Posts Tagged ‘Pablo Prigioni’

Morning Shootaround — May 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets survive the chaos to return to conference finals | Doc’s message to the Clippers | LeBron at his best? | Hawks and Josh Smith in conference finals

No. 1: Rockets survive the chaos to return to conference finals — The righteous rally from that 3-1 series deficit came with the fairly tale ending the Houston Rockets imagined, complete with the unusual suspects providing many of the highlights. But no one should dismiss the obstacles and adversity the Rockets faced in storming to three straight wins in their Western Conference semifinal showdown against the Los Angeles Clippers. Our very own Fran Blinebury, a man who chronicled past championship teams in Houston, puts the accomplishments of this current Rockets crew in context:

The Rockets didn’t just return to the Western Conference finals for the first time in nearly two decades. They did it in the very same manner as their famous forebears, with the kind of escape worthy of the Great Houdini.

Down 3-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series. They stood with their toes dangling over the edge of the cliff for three straight games and never felt their knees buckle.

Down by 19 points with less than 15 minutes to play in Game 6, they never blinked.

Son of Clutch City. Clutch City Jr. Clutch City 2.0. Pick your descendant.

“There’s only a handful of teams that have done that,” said the resurrected MVP runner-up James Harden after 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the clincher. “We were locked in since being down 3-1. We just said one game, one game, one game.”

When it finally came down to that one game — Game 7 — on a throwback Sunday afternoon at Toyota Center, they grabbed it by the neck from the opening tip and weren’t going to let go until the Clippers ultimately surrendered and the 113-100 victory was complete.

Harden attacked at the offensive end. Dwight Howard was tall and ferocious at the defensive end and every other player that coach Kevin McHale ran out onto the court kicked in his own contribution in some way. International veteranPablo Prigioni, on his 38th birthday, was every bit as important as either of the two marquee stars with his steals and his hustle and his relentless smarts.

This kind of comeback, this kind of emotional turnaround, doesn’t happen without a total buy-in from every single man on the roster. There cannot be a weak link, a single crack in the wall that allows doubt to leak through.

“The guys that we have in this locker room, it’s easy to get down 19 on the road and then just give in and say, ‘Maybe next year,’ ” Harden said. “But I think the injuries this year, throughout the entire year, it’s kind of made us fight through adversity no matter what. So we’ve always been short, down a man It’s always finding a way to get through, finding a way to fight it.”

That the overwhelming capper came just seven days after the Rockets had been whipped and beaten down and humiliated in Game 4 at Los Angeles to dig their 3-1 hole was surprising. That it came at the end of three straight desperation games was positively shocking. And it could be another two decades before another Rockets team — or any other, for that matter — matches that electric comeback.

“It just tells us that we are capable of winning three games in a row,” said McHale. “The guys in there just had a lot of fight and we don’t get to this if not for Trev [Ariza], [Corey] Brew[er], Josh [Smith], Dwight and Jet [Jason Terry]. What they put on in that fourth quarter in Game 6 was amazing. That 40-15 run, you don’t see that very often and I’ve been in this league for a long time.”

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Blogtable: Best bench in playoffs?

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: How many MVPs for Curry? | Best bench in playoffs? | Aldridge’s next move?



VIDEOThe close-knit Warriors have perhaps the NBA’s best bench

> Of the eight playoff teams still standing, who has the best bench? And who’s the most important player off that bench?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Golden State has the best bench of the teams still playing and Andre Iguodala is the most important guy coming off it. Iguodala is battle-tested as a veteran and he’s the right combination of size and quickness to help out in multiple ways, making him more than a situational guy.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Warriors. The best team in the league has the best bench and plenty of depth that can hit you from so many different direction. But if I’m singling one player out it’s Andre Iguodala, who can do damage at both ends of the floor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. Andre Iguodala and David Lee would start at forward for a lot of teams. And if Leandro Barbosa is making a few baskets a game, that’s a lift for the backcourt. Iguodala is the most important of the reserves. If he’s not hitting shots, and he definitely is not these days, he is still the guy able to defend multiple positions and provide the versatility for Golden State to play big or small, a component of their success. If Iguodala does start connecting, the Warriors are even better.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: My choice is the Warriors, who can put five reserves on the floor for extended minutes and really not suffer much. Andre Iguodala would appear to be the logical “most important” reserve, because he gets the most minutes and started last season and is valued for his defense against high-scoring wing players. But I might hedge and suggest Marreese Speights, not because he’s the best player coming off the bench, but brings the level of toughness the Warriors lack overall in their starting lineup.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I dug into the numbers, because that’s what I do. I looked at who’s been coming off the bench for all eight teams in the playoffs, and calculated the team’s NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions), in the regular season and playoffs, when at least two of those guys have been on the floor. Here they are, from best to worst…

  1. Houston: +7.6
  2. Golden State: +5.0
  3. Chicago: +4.2
  4. Cleveland: +1.7
  5. Washington: -0.7
  6. Atlanta: -0.9
  7. Memphis: -1.1
  8. L.A. Clippers: -4.2

I was a little surprised to see Houston at the top, but they’ve been great with Corey Brewer, Pablo Prigioni and Josh Smith on the floor. Brewer’s relentless pursuit of easy baskets on the break is important, but Smith is the most important of that group, because of his size and versatility. All that being said, Andre Iguodala is the best and most important reserve left in the playoffs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Warriors have the kind of bench that you see on championship teams. They haven’t needed them to save the day or anything yet, but you figure they will at some point throughout the process. I’m going with co-MIPs off that bench: Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa will have moments, and perhaps an entire half or even a game, where they are needed to help change the situation for the Warriors. I’m not sure when or where, but I feel it deep down. At some point, the backcups to the best backcourt in the game will be called upon to help save the day.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Bulls have the best bench in the East, but I’m giving the league-wide advantage to the Warriors because of Andre Iguodala – an Olympic and World champion, NBA All-Star and All-Defensive teamer with more big-game potential than anyone at both ends of the floor.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Golden State, by a mile. if I had to pick a runner-up I might go with Cleveland, where they’ve got a lot of experience and options accumulated, but I don’t think any team remaining can compete with the Warriors’ bench. Actually, I think Golden State’s second team could have won a first-round series in the Eastern Conference, that’s how strong they are. And for me their MIP is Andre Iguodala, a guy who can play multiple positions, can defend multiple positions, and is a leader even without being in the starting lineup.

NBA-Blogtable-Playoffs-Best-Bench-Team-BannerFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Report: Rockets’ Beverley out for season

The Houston Rockets’ injury issues continue. Just days after getting Dwight Howard back from a 26-game absence with a knee injury comes the news that point guard Patrick Beverley is going to miss the remainder of the season after having surgery on his left wrist.

Rockets MVP candidate James Harden serves as the Rockets’ facilitator and catalyst routinely. But Beverley’s work as a defender will no doubt be missed. The Rockets also have depth at the position in the form of veterans Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more on how Houston might offset the loss of its starting point guard:

Rockets guard Pat Beverley has opted to have surgery to repair ligaments in his left wrist injured last week in Indianapolis, a person with knowledge of the decision said.

The surgery will force Beverley to miss the remainder of the season, including the post-season regardless of how far the Rockets advance in the playoffs.

The Rockets’ starting point guard the past two seasons, Beverley has had multiple injuries, struggling through last season’s playoffs with a knee injury and going out this season after two games with a hamstring injury.

Beverley will be a free agent after the season, his third since the Rockets signed him in January 2012 as a free agent playing in Russia.

With Beverley out, the Rockets have started Jason Terry, going 9-0 in games Terry has started. He has split time at the point position, with the Rockets often using Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer or rookie Nick Johnson to match up with opposing point guards.

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental | Might Kobe opt to play and delay surgery? | Horford, Hawks can’t stop, won’t stop … winning | Aldridge puts training camp in jeopardy by playing through pain

No. 1: Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental — Trade away whoever you want. Tweak the roster however you want. But when you go looking for the real change in the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James returned from who two-week rest hiatus, look no further than between the collective ears of these Cavaliers. So says LeBron, who insists that the greatest gains this group has made recently has been in their collective mentals … so to speak. Sure, LeBron has been on fire, looking more and more like the machine he was in Miami the past four seasons. The rest of the Cavs, though, have taken the necessary mental steps to assume the position as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Joe Vardon, of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, has more:

Dan Gilbert didn’t put 20,000 gold t-shirts on the seats at The Q just because.

The Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t land on the slate of ABC’s first Sunday games this season for laughs.

Though it took place on Jan. 25, three full weeks before the All-Star Game in a regular season that starts before Halloween and goes past Easter, it truly was a big game.

And for once, the Cavaliers prevailed.

“We’ve improved, mentally more than anything,” LeBron James said yesterday, following Cleveland’s 108-98 win over the Thunder.

Remember, James called said once this was a “very fragile” team.

“Big game” is a cliché in sports, certainly on most nights when it’s applied to describe one contest out of 82 in the NBA. But it’s a point worth examining to measure how much James’ team has grown over the last several days.

First, and really it’s the reason this game was announced for ABC’s first Sunday slate back in August, it was a feature of the league’s last two Most Valuable Player winners in James and Kevin Durant — two stars who were picked to lead their teams to, excuse the word, big things this year.

With the Cavs and Thunder playing in opposite conferences, James and Durant only square off twice a year, unless they meet in the Finals as they did in 2012. Basketball fans were robbed of one James-Durant showdown when the Cavs’ superstar sat out with a sore knee on Dec. 11.

Next, and schedulers couldn’t have known this way back when, but Dion Waiters made his return to The Q after getting traded to Oklahoma City on Jan. 5. It’s a side-story, but a juicy one nonetheless.

Third (we’re building toward something here), those gold t-shirts draped over each seat at The Q. The idea, of course, is to make the organization and city look (and sound) good on national TV.

Free, gold Cavs t-shirts are reason to scream a little louder, a little more often. Of course Gilbert picked up the tab.

Add it all together: marquee individual matchup, the whole country watching, intriguing side stories, and nervous energy in the building (more so than on an average night).

The Cavaliers had played in that kind of cauldron of attention exactly twice this season. The first was James’ official return to Cleveland on opening night against the Knicks, which James said was “one of the biggest sporting events ever,” and on Christmas Day in his emotional return to Miami.

James and the Cavaliers failed. Twice.

“In those two games we did, yes, obviously, we did,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “I can’t deny that. Hopefully we learned from that.”


VIDEO: The GameTime’s crew discusses the Cavs’ play of late

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Plenty to watch at World Cup


VIDEO: Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis talk about the upcoming FIBA World Cup

GRANADA, SPAIN — The FIBA Basketball World Cup is the best hoops you can get outside of the NBA season. Yes, it’s better than the Olympics.

There are twice as many teams, allowing for more depth from Europe and the Americas. And there’s an extra round of single-elimination, tournament play, giving us 15 win-or-go-home games once pool play is completed.

No, the NBA’s top two players aren’t here. But there are 46 guys currently on NBA rosters, a high for any international tournament. And because Kevin Durant and LeBron James aren’t representing the United States, and because there is so much depth among the second tier of teams, the competition for medals will be captivating.

Along with the U.S., Spain is the co-favorite. As the hosts they will enjoy a home-court advantage, which helped propel Turkey to the final game four years ago. But they also have a ton of talent and experience, both in the NBA and in making the U.S. sweat for a gold medal. The reason U.S. has four centers on its roster is because Spain has Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Beyond the top two, the competition to reach the semifinals could be wide open. Pool play will help sort things out somewhat, but as many as 10 other teams could have dreams of making the semifinals and playing for a medal.

Most of those teams will be on Spain’s half of the 16-team bracket after pool play is completed. In Group A play in Granada, the hosts will face Brazil, with its three NBA big men and terrific point guard, France, the 2013 European champion with five NBA players on is roster, and Serbia, who knocked out Spain in the quarterfinals of this tournament four years ago.

When pool play is completed, the top four teams from Group A (Granada) will match up with the top four from Group B (Sevilla) on the Madrid side of the bracket. Group B features Argentina, Croatia, Greece and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. has an easier path to the final. In Group C pool play in Bilbao, its toughest opponent will likely be Turkey, which has fallen hard since the 2010 World Cup, or the Dominican Republic, which the Americans blew out in New York last week.

Group D (Gran Canaria) features two tougher teams – Australia and Lithuania – which the U.S. will likely face on the Barcelona side of the bracket.

The USA’s history in this event (formerly called the World Championship) is not great. Prior to 2010, it had only won 1954, 1986 and 1994. Yugoslavia, which continued to exist as a basketball team after it dissolved as a nation, won five World Championships.

But Mike Krzyzewski has compiled a 43-1 record and a 36-game winning streak in his nine-year tenure as the USA head coach. He won this tournament four years ago with a roster of 12 guys who had never played a senior-level international game. And the world has yet to experience the defensive of new assistant Tom Thibodeau first hand.

The U.S. won its four exhibition games by an average of 29 points, but could still use improvement, especially on offense. Pool play, beginning with Saturday’s game against Finland (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will allow them to work some things out, but it’s doubtful that anything can prepare them for a potential gold-medal game against Spain in Madrid.

Before we can think about that, there is a ton of high-quality basketball to be played and plenty of reasons to watch.

There are key players on NBA contenders — Derrick Rose and Anderson Varejao — looking to get back into basketball shape after injury-riddled seasons.

There is the last stand of Argentina’s golden generation and their beautiful brand of basketball, represented by Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola.

There’s the continued growth of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas

There are six incoming rookies, including Australia’s Dante Exum (Jazz), Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets) and the Croatian pair of Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Pacers), to watch and figure out how they might contribute to their new teams.

There are 2014 draftees like Croatia’s Dario Saric (Sixers) and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (Suns), who might eventually be NBA contributors. And there are a few potential prospects, like the Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (who will play at Kansas next season), to keep an eye out for.

There’s the curiosity of how veteran Euroleague floor generals like Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia) would fit in the NBA.

There’s the Dragic brothers racing up the floor at every opportunity for Slovenia. There’s Andray Blatche playing point-center for the Philippines. And there’s the flair of real point guards like Carlos Arroyo and Ricky Rubio.

Seventy-six games over 17 days. If you can’t wait the upcoming NBA season, with Kevin Love joining LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs trying for their first repeat, and Rose back in a Bulls uniform, the FIBA World Cup should hold you off for a while.

World Cup stacked with NBA players


VIDEO: USA tops Puerto Rico in exhibition

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — LeBron James was always taking the summer off from competitive basketball. Kevin Love decided to do the same just before the U.S. National Team opened training camp in Las Vegas last month. But there are still reasons for Cavs fans to watch the FIBA World Cup, which begins Saturday in Spain.

The Cavs are one of two teams that will have four players taking part in the World Cup. Kyrie Irving, of course, will start (at least some games) at point guard for the United States. He’ll face new teammate Erik Murphy, playing for Finland, in the USA’s first pool-play game.

Murphy, who was acquired in a trade from Utah last month, may not necessarily be on the Cavs’ opening-night roster. Only $100,000 of his $816,000 contract is guaranteed, the Cavs are already over the 15-man roster limit, and they’ve yet to sign Shawn Marion.

Irving has already faced Brazil’s Anderson Varejao in an exhibition game. And he could go head-to-head with his Cleveland back-up — Australia’s Matthew Dellavedova — in the knockout round.

The Rockets are the other NBA team that will have four players at the World Cup. James Harden, the Dominican Republic’s Francisco Garcia, Lithuania’s Donatas Motiejunas and Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou will all represent the Rockets in Spain.

Papanikolaou is one of five incoming rookies at the tournament. The others are the Bulls’ Cameron Bairstow (Australia), the Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia), the Jazz’s Dante Exum (Australia), and the Pacers’ Damjan Rudez (Croatia).

Croatia’s Bogdanovic is not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was selected in this year’s Draft by the Suns and will play at least two years in Turkey before coming to the NBA. The Serbian Bogdanovic is one of six guys taken in the last two drafts who has yet to come over.

The others are Alex Abrines (OKC, Spain), Arselan Kazemi (PHI, Iran), Joffrey Lauvergne (DEN, France), Raul Neto (UTA, Brazil) and Dario Saric (PHI, Croatia). (more…)

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.

Report: Knicks’ Dolan In No Hurry To Make Trades, Change Coaches


VIDEO: Knicks coach Mike Woodson: ‘I’m pushing our team to win our division’

By sticking with the status quo, New York Knicks chairman James Dolan is betting on anything but from his beleaguered basketball team.

According to a report from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Dolan gathered the troops, a number of them sidelined by injury, before the first practice following the embarrassing Christmas Day blowout by the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder. The message Dolan sent: Coach Mike Woodson will not be fired, so get behind him and turn this still-salvageable season around.

Stein reports:

Knicks chairman James Dolan told New York players in a meeting Thursday that there are no trades or changes to the coaching staff forthcoming, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Dolan gathered the team before the first practice in the wake of New York’s embarrassing 29-point home loss to Oklahoma City on Christmas Day largely in an attempt to hush the growing speculation about coach Mike Woodson’s job security following the Knicks’ 9-19 start.

It’s believed Dolan took the step in an attempt to persuade Woodson’s players to band together and throw their full support behind the embattled coach to help dig New York out of the sizable hole it finds itself with essentially one-third of the regular season in the books, the sources said.

Despite its 9-19 record, accrued in no small part by a devastating number of injuries, the Knicks remain in the thick of the Atlantic Division race, just three games behind leader-by-default Toronto (11-15) and 2 1/2 games behind second-place Boston (12-17).

Ground can be quickly made up (or lost) starting tonight when the Knicks begin a home-and-home series with the Raptors at Madison Square Garden (7:30 ET, League Pass), where New York is just 4-11. Saturday night the teams will meet in Canada.

When Woodson spoke with reporters after Thursday’s practice, the first after the 29-point beat down by the Thunder, the coach said he still believes his team can reverse its fortunes and overtake the division:

“We won it last year, and I expect us to win it this year. The beauty about all of this that we’re going through is nobody’s running away with it in our division and I’m pushing our team to win our division still. … Eventually we’ll get healthy, and we’ll see how it all plays out.”

A significant push in the health department would include the return of leading scorer Carmelo Anthony, who missed the OKC game with a left sprained ankle suffered in Monday’s win over Orlando. He remains day-to-day heading into tonight’s game.

Starting point guard Raymond Felton (groin) does not look good to play in the next two games and possibly beyond. Pablo Prigioni (fractured right big toe) announced after Thursday’s practice that he’s still not ready to go.

Without their best players, the Knicks might not stand much of a change no matter who is coaching the team. How critical is the two-game set against Toronto? After it, the Knicks hit the road for three games: at San Antonio (Jan. 2), Houston (Jan. 3) and Dallas (Jan. 5). Those squads are a combined 28 games over .500 and 26-6 against the Eastern Conference.

Then the Knicks return home to face Detroit (Jan. 7) and Miami (Jan. 9).

Hot Matthews Huge To Blazers’ Start


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge had a 30-21 game as the Trail Blazers beat the Warriors

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — A number of reasons are emerging to explain the Portland Trail Blazers’ 12-2 start. Camaraderie shown in another comeback win Saturday over Golden State following a second-half dust-up seems just as strong of one as LaMarcus Aldridge‘s monstrous start that included 30 points and 21 rebounds against the Warriors for Portland’s 10th consecutive victory.

Second-year point guard Damian Lillard is scintillating and it sure seems that the new starting center Robin Lopez and a bolstered bench spearheaded by Mo Williams have quickly meshed with the remaining cast, and that all involved are all-in with second-year coach Terry Stotts.

“That inspired us,” said Wesley Matthews, one of three players, along with Williams, ejected after Saturday night’s shoving match. At the time, the Blazers trailed by 10 and then outscored Golden State 42-20 for the 113-101 win. “We got better from it, we got stronger from it. Mo and I were continuing to cheer. They couldn’t hear us, but we were continuing to cheer.”

Need an overlooked reason for Portland’s inspiring start to a hope-filled season? Look at Matthews, the fifth-year shooting guard. If you haven’t noticed, Matthews is shooting the lights out.

Before getting tossed Saturday night, Matthews had dropped five 3-pointers and was 8-for-9 from the floor for 23 points in 26 minutes. It was his sixth 20-point effort in the first 14 games, already one-third of the 18 he had last season in 69 games played.

Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even included on the All-Star ballot. Wesley called the omission “ridiculous,” and he’s certainly making it look that way.

Matthews is making defenses pay for their choices. Left open on the weak side, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard is beating scrambling close-outs and knocking down shot after shot, and at career levels. He’s averaging career highs in scoring average (17.3 ppg), field-goal percentage (56.8) and 3-point percentage (52.5). He’s also averaging a career-best 4.6 rpg, nearly two more a game than last season.

Matthews has helped to super-boost a Blazers offense that is averaging 104.0 ppg, up from 97.5 ppg last season. A year ago they finished 15th in the league in offensive rating (102.9 points scored per 100 possessions).  This season they’ve surged to fifth at 107.1. When Matthews is on the floor, Portland’s offensive rating is 108.2.

Interestingly, Matthews’ usage (percentage of a team’s offensive possessions that a player is used) has dipped from last season (19.1 percent to 17.2 percent, ranking 69th among guards) as his shooting percentages have soared.

His effective field-goal percentage (adjusted for made 3-pointers being more valuable than 2-pointers) is an astounding 70.3 percent, second in the league among guards behind New York’s Pablo Prigioni, who plays 18 mpg compared to Matthews’ 34.0 mpg. Last season, Matthews’ eFG% was a mediocre 54.0 percent.

No guard in the league boasts a higher true shooting percentage (adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws). Matthews is at a whopping 71.4 percent, up from 57.4 percent last season.

The Blazers’ teamwork and tenacity are proving that their win streak is no fluke. Matthews might not be able to keep up his scorching start to such a degree, but if he remains anywhere close, Portland is going to continue to be a team that leaves defenses scrambling for cover and searching for answers.

No Love For The Knicks?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The ending was a bitter pill to swallow for fans of the New York Knicks last season. Falling to the Indiana Pacers the way they did in the Eastern Conference semifinals, getting pushed around and basically overwhelmed by a healthier and more defensively sound team, exposed the weaknesses that were there all along.

That crash landing in the playoffs might explain the lack of buzz surrounding these Knicks as the start of 2013-14 season nears. As we get closer to tip-off of the regular season, you hear about the Pacers, Chicago Bulls and even the Brooklyn Nets as teams the Heat need to worry about before anyone mentions the Knicks.

There’s no love for the Knicks these days and you have wonder: Why?

The reasons for the lukewarm interest in the Knicks are varied. There was no free agent splash over the summer (sorry Metta World Peace). There was no miraculous recovery for Amar’e Stoudemire. Carmelo Anthony needed time to heal his battered body in an attempt to recover from the pounding he took last season. J.R. Smith didn’t exactly distinguish himself in the offseason either with a five-game suspension looming at the start of the regular season.

It’s a lesson plenty of would-be contenders learn when their results don’t match the expectations. And for a time last season, the Knicks, not the Pacers, looked like the team that would challenge the Miami Heat for that trip to The Finals.

Everyone seems to have forgotten all of the positive work the Knicks did last year, finishing with a 54-28 record, winning their first playoff series in over a decade and coach Mike Woodson finishing third in Coach of the Year voting.

Woodson’s teams in Atlanta got progressively better in each of his six seasons without the Hawks ever making the sort of free agent splash that usually spurs a dramatic rise in a team’s fortunes. Woodson, despite a legion of vocal critics, is one of a handful of coaches in the league with a proven track record of taking a disjointed group and making sure they compete at a high level.

And disjointed might be a kind word for the group the Knicks will suit up this season. The Raymond FeltonPablo Prigioni backcourt tandem is interesting, to say the least, and the Iman Shumpert-Smith battle at shooting guard promises to deliver plenty of drama (and potentially headaches for Woodson) throughout the season.

(Shumpert insists he’s playing with a “chip on his shoulder” that could help fuel the Knicks early on, and that’s a good thing.)

Call me crazy, but I think World Peace is going to be a fit and rookie swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. is certainly going to be a factor. The only glaring question for me is if Andrea Bargnani can revive his career as the floor-spacing stretch-4 the Knicks need to free everyone else up to play to their specific strengths?

You never know what you’re going to get with Amar’e because of his injury issues and even with an offseason worth of work on his jump shot it’s hard to lean too hard on Tyson Chandler for the offensive help Bargnani should be able to provide immediately.

Ultimately, the pieces are in place for the Knicks to battle for a top four spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. That’s just a fact, even if no one outside of the Knicks’ locker room believes it.