Posts Tagged ‘New York Knicks’

Curry closes on James in final All-Star voting update

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King is still on top … but just barely.

LeBron James remains the overall leader in voting for the 2015 All-Star Game in the latest results released today, with 971,299 votes. But Golden State’s Stephen Curry is right on his heels with 958,014 total votes. In the third and final 2015 All-Star voting update, James and Curry remain atop their respective conferences, as they have been from the start.

NBA All-Star 2015The top ten vote-getters remain unchanged. Joining James in the East are Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, with a backcourt of John Wall and Dwyane Wade. Along with Curry in the West are Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol and Kobe Bryant in the backcourt alongside Curry.

There was some movement in this latest round of results. Toronto guard Kyle Lowry was a big gainer, passing Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving for third among Eastern guards, but with 406,974 votes, Lowry is still over 100,000 votes behind Wade for a starting spot.

Washington’s Marcin Gortat passed Chicago’s Joakim Noah to move into sixth among Eastern Conference big men.

The Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks still don’t have a player in the top ten; Hawks forward Paul Millsap is 13th overall among Eastern Conference forwards.

This is the final voting update before the All-Star starting lineups are announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 22, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com at 7 p.m. ET, featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith. Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 19.

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Irving, Smith to play tonight for Cavaliers


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving says he’s ready to go vs. Houston tonight

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The Cleveland Cavaliers look to be a few players closer to having their newly refashioned roster finally on the court together.

After sitting out Cleveland’s loss to Philadelphia on Monday night to rest an ailing back, Kyrie Irving is set to return to Cleveland’s lineup tonight against the Houston Rockets (7 ET, ESPN), according to a report from the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes.

Irving, who is averaging 20.4 points per game and 5.2 assists per game this season, was expected to shoulder a heavier load for the Cavs with LeBron James already out recuperating from injuries. The Cavs have lost five of their last six games.

The Cavs also look likely to have newly acquired guard J.R. Smith available tonight, as long as the trade is finalized before tip-off, which the Akron Beacon Journal‘s Jason Lloyd reports looks likely.

The addition of Iman Shumpert to the Cavs’ active roster, however, is still at least a few weeks away.

Blogtable: Struggling marquee teams

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEOAre the Lakers better off with Kobe Bryant playing less?

> Three of the NBA’s marquee franchises — Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, L.A. Lakers — are a combined 27-77 and hold little hope for short-term success. If these teams were stocks, which one would you buy, which one would you hold, and which one would you sell?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d buy more Lakers stock, hold what I have of the Knicks and sell my Celtics holdings. The Lakers have the greatest upside because of their culture and their climate — they’re the biggest free-agent magnet of the three thanks to their market and their recent history. Now that Phil Jackson has begun the serious demo work in New York, I think he and the Knicks can build something better, especially as Carmelo Anthony‘s dominance of the team begins to recede. As for that storied franchise in Boston, I’d invoke the phrase familiar to financial speculators: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I can’t convince you to take all three off my hands for, say, the Grizzlies? OK, if you’re forcing me to buy, I’ll take the Lakers. They’re still THE marquee team in the league and when Kobe Bryant finally does retire — looking more and more like after next season, for sure — they’ll have the salary cap space and the cachet that will let them start over. Not to mention a rehabbed Julius Randle and another high draft pick from this season. I’m holding the Celtics because I believe Danny Ainge has the right coach to build on in Brad Stevens, a future All-Star in Marcus Smart and a patient long-range plan. I’m selling the Knicks because, well, they’re the Knicks. After this salary dump this week, Phil Jackson will go into next summer with the space to sign two max level free agents, maybe three. if the cap takes a big leap. Trouble is, he’ll do the usual NY thing and after finding the possibility of luring LeBron James or Kevin Love from Cleveland a pipe dream and having LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol not willing to climb aboard the worst team in the league, Jackson will wind up grossly overpaying the likes of Jimmy Butler or Goran Dragic and merely making the Knicks mediocre to good, but not contenders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHold the Lakers, hold the Celtics, sell the Knicks. (Why did you ever buy on the Knicks in the first place? No wonder you switched brokers.) Investing in the Lakers now looks bad because not only is it a lottery team, it’s a lottery team with one piece in place for the future and he is injured. (Julius Randle.) But I’d hang on to stock on a team in a destination city and Mitch Kupchak with a loud voice in management. It would not be a surprise if even the lottery Lakers bag a big free agent. The Celtics front office likewise has a proven track record, plus the best young pieces among the three. Boston also has the advantage of being in the East.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Definitely buy the Celtics. They have seven extra first-rounders (some conditional) coming between now and 2018 and there isn’t a sluggish contract weighing down the salary cap. Plus, Boston remains a destination for free agents. Hold the Lakers. I realize they owe future picks to Phoenix and Orlando and Kobe is clogging up cap space, but they’re still the Lakers and somehow find a way to keep their pain to a minimum (I know, I know, GM Jerry West isn’t walking through that door). Sell the Knicks. Phil Jackson deserves a chance, but this team is cursed.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m buying the Celtics, because they have the best group of young players (by far), the most future picks, and the GM/coach combination that I have the most confidence in going forward. I’m holding the Lakers, because they have one Lottery pick already on board, maybe another on the way (it may go to Phoenix), and a shorter contract with their 30-plus, former league’s leading scorer who doesn’t fit the rebuilding timeline. And I’m selling the Knicks, because they have nothing beyond a 30-year-old forward they just signed to a five-year, $124 million contract (Carmelo Anthony), an unproven team president (Phil Jackson) and an unproven coach (Derek Fisher). Nothing’s guaranteed in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’m buying Lakers’ stock, holding the Celtics’ stock and selling all of my Knicks stock. I know that the Lakers never stay down for long. It’s just not what they do as a franchise. They’ll do whatever takes to get back on track. They’ve operated that way and probably always will — provided there is a Buss in charge. The Celtics have some decent pieces and a bright, young coach in Brad Stevens. They just need time to figure it all out. The Knicks have no business being in this marquee mix with the Lakers and Celtics. They haven’t come close to the championship success the other two have enjoyed in recent years. I’m selling on them until Phil Jackson works his Zen magic and convinces another superstar to join Carmelo Anthony in the seemingly eternal quest to return the Knicks to their 1970s glory.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI would buy the Celtics, who are fully committed to rebuilding and are two years into the business of asset (Draft picks, young players and cap space) aggregation. I would hold the Lakers, who — eventually — will draw the interest of free agents. And I would sell the Knicks, who after so many self-destructive years are unworthy of faith until they themselves prove otherwise.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: SELL, SELL, SELL! OK, to really answer your question, I’d buy the Celtics, hold the Knicks and sell the Lakers. Danny Ainge gets the benefit of the doubt in Boston because we’ve seen him reboot his franchise before, plus the Celtics have five first-round picks in the next two Drafts. That’s a heckuva place to start. I know the Knicks are terrible this season, but I like the direction Phil Jackson’s going — bottoming out before building back up. That starts with clearing salary and getting young players in to learn the triangle offense and grow along with the franchise. With the Lakers, I’m not quite sure what they’re doing. They’ve tried to rebuild through free agency but the current management hasn’t shown an ability to recruit the marquee free agents we keep hearing about them going after.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony says he’s not shutting it down yet | Reports: Seattle investors eyeing Hawks | Young likes Lakers’ ‘atmosphere of winning’ | Bucks’ Sanders explains his recent absences | Trade winds start to pick up

No. 1: Anthony ‘not shutting it down for the season yet’ – Debate has raged over the last week or so about whether or not New York Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony should stop playing this season to rest his sore knee. While the team may want Anthony to think about such a move, he’s not interested in doing that. In a video posted on Bleacher Report, Anthony says he plans to keep chugging along this season:

“I’m all right, I’m not shutting it down for the season yet, just trying to take some time to get it right. I know there’s a lot of fans out there that are kinda upset, kinda down on the team, kinda down on the players right now, kinda down on the situation, but I will say it will be greater later. Just be patient with the team, with the organization, with the journey, with the plan, with what we’re trying to create, what we’re trying to accomplish. Greatness don’t happen overnight, but that’s what we’re trying to build here.

“As far as me, I’m rehabbing. I’m around the clock getting treatment, therapy, trying to do what I got to do so I can be at my greatest.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses whether or not Carmelo Anthony should shut it down for the season

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: We’ll make Waiters feel ‘wanted’ | True test for Knicks lies in offseason | How will Cavs’ new faces fit in? | Report: Spurs’ Leonard back in 2 weeksWarriors keep on trucking

No. 1: Durant: We’ll make Waiters feel wanted — If you somehow missed it last night or this morning, there was a decent-sized, name-worthy, three-team trade in the league. In the deal, the New York Knicks sent J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, the Cavs sent Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk and a 2019 second-round draft choice to New York, OKC sent Lance Thomas to the Knicks and a future first-round pick to Cleveland, and the Thunder got Dion Waiters. The Cavs and Waiters struggled to make their relationship work in the team’s new, LeBron James-led world. Waiters may now have a better opportunity in OKC and reigning MVP Kevin Durant told Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman he plans to do what he can to make Waiters feel welcome:

Late Monday night, a disappointed Thunder locker room was still in the process of digesting an ugly 117-91 loss to the Warriors.

But at the same time, players were also still gathering all the facts surrounding the three-team trade that netted Dion Waiters as their new teammate. The deal actually didn’t become official until the game had actually started.

But the news had spread. And Kevin Durant — the voice of the Thunder — was peppered with questions about it. Here were his answers:

Kevin, your initial thoughts on Dion and the trade?

“I’m excited about bringing Dion aboard. A guy that has a lot of toughness. Being from the East Coast, I know a lot about Philadelphia, South Philly, where he comes from. Those guys are tough and they play with an edge. And that’s what we need here.”

Any kind of relationship with him prior to this?

“Just knowing him from playing against him. We’re gonna make him feel wanted. I don’t think he felt that the last couple years. He’s gonna fit in well. He’s gonna get comfortable real quick. It’s on the leaders — Russell, myself, Nick — to make him feel at home and feel special and let him play his game.”

Can he be James Harden-like for you guys?

“I’m not saying he’s James’ replacement, we’re far past that. But, yeah, he can play, can come off the bench for us and score and make plays. He’s a really good player, man. A lot of people take him for granted, I think. Because he’s been around and you hear different things about him that’s not true. But he can play basketball. So he just needs to come out here and be himself, be aggressive and make plays.”

Have you reached out to him yet?

Nah, probably gonna talk to him later on after this. It’s pretty late on the East Coast, but I’ll probably shoot him a text soon.

In a separate story, Slater also details how this trade will help OKC going forward:

For the Thunder, this is a deal that clearly bolsters its talent level. Waiters is a score-first shooting guard — taken fourth overall in the 2012 Draft — who averaged 15.9 points and 3.0 assists last season. This year, his third in the league, Waiters production has dipped and his role has changed. He’s averaging 10.5 points coming off the bench, struggling to fully adjust to a LeBron James-led team that has a ton of talent around him.

That led to this deal, which nets the Thunder some scoring punch likely for its bench. But it also puts OKC slightly over the luxury tax by around $1.5 million, something they’ve been unwilling to pay in the past.

Presti has said that the franchise would be willing to exceed it at some point for the right move. But there’s also a possibility that the Thunder isn’t done making moves. Waiters arrival would seem to make Jeremy Lamb expendable, with Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson and now Waiters likely to remain in front of him in OKC’s rotation.

Waiters is making $4.06 million this season and $5.1 million next season before he can become a restricted free agent.


VIDEO: Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick explains how Dion Waiters will fit in with the Thunder

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Waiters, J.R. Smith, Shumpert traded in Cavs-Thunder-Knicks deal


VIDEO: Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick describes the surprise in Cleveland over the Waiters’ trade

On a perfectly good night of NBA action, with 22 of the league’s 30 teams open for business, it was a flurry of activity on social media that seized much of the attention Monday evening.

The buzz: The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder were orchestrating a three-team trade that was leaking out piece by piece, important details backed up by not-quite-right speculation.

It started with some rumblings on Twitter by someone in Dion Waiters‘ camp, suggesting the Cleveland guard was being dealt by the Cavs. Soon enough, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports was breaking the news, as is his wont:

The prospect of Waiters, Cleveland’s third-year shooting guard considered a poor fit on the newly configured Cavs, being traded in mid-season was juicy enough. Most insiders anticipated some chafing from the No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft after Cleveland coaxed back LeBron James and built the team around the four-time MVP, point guard Kyrie Irving and former Minnesota power forward Kevin Love. Soon enough, Wojnarowski followed with more info on the deal, including this:

But not long after, the NBA scribe from Yahoo! updated, still ahead of the pack:

Various reports also sketched out the three-team transaction, mentioning  J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert as Knicks who were headed to Cleveland. Also, veteran big man Samuel Dalembert‘s name popped up, his destination initially not known. Later, it was reported that Dalembert would be waived by New York.

With Waiters headed to the Thunder and Smith and Shumpert bound for Cleveland, fans in New York might reasonably have wondered: Who’re we gettin’?! Turns out, Knicks president Phil Jackson was maneuvering for salary-cap relief along with, perhaps, some addition by subtraction.

Quickie analysis? Waiters wasn’t going to adjust to the slippage in Cleveland’s pecking order forced on him by the new and improved Cavs. He still has superior offensive tools, if his game can be harnessed and disciplined, but James & Co. have little time for that. Smith is an established NBA knucklehead, but he can score as well or better than Waiters and he might lock in on a team with real purpose. Shumpert is a valuable role player who should help Cleveland defensively.

Wojnarowski cited league sources in reporting that the Knicks would be getting rookie center Alex Kirk from Cleveland in the deal, along with a protected future first-round pick from OKC.

There were other facets to the deal that were picked up and kicked around – in excitement, in mirth and in all seriousness – by the usual suspects on social media, including these:

Late Monday, the Knicks, Cavaliers and Thunder officially announced the deal. The Thuunder receives Waiters from the Cavaliers in exchange for a 2015 first-round pick and Lance Thomas was sent to the Knicks. The Knicks acquired Lou Amundson and  Kirk from the Cavs in exchange for Schumpert and Smith.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 5




VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Stoudemire is shocked | A new-look Love? | Rocky Mountain Zzzzzzs | Kareem helps Hibbert | A special anniversary in Dallas

No. 1: Knicks boggle Amare’s mind — The Knicks are bad. Historically bad. You’d have thought that reality might have set in on the bench and in the locker room weeks ago. Maybe it’s the pages on the calendar turning from the old year to the new, but the plunge to the bottom of the standings has hit veteran Amar’e Stoudemire in a way he didn’t expect. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com has the details:

“It’s beyond my imagination at this point,” he said Sunday before a 95-82 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that extended their losing streak to 11 games. “I never thought I’d see this. … This is definitely kind of mind-boggling.”
The Knicks (5-31) dropped their 21st of 22 and have the most losses in the NBA.

Carmelo Anthony missed his second straight game due to knee soreness. There was no clear timetable for his return.

“It’s a tragic thing,” said center Samuel Dalembert of the mounting losses. Though healthy enough to return, Dalembert did not play after missing three straight games with an ankle injury.

The Knicks are now one loss shy of tying the franchise mark of 12 straight defeats, last done in 1984-85. New York has already set the record for consecutive home losses. It was the team’s 10th straight loss at home.

Of course, this wasn’t how Stoudemire — who missed his fourth straight game due to knee soreness — envisioned what could be his final season in New York playing out.

When Stoudemire signed a five-year, $100 million contract with the Knicks in the summer of 2010, he declared the team would return to relevance. He mostly delivered on that promise, helping New York reach the playoffs for three straight seasons.

But things have fallen apart this season. Now, in the last year of Stoudemire’s contract, it seems as if the only thing the team is competing for is a lottery position.

“When I first signed with New York, that wasn’t the game plan,” Stoudemire said. “… But the past is not here. And neither is the future, so we’ve got to deal with the now, and I think we’ve just got to continue to try to get better as a team and as players, try to keep improving.”


VIDEO: The Bucks handle the Knicks at MSG (more…)

James, Curry remain All-Star voting leaders

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King still reigns.

In the latest NBA All-Star balloting results, released this morning, Cleveland’s LeBron James remains the leading overall vote-getter. James, who had 552,967 in the initial voting results, has 775,810 votes in the second balloting totals.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who was the leading Western Conference vote-getter in the first results, remains atop the Western Conference though just behind James in overall balloting, with 755,486 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015The top five players in each Conference remain unchanged in the second results. Kobe Bryant and Curry are the top guards in the Western Conference, with Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol the top three frontcourt players. Tim Duncan and James Harden are the two Western Conference players closest to moving into the starting five, with Duncan roughly 50,000 votes behind Marc Gasol, and Harden about 180,000 votes behind Kobe Bryant.

In the Eastern Conference, the only move among the starting five is a flip-flop between two starters. Chicago’s Pau Gasol, who was roughly 18,000 votes behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony in the first voting returns, has moved into second place among Eastern Conference forwards, with 372,109 votes to Anthony’s 365,449.

Chris Bosh is currently in fourth place among Eastern Conference forwards, about 70,000 votes behind Anthony for a starting spot.

John Wall and Dwyane Wade remain atop the Eastern Conference guards, with Kyrie Irving about 90,000 in third, about votes off the pace.

The biggest gainer overall is Portland’s Damian Lillard, who was eighth among Western guard in the first results, but has jumped to fifth in these second results, leapfrogging Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson and Rajon Rondo. Lillard, however, remains about 550,000 votes behind Bryant for a starting guard position.

The team most under-represented in regard to their record is the Atlanta Hawks, who currently have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 23-8, but their highest-ranked player in the second voting results is Paul Millsap, who is 13th among Eastern Conference forwards (34,751 votes).

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony backs Fisher | Rondo ready for Boston return | Reports: Cavs get $4.9M disabled player exception | Westbrook mum on ejection

No. 1: Anthony gives big vote of support to Fisher — The first half of the New York Knicks’ season has gone about as bad as could be imagined. After yesterday’s drubbing in L.A. against the Clippers, they have lost nine straight games and closed out the 2014 portion of the season at 5-29 (the second-worst record in the league). While some New Yorkers may be questioning if coach Derek Fisher is the right guy to lead the team, superstar Carmelo Anthony says the team would be worse off if Fisher were not the coach. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne has more:

“I think if it was anybody else in his position, I think this probably would’ve crumbled already,” Anthony said after scoring 19 points in 29 minutes. “I think he’s doing a great job of keeping everybody focused on the task at hand and believing in what we’re trying to do.”

This season, Anthony said, has “definitely (been) a test for me.” The Knicks already have had losing streaks of 10, nine and six games this season. Some of that can be blamed on injuries — they’ve been without key players like Anthony, J.R. Smith, Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, and Iman Shumpert — for large stretches of the season. Some of it has been difficulty adjusting to the culture change Fisher and new Knicks president Phil Jackson have tried to instill in New York. Some is a lack of depth and talent on the roster as a whole.

Whatever the case, the losing has been awful for everyone involved to endure.

“I don’t really like doing the New Year’s resolution, but I just want 2015 to be better than 2014,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to find a win. We can’t be thinking about the turnaround. We’ve got to find a win first and see what happens from there.”

Anthony has been dealing with a sore left knee for most of the season. He has openly speculated he might eventually have to shut it down for an extended period if the pain grows worse. Earlier this week, he admitted he might not even make it to the All-Star Game, which is in New York this year.

“It’s tough. Some days you’re able to do some things, some days you’re not,” Anthony said. “Some days it’s tough to even run around and cut and jump. And then other days I come in and I don’t really feel it.

“I’m playing because I love to play and I want to play. I know what I can tolerate and what I can’t tolerate. The games I feel like I can’t tolerate it, I’m not going to play.”

Anthony has said surgery is a “last resort” and that he’s hoping to avoid anything of that nature until after the season. Asked if he’d considered the Orthokine treatments that Los Angeles Lakersstar Kobe Bryant has regularly flown to Germany to have performed on his knee as he aged into his mid-30s, Anthony smiled and said, “I’ve had multiple conversations with multiple people. Regular people, people who have had similar situations as me, and everybody has their own opinion. I take everything in stride and when that time comes, I’ll take it into consideration.”


VIDEO: Derek Fisher talks after the Knicks’ blowout loss to the Clippers

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets | Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win | Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk | Bucks looking for different advantages

No. 1: Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…

The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.

They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.

The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.

They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.

With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”

With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.

***

No. 2: Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…

James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.

Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Then things suddenly changed.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”

“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.

A sleeping giant was awakening.

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.

The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.

“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.

***

No. 1: Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon

“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”

Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.

Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.

Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.

“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”

Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.

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No. 1: Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.

A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.

Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jared Dudley couldn’t miss last night in Atlanta. Like, literally, he couldn’t miss … Kenneth Faried was basically unstoppable for Denver last night … After passing him on the all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant said Michael Jordan urged him to now go after Karl Malone … Did Kevin Garnett play his final game in Boston? … Quincy Acy got a one-game suspension for his Christmas Day scuffle with John WallDajuan Wagner is in the early stages of mounting a comeback