Star Game to get a chance to go out and show your talents. I’m blessed to be able to play the game that I love and definitely happy we got the win.”

Westbrook wowed the sold out Garden crowd of 17,198 with a jaw-dropping mix of pinpoint-accurate jump shooting and rim-rattling dunks. He made 16 of 28 shots, including five of his nine 3-point tries. His 27 first-half points marked the most of any player in a half in All-Star game history, topping Glen Rice and Kyrie Irving’s old record of 24.

“It was a spectacular show of athleticism,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry.

Twelve months ago, many questioned whether Westbrook would ever flaunt this type of athleticism again. He underwent an initial surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee in April 2013. A loose stitch from that procedure necessitated a second operation just before the start of the 2013-14 season. And the day after Christmas 2013, after Westbrook torched the Knicks to the tune of a triple-double in this same arena, he learned that he needed a third surgery to alleviate chronic swelling.

The last procedure forced him to lose 27 consecutive games and his customary All-Star spot.

If last year’s postseason performance wasn’t confirmation enough, Sunday night showed that Westbrook has indeed returned to his rightful place at the pinnacle of his profession.

“That just shows what type of person he is,” said teammate Kevin Durant, who was limited to 10 minutes in this All-Star Game while nursing his own nagging injuries. “Forget the player, just the person. The perseverance he showed, the adversity he went through, just being resilient. It’s a lot of words you can group with Russell Westbrook, man. He’s just tough. I’m so happy that he came out here and did his thing.”


No. 3: Rally in the works for LeBron, Cavs — With the busy All-Star Weekend in the rear view and a few days of rest before the second half push of the season begins, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have a little time to get their bearings. They know the mountain left to climb is steep. But it can be done. They’ve already come back from the brink once this season. Now we’ll see if they can do it again. It won’t be easy, though. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

It’s been a theme for him this season, it was the case for him in the NBA’s 64th All-Star Game Sunday night, and it must hold if the Cavaliers are to continue their momentum in the second half and deep into the postseason.

James logged another brilliant All-Star performance, posting 30 points, five rebounds, and seven assists in a 163-158 loss for James’ Eastern Conference. With 278 points in 11 All-Star games, James is just three points shy of passing Kobe Bryant for the most in league history.

Not only does James, a two-time Most Valuable Player in All-Star games (Sunday night’s MVP was Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook), always play well in them, but he also is a dominate force at Madison Square Garden – where this game was played.

So it should come as no surprise that James was rocketing up and down the court, rattling the rim with dunks and draining threes. He registered one of the plays of the game, catching a third-quarter lob from Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in the third quarter and flushing it with a reverse slam.

Only, on Thursday following a loss to Chicago, James declared in no uncertain terms he needed “rest,” both mentally and physically. He’d had an arduous couple of weeks, dealing with a sprained wrist and sore ankle, and didn’t know until sometime Sunday how he’d approach the All-Star Game.

And then he opened the game with two dunks and tallied 15 points in the first quarter alone. There would be no rest for the weary on this night.

“It’s just a feel,” James said Sunday night. “I understand that my fans, our fans of this great game, voted me in for a reason. They wanted to see me play, see me do what I’ve been doing this year, and that’s why they voted me in. So it’s my obligation, my responsibility to go out there if I’m feeling 80 percent, 85 percent, or 90 to go out there and give my fans something, give them what they wanted to see, and hopefully I did that.”


No. 4: Brotherly love shines during All-Star Game — It was a special night for so many, but no one will take away the memories from Sunday’s All-Star Game that the Gasol brothers will relish for the rest of their lives. Pau of the Bulls and Marc of the Grizzlies were in the middle of the floor for the opening tip at Madison Square Garden. It was a historical moment for the NBA and for the Spaniards. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune provides the details:

Numerical symmetry is nice. Brotherly love is something altogether more special.

For the record, Pau Gasol beat younger brother Marc on the historic opening tip for the West’s 163-158 victory over the East in Sunday’s 64th annual extravaganza. It marked the first time in NBA history that brothers started an All-Star Game.

The 321 combined points set an All-Star Game record.

“It’s a great privilege to be in this position because it’s hard to leave your country and get to a new country and compete and climb yourself to the top,” Pau said of his family’s journey from Spain to stardom. “The path is usually harder. So we take pride and understand the value of it and are just proud to represent a lot of people that look up to us.”

That was the sentiment. This was the sibling rivalry.

“It was cool to win the jump ball,” Pau said.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New slam dunk king Zach LaVine is betting on himself in a contest with LeBron James … Are the Timbwerolves going to get busy in the trade market before Thursday’s deadline? … The Nets and Thunder could be ready to do business involving Brook Lopez and Reggie Jackson … Jason WThompson is ready to force a trade in Sacramento … The Spurs could be the dark horse team in the Stoudemire sweepstakes

ICYMI, they played the 64th NBA All-Star Game Sunday night at Madison Square Garden …

VIDEO: The All-Star Game Top 10

VIDEO: MVP Russell Westbrook goes off for the Western Conference All-Stars

With better Knicks record, Carmelo would play on

VIDEO: Carmelo talks at All-Star Media Day

NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony admitted that there’s a lot going into the likely decision to shut himself down for the rest of the season after his appearance in Sunday’s All-Star Game. Not the least of which is the Knicks’ worst-in-the-NBA 10-43 record.

“If we had a winning record and had a chance to make it to the playoffs, there would probably be a lot of discussion about keeping it going, but taking time off before the playoffs,” Anthony said at Friday’s media day session.

The All-Star forward said there is “nothing structurally wrong” with his knee, but it would require surgery.

“Personally this season has been kind of emotionally unstable, mentally unstable just trying to figure things out and find our way. Then you come to a point where you just gotta start thinking positive about the situation, kind of just embracing the situation right now, whether it’s negative or positive.

“Of course, I didn’t expect it to be like this. I don’t think no one expected it to be like this.”

Anthony pushed back at the criticism he’s received from some corners about choosing to play while injured in the All-Star Game because he has been waiting for this showcase moment.

“I played when I wasn’t supposed to play,” Anthony said. “For people to say that is absurd. I’ve played through this since the second game of the season. For somebody to say I was waiting for this moment?

“Yeah, I was waiting for the moment. The All-Star Game is here in New York, so of course, I was waiting for it. But I played when I wasn’t supposed to play, when people were telling me to sit out, I was fighting them and still going out there and playing. It was almost to the point the last couple of days I wasn’t going to participate in the All-Star Weekend. People are going to talk. The only thing I can control is what I do with my body.

“At the end of the day, it’s like damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If I would have said I was not participating in the game, I would have gotten backlash for that. Now that I say I’m participating I’m getting backlash. I’m happy. I’m here. The game is here in New York and the fans voted me in, so I’m gonna play in the game.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 188) Rick Fox’s Return

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Call off the search party.

He’s back.

That’s right, Rick Fox has finally made it back to his seat for Episode 188 of the Hang Time Podcast.

After more than a month on the missing list, the third member of our team is back in uniform and ready to go.

We had some serious catching up to do — everything from the beginning and end of the Hawks’ 19-game win streak to the beginning and end and the new beginning of the Cavaliers’ 11-game wins streak, the end of Kobe Bryant‘s season, All-Star starters announcement, selection of the All-Star reserves and plenty more — so be patient with us.

We had to get reacquainted around here on all fronts. Between trips to the Bahamas and various other travels, we had to help Rick find his way back to the Hang Time Podcast grind. It doesn’t take long, though.

Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds!

We ask and answer all of the pertinent questions and plenty more on Episode 188 of The Hang Time Podcast … Rick Fox’s Return …



As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of,  Lang Whitaker of’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and our main man Poncho, filling in this week for best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

VIDEO: Rick Fox and Brent Barry chop it up about the Hawks, Warriors and more during the Sunday Feast

Morning shootaround — Feb. 2

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 1


Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail | Commissioner in favor of expanded All-Star rosters | KG slowly disappearing in Brooklyn | Timberwolves ready for Rubio’s return

No. 1: Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail — Injuries to DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha have opened on a door for Kent Bazemore, yet another amazing story for a franchise going through an amazing time (a 17-0 January and 19-game win-streak gives way to …?) for all involved. Bazemore gets more of the spotlight tonight in New Orleans, when the Hawks go for their 20th straight against the Pelicans, as Matt Winkeljohn explains in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

He excelled in the summer of 2012 at the Portsmouth Invitational for NBA candidates and the 6-foot-5, 201-pound guard/forward from Old Dominion heard from the Hawks after he went undrafted. They ended up bidding against Golden State for him and lost.

“We started tracking Ken back at Portsmouth and through the summer. He went to Golden State and we followed closely,” Hawks assistant general manager Wes Wilcox said. “He didn’t play much, but he played in the playoffs and defended well. He had a very successful summer league and a couple good stints in the D-League. Then, he got a run with the Lakers [after being traded in the middle of last season].

“Whenever a player shows success over a sustained period in [multiple] elements, that’s a good indicator. Plus, his background checked out … character, personality. We spend a great deal of time trying to identify character traits: grit, resilience, work rate, basketball intelligence, the desperation to be great …”

Bazemore has a more mixed memory of that playoff stint.

“In the first round against San Antonio, in Game 1, [Warriors guard] Klay Thompson was in foul trouble so I go in and guard Boris Diaw. They run a high pick-and-roll with him and Tony Parker,” he said. “I get a stop and make a layup with three seconds left to go up one.

“Then, [Manu] Ginobili drains this 3-pointer right in my face … so that was a very big scenario in my career. It helped me with getting my name out there, though.”

After joining the Lakers, Bazemore went off.

He played in 23 game and averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and shot 45.1 percent. He was good on 37.1 percent of his 3-pointers. And he defended.

“LA worked wonders for me,” he said. “I played so many minutes, actually got in the game flow, found out what it was like to guard the best player.”

After the Hawks out-bid others with a two-year, $4 million contract last summer, Bazemore had to not only get healthy, but tweak his game. He tore a tendon in a foot last season and had surgery over the summer. He has tried to change the ways he runs and jumps.

“[Hawks assistant] Ben Sullivan is my shooting coach. He’s helped a lot,” Bazemore said. “I was shooting off my inside two fingers.”

Sullivan said: “He had mechanical issues … it wouldn’t be the same shot every time. We tried to make sure he would have a motion that was repeatable. He’s put in a lot of work.”

This is nothing new for Bazemore, who is averaging 3.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and shooting 42.2 percent, including a 38.6 mark from beyond the 3-point line.

Despite growing up in Kenland, N.C., he was not recruited by Duke, North Carolina or any of college basketball’s big dogs.

“I was a huge N.C. State fan growing up … I wanted to go there like crazy and they never offered me,” he said. “I was a late bloomer. I redshirted [at ODU] and I didn’t score in practice until like February.

“I just always prided myself on working and told myself, ‘You have a chance, you have a chance.’ I just kept believing.”

VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews tonight’s Hawks-Pelicans game



NBA postpones tonight’s games in New York area due to weather conditions

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The NBA has postponed the New York Knicks-Sacramento Kings game and the Brooklyn Nets-Portland Trail Blazers game tonight due to blizzard conditions expected in the New York area.

The Kings-Knicks game has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 3 at 7 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden. The Blazers-Nets game has been rescheduled for Monday, April 6 at 7 p.m. ET at Barclays Center.

The Trail Blazers-Nets game was originally scheduled to air tonight on NBA TV but has now been replaced by the Minnesota-Oklahoma City game at 8 p.m. ET.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 17

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 16


Blatt’s curve ball works wonders for Cavaliers | Russ goes wild on Warriors | Raptors are no match for Hawks | Kawhi’s comeback sparks Spurs

No. 1:Blatt’s curve ball works wonders for Cavaliers — Give David Blatt credit for recognizing a crisis and figuring out his own way of handling it, so to speak. All the denials in the world won’t make the Cleveland Cavaliers’ issues go away. The only thing that will quiet the current storm surrounding this team is winning. And the Cavaliers, after a 1-7 slide and six straight losses without LeBron James in the lineup, are suddenly on the other side, winners of two straight games after their Los Angeles sweep. They wrapped it up with Friday’s win over the Clippers. But the best move Blatt made came before Thursday’s win over the Lakers, when the coach threw a curve ball of his own into the mix and changed the tenor of things for all involved. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Blatt has acknowledged that he’s continuing to make adjustments and admitted to having room to grow in his first year as an NBA head coach. Part of coaching is about feel and instincts, gauging what the team needs at that moment in time.

The best call Blatt made to get his team in the proper mindset against the Lakers was tricking his team into thinking they had practice the day before.

“(Bowling) didn’t seem to affect too many people’s jump-shots. This man (J.R. Smith) was throwing a six-pound ball around,” Love revealed. “Those events are fun. We were able to go out there and bowl, eat bad food and enjoy ourselves. It had us loose for the game.”

Loose hasn’t been a word affiliated with the Cavaliers of late; tense, or uptight would probably be better descriptors. There is a lot of pressure placed on this organization — from ownership, to management, on down to the players. It has been a tough road thus far.

Over the past month, the Cavaliers have either played a game off a single-day rest or participated in back-to-backs. It’s been that long since they’ve had two days or more off in between games. It’s good to get away sometimes.

Chemistry off the court is just as important as on the court. Or in a bowling alley.

“I was happy,” Kyrie Irving said after registering 22 points. “One thing that’s never seen on camera and I consistently say it, this is the closest team that I’ve been on. We always have fun whether we’re getting ready for a game or a practice or we go bowling, it’s a team activity that we just personally enjoy.

“We enjoy being around one another and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Obviously there’s things we’ve got to fix out there on the court, but relationship- wise, we couldn’t be any better.”

VIDEO: Kyrie Irving and the Cavs lit up Staples Center two nights in a row


Report: Knicks shopping Calderon, Bargnani

VIDEO: The Game Time crew breaks down the job Phil Jackson is doing in New York

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Phil Jackson is not done dealing yet in New York.

The New York Knicks’ boss didn’t necessarily expect to take apart the roster this soon in New York, but after moving J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert last week to Cleveland, it appears Jackson is intent on doing more trade business in these opening days of the New Year.

Both Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani are in Jackson’s crosshairs now, according to a report from’s Marc Stein and Ian Begley. Amar’e Stoudemire, however, is not believed to be in the current plans:

The New York Knicks are actively tryi‎ng to trade veterans Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani as part of their ongoing roster clearout, according to league sources.

The Knicks recently dealt J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland and waived center Samuel Dalembert to start the process of disassembling a roster mired in the worst start in franchise history at 5-35.

Knicks president Phil Jackson, in publicly taking the blame for the team’s dreadful record under rookie coach Derek Fisher, said Saturday that “no one should be surprised” if the club continues to reshape its roster through deals prior to the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

But ‎sources maintain that the Knicks are not looking to move Stoudemire and, at least for now, intend to keep him for the rest of the season. That could theoretically lead to Stoudemire — who has relished his time with the Knicks despite the club’s struggles — re-signing with them over the summer at a reduced rate. The 32-year-old former All-Star, who has been plagued by knee injuries in recent years, is playing out the final year of his current contract at $23.4 million.

Calderon, meanwhile, has no shortage of admirers around the league despite his struggles this season, averaging a mere 9.3 points per game on 40.8-percent shooting. But the two years left on his contract after this season — worth $15.1 million — could make it difficult to move the 33-year-old Spaniard, ‎who arrived in New York in late June as the Knicks’ foremost return in the Tyson Chandler deal with Dallas.

Sources say Bargnani, meanwhile, is a candidate to be waived next month if New York can’t find a deal for the former No. 1 overall pick and his $11.5 million expiring contract before the Feb. 19 deadline for deals.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 184) featuring Vince Goodwill Jr.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If you want to know the fastest way to spoil something special in the NBA, just check the chemistry.

No championship team operates without good chemistry. No team harboring championship dreams, even the ones boasting the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant (the last two men to earn MVP honors, can overcome bad chemistry.

That would explain the presence of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder being involved in the three-team trade with the New York Knicks that went down Monday, a somewhat shocking player and asset swap that sent Dion Waiters from the Cavs to the Thunder, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks to the Cavs. The Knicks piled up more Draft picks and cap space that will help them continue the Phil Jackson-led chemistry tweak going on in New York.

They are all chasing the same thing the Detroit Pistons discovered when they waived veteran forward Josh Smith before Christmas and promptly ripped off five straight wins. They are searching for that cosmic mix that Vince Goodwill Jr. of The Detroit News describes on Episode 184 of the Hang Time Podcast.


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of,  Lang Whitaker of’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the new best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

VIDEO: The Detroit Pistons are on a roll right now that no one saw coming

Morning shootaround — Jan. 4

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3


Loss to Rockets have the Heat, Bosh falling in the East standings | Change in ownership looming, Hawks sell themselves on courts | Reality bites the Wolves

No. 1: Loss to Houston has Heat dazed — Funny how the NBA grind goes sometime. The Rockets went into their game with Miami wobbly from a 28-point thumping against  the Pelicans that was so bad, Rockets coach Kevin McHale benched his entire starting five at one point and remarked afterward: “I wish we never played again … we’re falling apart.” Then on Saturday they turned around and beat Miami by 36. The NBA season is weird that way. The other interesting subplot in this game involved Chris Bosh, who weighed a free agent offer from the Rockets last summer before returning to Miami. It was a hectic period for Houston. Essentially, they lost Chandler Parsons in free agency because they were chasing Bosh, who was born and raised in Texas (Dallas). With Bosh, the Rockets envisioned a starting five of Parsons, Bosh, James Harden and Dwight Howard and figured to make a much more serious run in the West. As it was, Bosh took the max offer and stand in South Beach. Well, things worked out well financially for Bosh, but here in Year One without You Know Who, the Heat have lost four straight and are in eighth place in the East, one game ahead of the Pacers for the final playoff spot. Their ninth set of back-to-back games will conclude Sunday against the Nets. Bosh is among those wondering where the next winning streak will come. He could’ve taken less money and won more games in Houston but refuses to re-think his choice. Jenny Dial Creech of The Houston Chronicle has more:

“I wanted to see if I could have that increased role and still be successful and it’s out there in front of me and it’s out there in front of this team so I just have to make sure I do my part and make sure we don’t lose track of whats important, as far as our effort and energy on the court,” Bosh said. “We have to continue to bring it, no matter what happens.”

Bosh’s role has increased and he has been relied on to bring more offense to the Heat. He went from averaging 16.2 points per game last season to 21.4 this season.

With the added offensive responsibilities comes better defense. Bosh said teams play him differently this year and he is trying to use that competition to become a better player in his 12th season.

“That’s all I’m trying to concentrate on, most of the time,” Bosh said. “It’s different every night and I have to read and react very quickly throughout the course of the game and figure things out.”


No. 2: Change in ownership is coming, and so are Hawks — Well, look who’s in first place in the East all of a sudden. An unexpected season in Atlanta just turned up a notch when the Hawks went to Portland and had their way against the Blazers. They led for much of the night and kept holding off Portland and suddenly you must ask yourself: Are the Hawks for real? It looks that way. Not only are they leading the East, the Hawks have beaten some of the best teams in the West, including the Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets and now Blazers to win 18 of their last 20, including four straight. Paul Millsap scored 27 points and pretty much secured a spot on the All-Star team with another solid night and the Hawks once again used an offensive system built on finding the open man to confuse Portland,which was 18-2 and 9-0 against East teams at home. This comes on the heels of news that current Hawks ownership has agreed to sell 100 percent of the team. This might be the first time the Atlanta Spirit group agreed on anything. Since forming and buying the Hawks, the multi-layered group has clashed on issues. But after seeing the purchase price for the Bucks and Clippers, the owners have agreed to cash out in unison, which will only help hike the purchase price. The identity of the next owner remains to be seen but there is a chance the Hawks could change hands this season. And when that ownership swap happens, only then will the fate of Danny Ferry be decided. That’s the weird part about the Hawks and their first-place status. The guy who built them is in exile after a tumultuous summer, choosing to take a leave of absence. But you have to think Ferry will have an excellent chance to slide back into his office, given how the Hawks have played lately. We should also add that Jeff Teague is averaging 24 points and 8 assists over the last four games. Anyway, while it’s hard to single out one player on the Hawks who’s responsible for what we’re seeing, Millsap is having a strong season here in his walk year. The Hawks would love to extend not only him, but Al Horford, who’s deal has one more season left. Tony Jones of The Tribune has more on Millsap, the former Jazz forward:

The points. The rebounds. The career high numbers in assists and steals. The All-Star recognition of last season and the realization round the NBA that he’s one of the best power forwards in the league. None of it matters much to Paul Millsap. It’s nice and all and yes, he’s opened eyes since leaving the Utah Jazz two summers ago. But Millsap has been and always wants to be known for winning, and this may be his best chance.

As the calendar turns to 2015, Millsap and the Hawks have a common goal: Taking the Eastern Conference.

“We feel like we have a shot,” Millsap said. “We know that last year didn’t end up the way we wanted. We thought we should’ve won that seventh game at Indiana (in the first round of the playoffs). We want to go farther this year.”

Millsap is a walking nightly mismatch. Yes, he’s undersized as a 6-8 power forward. But he now possesses three-point range, and the ability to take bigger guys out with him on the perimeter. He’s never stopped rebounding the ball. Him and Al Horford are difficult to contain on the interior.

“When I first came to the team, my relationship with Paul was just a normal teammate to teammate kind of thing,” said Gordon Hayward. “But once I started playing more, and me and Paul started talking more, I got to know him a lot better. We got a lot closer. I’ve always admired how hard he works.”

Millsap figures to be a hot commodity once July rolls around. And with the way he’s played the last two years, deservedly so.

“I just try to stay in the moment,” Millsap said. “We have a great team, and we have an opportunity to do some special things as a team this season. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”


No. 3: Reality bites the Wolves after 11th straight loss — You’re tempted to yell “tim-berrrrrrrr” at the Wolves, but that would suggest they’re falling from a high perch. The reality is the Wolves were never high to begin with, and right now this young and injured team is clearly struggling. Not only are they playing a batch of rookies and second-year players, they’re missing three starters and playing in the West. That’s a recipe for what you’re now seeing, nights when the Wolves are barely competitive. For the second time in five days, they lost to the Jazz, and Utah isn’t exactly a powerhouse. All of a sudden, coach Flip Saunders is talking possible lineup changes, but is there really any way to fix the Wolves this season? Eventually they’ll get Ricky Rubio, Nik Pekovic and Kevin Martin hack from injuries, so that’ll help a little. But probably not a lot, not in the deep and very dangerous West. Basically, this season is shaping up to be as expected, with Minnesota playing young players and giving them room and time to grow, while taking it on a chin hard enough to land another high lottery pick next June. It will be considered a successful year if these young players are more consistent by February and March and making fewer mistakes. Until then, there will be more nights like Saturday, when the Wolves, who have only won once since the day after Thanksgiving, giving up 15 rebounds to guys like Trevor Booker and a career high 13 points to guys like Rudy Gobert. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune explains:

Saunders vowed lineup changes and other corrective measures to help right a listing ship. It’s one that tilted even further toward the horizon Saturday. Saunders lamented his young team’s lack of energy and willingness to compete against a Utah team that, while also undermanned, has won six of nine games.

“Energy comes from within,” Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins said. “No one can tell you to play hard. You have to want to play hard.”

“They beat us on energy plays and they ripped in and took our hearts away,” Saunders said.

The Wolves also had no answer for Jazz point guard Trey Burke, who shook Friday’s 2-for-19 shooting performance (including 0-for-11 on three pointers) against the Hawks and scored a season-high 28 points.

“He’s be first team all-league if he played against us every time,” Saunders said of Burke. “Maybe I should’ve drafted him based on how he’s played against us and in this arena.”

“Like I told our guys, don’t think it can’t get any worse,” said Saunders. “It definitely can.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott wants Kobe Bryant to shoot more, not less … Kobe took a shot at the AAU system, but didn’t KD and CP3 and LeBron go through that very same system? … Knicks still contemplating whether to shelve Carmelo for the year  …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Jazz center Rudy Gobert made one of the best blocks of the season on Shabazz Muhammad…

VIDEO: Block of the night

Honeymoon over for Phil in New York?

VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony breaks down the Knicks’ latest loss

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You knew the finger-pointing was coming in New York. We all did.

But it was supposed to be aimed at the usual suspects … Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, the coach (in this case Derek Fisher), J.R. Smith and, of course, owner James Dolan.

Phil Jackson was supposed to be immune from this stuff, his championship rings protecting him from the blowback of what most level-headed observers expected to be a struggle of a season for the Knicks.

But things are playing out in unexpected ways these days in the big city. The Zen master is being singled out for not impacting things the way many expected when he took over the daily basketball operations in New York.

Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News takes aim with some pointed criticisms of the way the Jackson regime is conducting business, thus far:

Phil Jackson was going to come in and shed light into every dark corner of the organization, use his wit and his wiles to turn the Garden into a brighter, smarter place. The world’s most paranoid arena was going to become something less afraid of the truth.

But a quarter of the way through the season, the Knicks have dropped eight straight games and stand at 4-18, and Jackson has been about as big a presence as a one-off halftime show. He sits in his seat above midcourt, watching the Knicks blow one after another. They lost another one down the stretch on Sunday, falling 103-99, to the faster, younger Trail Blazers. How Jackson feels about this mess remains a mystery. Jackson might as well be Glen Grunwald or Steve Mills, for all we hear from him.

He was charming enough in his introductory press conference back in March, though some reporters weren’t permitted to ask him questions. He’s spoken only once to the assembled media since the season started, when he said that decisions would be made on players sometime around Thanksgiving or Christmas. We’re well past that first holiday, steaming downhill toward the second, and the only glimpse we get of Jackson is if he’s shown on camera near a security guard. When reporters had the nerve to ask him questions after opening night, and when Jackson had the audacity to answer, Garden officials changed the postgame route taken by those writers to make certain the media would not intersect with him again.

So Jackson hasn’t altered the Garden culture, and from the look of things he hasn’t changed the team in a good way, either. When he sent Tyson Chandler packing, he dumped the sharpest, toughest player of the bunch. Now Derek Fisher is left trying to teach a system to players who don’t own the skill sets to play it. As Hubie Brown once said of his 23-59 Knicks, “They’re trying. They’re just not good enough.”

The Knicks this season aren’t nearly good enough, which for some reason is surprising a lot of people. Is it surprising Jackson? Who knows? Let’s face it. Fans don’t care a bit what a team president says or believes, as long as the team is winning. But the loyalists pouring money into the Garden coffers certainly deserve some hint now at a blueprint.

Having visited the Knicks and PJax during training camp on the Hang Time Podcast Road Trip, it was clear to me that this would be an extensive “work in progress.” So I wasn’t expecting any miracles.

But I also didn’t expect things to come apart as quickly as they have for the new regime. The Knicks have better talent than their record indicates but lack the chemistry and understanding of the system to put things together in an Eastern Conference that has played musical chairs with the top spot through the first six weeks of the season.

The playoffs?

It’s already a mirage for the Knicks. They’re just trying to salvage what they can from this season and it’s not even Christmas. So maybe the honeymoon really is over for Phil in New York …