Posts Tagged ‘Steve Novak’

Morning Shootaround — July 6


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge reports the latest free-agent news

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers make move for Melo | Heat meet with Deng | Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call | Novak traded to Jazz

No. 1: Lakers make move for Melo — In the earliest days of free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers seemed to be the odd team out, as free agents and reps for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony met with and considered various franchises, from Chicago to Miami to Houston to Dallas, not to mention the incumbents — the Knicks and the Heat. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the summer with just a handful of players under contract and significant room to maneuver under the luxury tax.

But you can never count the Lake Show out. While many reports had Melo choosing between the Knicks and Bulls, last night Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers are definitely in the picture. After his meeting with Lakers execs, reports are that Carmelo is absolutely considering a move to the coast, to join Kobe Bryant in a west side connection…

The Los Angeles Lakers have ascended into serious contention to sign New York free agent Carmelo Anthony, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Lakers moved into strong consideration with the front-running New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls over this weekend, sources told Yahoo Sports.

No one with direct knowledge of the process would declare the Lakers had overtaken New York and Chicago in Anthony’s mind, but one source close to Anthony said of the Lakers, “They’re in the game now.”

The Lakers met with Anthony on Friday, offering him a four-year, $97 million contract. Lakers star Kobe Bryant has been in constant contact with Anthony, and the Lakers could re-sign Pau Gasol to pair with Anthony on the frontline.

This story kicked off when ESPN’s Bill Simmons noted via Twitter…

Of course, Melo signing with the Lakers would mean him leaving over $30 million from the Knicks on the table — as his former team, the Knicks can offer Anthony a larger and longer contract than any other team. There’s also the question of whether a pairing of Anthony and Bryant (with Gasol) in the rough-and-ready Western Conference would give Anthony the best and quickest chance to win.

Whatever happens, after weeks of speculation and simmering, free agency is finally reaching the boiling point. Get your popcorn ready.

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No. 2: Heat meet with Deng — While several NBA teams are loaded with cap space, the Miami Heat are still a work in progress. While James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all opted out of their contracts and seemed interested in returning, the path forward for the Heat has seemed less clear, both in terms of financials and personnel. With an aging roster and burgeoning payroll, the Heat have to find a way to get their Big Three some help, without breaking the bank.

Yesterday, according to an ESPN report, Heat president Pat Riley took another step forward by meeting with one of the top free agents on the market, Luol Deng

The meeting was described as “preliminary,” according to a source, as Riley attempted to sell Deng on the benefits of joining the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions.

Sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard that Deng will not take a salary significantly below his market value, believed to be above $10 million annually, merely to sign with the Heat.

Deng has several suitors, including Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers, but a source said Riley’s pitch intrigued him.

Adding Deng would give the Heat experience, depth, and help on both ends of the court. It may also be something of a dream — can the Heat actually create enough room to make Deng an offer he can’t refuse?

The task facing Riley and the Heat is anything but easy. But then, the best things very rarely are. Four seasons ago, Riley defied many expectations when he successfully constructed the Big Three. Now he’s got a different kind of difficult task ahead of him.

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No. 3: Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call — Not long before last season began, the Wizards gave up a first-round pick along with the rights to injured center Emeka Okafor in exchange for Marcin Gortat. While Gortat has always been a solid interior performer, he was going to be a free agent this summer, and the Wizards were gambling they’d be able to convince him to re-sign in D.C. After showing promise during the regular season and making a run into the second round of the playoffs, Gortat felt confident enough in the future of the Wizards to stick around.

In an interview yesterday from Orlando Summer League on NBA TV, Gortat said re-upping with Washington was a simple decision

“A lot of different reasons,” Gortat said, when asked why he elected to stay with the Wizards. “First of all, I like the city. I like the team. I definitely feel comfortable over there. The team really took me under the wing and they help me since the day one. I definitely love the chemistry between me and John Wall. I think Bradley Beal is going to be a great player one day. Coach Randy [Wittman] believes in me, and I have a great relationship with him. So, the decision was real easy for me. I believe that we will be a special team for the next four or five years.”

Gortat was asked about interest from the Miami Heat and bobbed his head side to side, “We had a few teams, but I don’t think it [makes] any sense to talk about that now.”

If they’re planning to get the entire band back together, the Wizards still have to convince Trevor Ariza to re-sign — and as an in-demand swingman, Ariza may take a little more convincing than Gortat.

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No. 4: Jazz trade for Novak — Sweet-shooting swingman Steve Novak spent the last few seasons knocking down 3-pointers for the Knicks and the Raptors. While out enjoying the 4th of July holiday with his family in his hometown of Milwaukee, Novak found out he would have a new NBA home next season: The Raptors reportedly agreed to move Novak to the Jazz for Diante Garrett, who the Raptors could waive to create salary cap space.

One of the interesting bits of this story is how Novak discovered he was being traded: According to the Desert News, Novak found out via a series of text messages from his Toronto teammate Kyle Lowry

Novak, who was dealt to the Raptors from the Knicks just a year ago after thinking he’d finally found his long-term NBA home in New York, wasn’t expecting that news. He even wrote back to Lowry, “Are you kidding me?”

Traded again? To Utah? On Independence Day?

What!?!

“It was the Fourth of July. I didn’t have any idea that you could get traded on a national holiday,” Novak said, laughing, Saturday evening in a phone interview with the Deseret News. “I didn’t think GMs worked so hard.”

The gift and the curse for Novak is his combination of shooting and size (he is 6-10) simultaneously makes him a hot commodity and a tradeable asset. For his part, Novak seems to be embracing his new home…

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The long wait to see Nerlens Noel in a Sixers uniform may have been worth every second … If the Rockets need to move Jeremy Lin to create cap space, Philadelphia might be an option … You know who’s not happy about players being asked to take pay cuts? Their agents and their union. … Looks like Devin Harris will agree to a three-year extension with the Mavericks …

Reports: Raptors trade Novak to Jazz

NBA.com staff

The Toronto Raptors have agreed to trade forward Steve Novak and a future second-round draft pick to the Utah Jazz for guard Diante Garrett, according to several reports.

The Raptors will then waive Garrett in a move designed to clear cap space for Toronto, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, who first reported the trade.

The 6-foot-10 Novak, 31, who has played for six teams over his eight-year NBA career, has two years and $7.2 million remaining on his contract, while Garrett has a non-guaranteed deal worth $915,000.

Novak is a 3-point specialist who has shot 43.2 percent from beyond the arc over his career despite averaging just 5.0 points. The 6-4 Garrett was Trey Burke’s primary backup after being called up from the D-League during this past season.

The deal can’t be officially announced until the NBA’s mortarium ends July 10.

No Looking Back For Raptors’ Lowry


VIDEO: NBA TV Canada takes a deeper look at Raptors guard Kyle Lowry

ATLANTA – Kyle Lowry doesn’t believe in looking back or wasting his time on what could have or should have been. The Toronto Raptors’ point guard has been through too much to fret about the past.

He’s focused on one thing and one thing only these days — leading the Raptors to a playoff bid and quenching the thirst of a devoted fan base that has suffered far too long without postseason hoops. It helps that Lowry, a player that Raptors coach Dwane Casey referred to as the “key to his team,” finally feels like he’s found a home.

In Memphis he was a fiery reserve but never handed the keys to the operation. And in Houston, where he started 109 games in three and half seasons, he was still trying to find his way in the league with an organization that was in flux.

“It’s not about what happened then,” Lowry said Friday morning before the Raptors faced the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). “I think I was absolutely in a great situation, the right situation in Houston. I got into that situation, unfortunately, with an injury to Aaron Brooks. But I think it was a great situation for me. And I feel like I’m in the same kind of place now. This is an opportunity league. To be effective, to flourish and do well, it has to be the right fit.”

And that’s exactly what Lowry believes he has with the Raptors’ current group. With he, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan as headliners and the supporting cast filled out with Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Terrence Ross, Steve Novak, Quincy Acy and others, Lowry insists the Raptors’ depth and balance is as good as ever.

“I think the playoffs is much more of a realistic goal for us this year,” said Lowry, a seven-year NBA veteran. “Last year we got off to such a bad start that it set us back and we were never really able to recover from that. But we’ve added some toughness this year with Hansbrough and we’ve added a shooter in Novak. We’ve had a full training camp with Rudy and DeMar. Jonas is year older and the core guys have been together and playing next to each other for four of five months. We’re all feeling better about things now and I think we have a chance to do some things that people don’t expect us to do.”

Casey is counting on Lowry to continue doing what he’s been doing all along in Toronto: serve as the Raptors’ on-and off-court leader. Casey recognizes a distinct difference in the Lowry we all see now and the one he was from afar years ago.

“Everybody thinks they are the player they’re going to be from the first month they are in the league, and that’s just not the case,” Casey said. “I think Kyle has learned some really valuable lessons over the years from his previous experiences in Memphis and Houston. He has grown into who he is as a player. He has really matured in so many ways. He’s slowed his game down and sees things in ways he probably did not early on in his career. He’s not that same, run-up-a-wall type of player he was. He’s much more cerebral now and understands the game more. He’s the key to our team.”

Lowry, 27, is also a player that Casey trusts implicitly. Lowry’s poise and leadership is definitely a commodity on the floor in today’s NBA.

“Bottom line is this is the perfect system for him,” Casey said. “He’s our quarterback and he has the freedom to run different plays and direct based on what he sees on the court. He can identify the matchups and go wherever he needs to go with the ball on that end of the floor. When he doesn’t do that he’ll defer to me and we’ll get together during time outs and evaluate what’s going on in dead ball situations and things like that and make our adjustments. But he’s doing an excellent job on the floor being a quarterback and understanding who needs touches and when they need them. He’s doing a heck of a job defensively and hawking the ball the way he has. But yes, the system fits him tremendously.”

It fits Lowry better than it has in the past, whether he wants to take a look back or not. And that’s exactly what the Raptors need.

Knicks Deal For Raptors’ Bargnani

Andrea Bargnani

Andrea Bargnani played in just 35 games last season for the Raptors.


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY –
The Toronto Raptors have found a taker for Andrea Bargnani, further evidence that no contract is untradeable.

For some reason, the New York Knicks are willing to take on the remaining two years and $22 million left on Bargnani’s deal. The trade, first reported by Howard Beck of the New York Times, was not approved by the league Sunday night. So the original swap — which had Marcus Camby, Steve Novak and the Knicks’ 2016 first-round pick going to Toronto — will have to be tweaked, and nothing can become official until the free-agency moratorium period ends on July 10.

Because Bargnani’s salary goes up on July 1, while both Camby’s and Novak’s salaries go down, more salary will need to go in Toronto’s direction. That can happen if New York works out a sign-and-trade deal with Earl Barron, Kenyon Martin, Quentin Richardson or Pablo Prigioni. Barron and Richardson are the most likely candidates.

As long as the deal goes through, it’s new Raptors GM Masai Ujiri working his magic once again, getting something in return for Bargnani’s burdensome contract. In fact, you have to wonder how the Draft pick isn’t going in the other direction.

Not only do the Raps get a pick and get rid of Bargnani, but Novak is a useful piece for a team that ranked 26th in 3-point percentage last season and has two starting wings — DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay — that don’t shoot particularly well.

Bargnani has shot well at certain points in his career, but has really struggled over the last two seasons, shooting 42 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range. He has tunnel vision when he gets the ball, unable to make plays for others. And even if he finds his shot at Madison Square Garden, he’s a serious defensive liability.

Really, you have to wonder why the Knicks want Bargnani. Though they struggled against the Pacers’ top-ranked defense in the conference semifinals, they ranked third offensively in the regular season, scoring a potent 108.6 points per 100 possessions. More than anything, they need help on defense, where they ranked 16th. You need to be ranked in the top 10 defensively if you have dreams of making The Finals, and Bargnani isn’t going to help them get there.

One of the Knicks’ biggest issues over the last few seasons has been their lack of two-way players. They’ve had some great offensive players and a few good defenders, but not enough guys who can get the job done on both ends of the floor. And Bargnani obviously isn’t that. Could you imagine how awful New York’s defense would be with Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire on the floor together?

Furthermore, the Knicks will now have four guys — Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Bargnani and Stoudemire — making more than $10 million a year. Three of the four play power forward or center full-time, and the fourth (Anthony) is at his best playing the four.

Capped out, a trade is the only way the Knicks can really upgrade their roster. And though they’re not really giving up much value, this just doesn’t seem like the trade to do it.

Woodson Searches For Answers, Comes Up Empty

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INDIANAPOLIS –
One of the most interesting things about playoff basketball is a team changing gears and abandoning something — a lineup or a style of play — that worked all season because it’s outmatched in a series.

The New York Knicks went there in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday. And it didn’t work.

With his team down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers and shooting blanks offensively against the league’s best defense, Knicks coach Mike Woodson abandoned the starting lineup that had sparked the Knicks to 13 straight wins late in the season. It hadn’t performed poorly (plus-1 in 22 minutes) in the first two games of the series, but did struggle (minus-7 in 13 minutes) in Game 3. The new starting lineup, meanwhile, had never played together.

Woodson abandoned more than a lineup. He abandoned his team’s whole small-ball, two-point-guard, Melo-and-shooters mantra that was so critical to the Knicks’ success. Out was point guard Pablo Prigioni and in was big man Kenyon Martin, sliding Carmelo Anthony to small forward, where he had played just six minutes through the first three games.

It was a sign of desperation, and the hope was that an extra big on the floor would keep the Knicks from getting crushed on the boards like they did in Games 1 and 3. It would also allow them to run secondary pick-and-rolls (instead of isolations) on the weak side of the floor after the Pacers stopped the primary one.

The Knicks did run more pick-and-rolls, they ran more of them with Anthony as the ball handler, and they got the ball up the floor and into their offense more quickly. But the result — a 93-82 Indiana victory — was basically the same as Game 3 three nights earlier. New York got off to a slow start, trailed by 14 at halftime, shot 36 percent, scored less than a point per possession and got crushed on the glass again.

“I thought our offensive flow wasn’t bad tonight,” Woodson said. “I thought the ball movement was a little bit better, but we couldn’t make shots.”

Credit the Indiana defense. It was phenomenal for the second straight game. While the Knicks looked somewhat crisper offensively, they still couldn’t get to the basket. When they looked to attack off the dribble, Roy Hibbert and the Pacers simply shut off the paint, where New York shot a miserable 13-for-34.

“Our effort was just off the charts,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said afterward. “I couldn’t be more proud of our defensive effort, our rebounding effort, and our willingness to share the ball offensively.”

The Knicks got some decent looks at the basket and shot decently (10-for-25) from mid-range, but you can’t win with mid-range shots. They got more 3-point attempts off then they did in Game 3, but many of them were rushed or contested.

Truly, the Knicks are in a funk, having lost five of their last seven games. Anthony and J.R. Smith have combined to shoot 33 percent in that stretch. Jason Kidd has missed his last 17 shots, his last basket coming three weeks ago. And Tyson Chandler looks nothing like the inside force that won Defensive Player of the Year last season.

It’s a bad time to be playing so poorly. And you can’t blame Woodson for trying something different. But he didn’t quite reach all the way down into his bag of tricks.

Kidd still played 16 minutes off the bench, even though his two misses looked awful and took place in the first 7:20 he was on the floor. Meanwhile, two guys who could have provided an offensive spark, Chris Copeland and Steve Novak, rode the pine until late in the third quarter and the final minute, respectively. The Knicks outscored the Pacers by 12 points in Copeland’s 12 minutes, and he and Novak combined to shoot 3-for-4 from 3-point range.

There was also the curious case of Prigioni’s playing time. The numbers have shown that the Knicks are better both offensively and defensively with the 35-year-old rookie on the floor, a phenomenon that Woodson has acknowledged often and as recently as Game 2 of this series. But Prigioni played less than 3 1/2 minutes on Tuesday, and Woodson didn’t have much of an explanation.

“Right now,” Woodson said, “I’m reaching, trying to find combinations that will work.”

Nothing has. And the bottom line is that the Pacers are the better team. The best player in the series hasn’t been Anthony, but rather Paul George. And while Woodson can’t find anyone who can make a shot, the Pacers have someone new step up every night. On Tuesday, it was George Hill, who led all scorers with 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

The Pacers can now close the series out in New York on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Woodson will still be searching for answers.

Knicks Await Word On Shumpert’s Knee

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INDIANAPOLIS – The New York Knicks got good and bad news out of shootaround on Tuesday morning.

The good news was that J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin were both back in the gym after missing practice with illnesses the last two days. Smith had been sick since before Game 3, in which he shot 4-for-12 and played just 25 minutes, the fewest of any playoff game in which he wasn’t ejected.

Expect both Martin and Smith, two of the Knicks’ three top subs, to play in Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT). But one of them might need to start, because it sounds doubtful that Iman Shumpert will be able to play.

Shumpert injured his left knee — the same knee he had ACL surgery on last year — in Game 3 and was held out of practice on Monday, but both he and Knicks coach sounded optimistic that he would be able to play in Game 4.

That optimism wasn’t there Tuesday morning though. In fact, Shumpert wasn’t there Tuesday morning. He was back at the team hotel, awaiting the arrival of the Knicks’ orthopedist, who was flying in from New York.

“They’ll evaluate him and give us an assessment this evening,” Woodson said. “He’s had some swelling the last two days, so they’re going to take a closer look at it and make sure everything’s OK.”

If Shumpert can’t play, it will be the ultimate test of Woodson’s Smith-is-not-allowed-to-start policy. New York has had a multitude of injuries this season and no Knick has played more games than Smith, but he hasn’t started a single one.

Ronnie Brewer, who was eventually traded for a second-round pick, started 34 games. James White, whose offensive skills leave a lot to be desired, started 16 games. And Chris Copeland, who Woodson doesn’t fully trust defensively, started 13. Smith? Zero.

But now, the Knicks’ season is on the line. Would Woodson start Copeland, who has played just 19 minutes in the series thus far? Would he dare start Smith? Or would he maybe go big, with Martin up front and Carmelo Anthony sliding to small forward?

“I haven’t even given that a thought,” Woodson said about who would replace Shumpert if he can’t play, “because I thought he would be here this morning.”

A lineup of Smith and the Knicks other four starters — Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Anthony and Tyson Chandler — has played just 16 minutes together (seven of those in the playoffs) this season. Martin and Chandler, meanwhile, have played just 12 minutes together in this series, and Anthony has been on the floor (at the three) for just six of those 12 minutes.

Woodson has a very interesting decision to make, but more important than who starts is what the Knicks would be losing without Shumpert. He’s their best perimeter defender and he’s the one role player that hasn’t been afraid to shoot in this series. Anthony leads the Knicks with 18 field goals from outside the paint over the three games, but Shumpert is second on the list with eight.

Whether or not Shumpert plays, we may see Steve Novak, who has played just seven minutes over the first three games, make an appearance on Tuesday. Jason Kidd has missed his last 15 shots and Prigioni doesn’t shoot quickly off the catch, so if Woodson wants to use Anthony as the pick-and-roll ball handler more, he’ll need another shooter out there. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday morning that Novak makes you “play four-on-four ,” because he’s so dangerous of a shooter.

J.R. Smith Suspended For Game 4

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BOSTON – The NBA announced Saturday night that J.R. Smith is suspended for Sunday’s Game 4 (1 p.m. ET, ABC) of the Knicks-Celtics series, a result of Smith’s elbow to the head of Jason Terry in the fourth quarter of Game 3.

With Terry playing Smith tightly in the corner, the Sixth Man of the Year turned and intentionally swung his elbow, knocking Terry to the floor. After getting up, Terry tried to go after Smith, but he was held back by teammates and Celtics coach Doc Rivers as Smith retreated to the Knicks bench.

“I was trying to draw the foul,” Smith said after the game. “He reached in one time. I thought he was going to reach in a second time and I was going to try to get a quick shot off, but they made a call that the refs saw and there’s not really much I can do about it.”

Smith’s absence will make it more difficult for the Knicks to complete a series sweep. At 16.3 points per game, he’s New York’s second-leading scorer in the series, a key secondary option when the Celtics are loading up on Carmelo Anthony, and a guy that can make difficult shots when an offensive possession breaks down, a scenario which has played out quite a bit in the first three games. It’s been an ugly series and any offense is good offense.

The Knicks didn’t know Smith’s fate when they met with the media Saturday afternoon, but they knew that a suspension was a possibility.

“If it happens, we got other guys in uniform that’s got to step up and play,” coach Mike Woodson said. “It’s kind of been that way all year when we’ve had injuries. Guys have stepped up and helped us win basketball games. So if J.R.’s missing, we’ve got to be ready to put guys in and play. I don’t know who’s going to play the minutes, but we’ll figure it out as we go along.”

Smith was the only Knick to play the first 80 games of the season before sitting out the final two, and he led the team in minutes played. Despite all their injuries, Smith never started. But Woodson has consistently called on him early in the first quarter.

In Smith’s absence, we should see extended minutes for Jason Kidd (who has averaged only 28 in the first three games) and a bigger role for Steve Novak, who hit his first two threes of the series in Friday’s Game 3 victory.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Knicks Taking It To The Celtics

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BOSTON –
This series might be more about the feebleness of the Boston Celtics, how they can barely run their offense against a team that ranked 16th defensively in the regular season, how they can’t hold onto the ball, and how they can’t make open shots when they get them.

When 6-foot-9 Jeff Green gets double-teamed by two point guards and can’t do anything but fall backwards and weakly flail the ball into the backcourt, you know the Celtics just can’t compete. And there were plenty of plays like that in the New York Knicks’ 90-76 victory in Game 3 on Friday.

But make no mistake about it. The Knicks have taken it to the Celtics in this series. They’ve earned their 3-0 lead and the opportunity to complete the sweep on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC).

Game 3, the first one at home, is supposed to be the game the underdog wins when they’re not completely outmatched. The Celtics, even without Rajon Rondo, weren’t exactly chumps this season. They had a top-six defense, a strong record at the TD Garden, and played the Knicks even in the two regular season meetings in which Kevin Garnett played. This squad of vets always has its pride and effort, and on this night, it had a little more emotion, playing its first home game since the Boston Marathon tragedy.

But guess what? The Celtics are completely outmatched. The Knicks are just a much better team. They were always better offensively, and they’ve now proven that they’re better defensively when push comes to shove.

“I thought we were a team that matched up really well with the Knicks,” Paul Pierce said. “I though we played them pretty good throughout the season. We lost a couple of close ones, but I didn’t expect this coming in. I knew this would probably be a long series, being the way we matched up. So I am surprised we’re down 0-3 right now.”

The Celtics’ offense did have an opportunity early on Friday to break through. They got to the basket and got open looks on the perimeter in the opening minutes. But the shots just didn’t go in.

The Knicks took advantage and, on this night, didn’t wait until the second half to put their foot on the gas. With Boston still struggling to score, New York clearly saw the opportunity to (essentially) put the series away. A 21-6 run just before halftime put the Celtics in an 18-point hole that they could never come close to digging out of.

After the Celtics missed those easy shots early, the Knicks didn’t let them recover. They turned up the defensive pressure, and in this game, the turnovers (18 of them) were more about New York’s pressure than Boston’s execution.

“Our goal was to not even let them believe they have a shot,” J.R. Smith said. “And I think we did a great job at that, and the way we got to it, defense and moving the ball.”

This is what great teams do. They don’t just hold serve. They break. They go into one of the toughest buildings to play in, play hard-nosed, aggressive defense, and execute offensively in a hostile environment.

Friday morning, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he was “anxious” to see how his team would react in its first road playoff game. He got his answer, loud and clear.

The Knicks had a handful of quality road wins in the regular season, but this was a breakthrough, a performance to really build on going forward, a game to build trust between teammates who want to know they can count on each other to come through in difficult situations.

“The beauty about our team is that somebody has always stepped up when we needed it,” Woodson said afterward. “To me, that’s the sign of a team that’s committed, that’s together, and that’s trying to do one thing, win a title.”

Nothing on the Knicks’ side of the Game 3 boxscore stands out. Carmelo Anthony (26 points on 12-for-25 shooting) and Smith (15 on 6-for-12) were the leading scorers and each played a big role in the second-quarter run. Raymond Felton (15 points and 10 assists) continued to break the Boston defense down with the pick-and-roll.

But contributions came from everywhere. And it was really Pablo Prigioni who set the tone, getting his hands on balls defensively and knocking down three 3-pointers in the first quarter to help his team start to build an offensive rhythm.

And with Steve Novak finally knocking down a couple of 3s, everyone in the Knicks’ rotation is playing well. The Celtics will surely put up a fight on Sunday, but the Knicks look ready to close this series out and move on.

We knew they had the talent in this series. And now it’s clear that they have the toughness too.

Defense Grew Rockets’ 22-Game Streak

 

HOUSTON — As far as seismic shifts in the landscape go, there was no tremor, no low rumble of an earthquake’s warning and it never hit with the fiery blast of a volcanic eruption.

When the Rockets went 49 days — seven full weeks — without a single loss in 2008, it grew quietly for the longest time like an oak tree’s roots growing up through the cracks in a sidewalk until one day it was busting apart the concrete.

The 22-game win streak, second-longest in NBA history, is the outlier in the record book, the one that nobody, even themselves, saw coming, and many, even in hindsight, can still not comprehend.

Before the defending champion Heat, led by the three-headed juggernaut of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, joined the club, only three teams in history had won 20 in a row. The 1971-72 Lakers with their record of 33 consecutive wins and a star-studded roster of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich went on to win the NBA title. The 1970-71 Bucks, led by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, ran off 20 straight on their way to win it all.

In fact, of the top eight win streaks ever in the NBA before the Heat, five of those teams won championships. Only the Rockets did not get out of the first round of the playoffs.

“Our names will be mentioned with Hall of Fame people,” said point guard Rafer Alston. “We have something to tell our kids.”

Shane Battier, now with Miami, has called the Rockets’ streak “organic,” part of a process that evolved over time.

It wasn’t often flashy or pretty, but it was effective, like seeing a boa constrictor slowly squeeze the life out of its prey.

The Rockets were led by Tracy McGrady’s bundle of offensive skills, but they survived the loss of Yao Ming and they won and won with a growing confidence and surging defense. During the 22-game streak, they held 19 of their opponents under 100 points and 13 under 90. They won 14 games by double figures, an average margin of 12.36, and had only three games decided by fewer than six points. They won 15 games at home and seven on the road.

The Rockets even won the last 10 without their All-Star center Yao, whose season was ended by a stress fracture in his left foot on Feb. 26.

“Every time a team gets a chance to come close, the streak comes up,” said forward Luis Scola, now with the Suns. “It was a great stretch. It was a good team. If we lose any of those games it wouldn’t change that fact. But maybe that team wouldn’t be as remembered.

“You know we were playing well. It was a fun team to play with. The momentum that we had going. We were playing very well. We were beating teams just because we were good…That month and a half was great. I remember it was a lot of fun.”

The Rockets were 15-17 on Jan. 2 and 24-20 when they beat Golden State 111-107 on a night when Yao was dominant with 39 points and 19 rebounds. They were fighting for their playoffs lives, sitting precariously as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Two nights later, they went on the road to win at Indiana 106-103 and ran off seven straight wins where they never gave up 90 points.

“What we’re developing is a great team like the Pistons,” said McGrady. “A great defensive team going out there and playing together and not relying on one or two people to score the rock.”

No. 8 was their narrowest escape, needing Steve Novak to come off the bench to hit a 3-pointer — his only field goal of the game — with two seconds left to rescue an 89-87 win over the Kings.

The streak continued through trades. On the afternoon of No. 10, they sent Bonzi Wells to New Orleans and Kirk Snyder to Minnesota, yet didn’t miss a beat in thumping Miami. They attracted real notice around the league when they whipped the No. 1-seeded Hornets in New Orleans.

When the Rockets took the floor on Feb. 26, the word was out that Yao was lost for the season and the fears inside Toyota Center were palpable. But with 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo blocking shots, waving his finger and filling the middle, the streak rolled on.

“You could probably check this, but I’m thinking all the way to the 17th or 18th game of the winning streak we still were in the eighth spot or the ninth spot or something like that,” Scola said. “It was a really tough year for the West. The playoffs were in jeopardy.” (more…)

Meet The Three-Point Participants

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The Foot Locker Three-Point Contest will be held Saturday night with five stations arranged around the arc and five balls at each spot, the first four worth one point and one red, white and blue “money ball” worth two points. Players will have one minute to try and complete all five locations.

Kevin Love of the Timberwolves, out with a hand injury, will not be defending the title won a year ago in Orlando.

The Eastern Conference lineup:

Paul George, Pacers: Though not known for his 3-point shooting, George is on pace to improve his percentage behind the arc for the third season in a row. That has been part of a climb from 7.8 points a game as a rookie to 12.1 in 2011-12 to 17.5 the first 61 games this season.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers: The escalation from No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 to All-Star in 2012-13 includes an improvement from pretty good on 3-pointers to challenging for a top-10 finish. Imagine where his scoring average goes if Irving starts to make threes more of a priority.

Steve Novak, Knicks: A man made for this competition. Novak is a career 3-point specialist, often posting a better percentage from behind the arc than on two-pointers. He was fifth in the league in 3-point accuracy heading into Wednesday’s games.

The Western Conference lineup:

Ryan Anderson, Hornets: The winner of Most Improved Player last season while in Orlando is the ideal complement for Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon after moving to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade. Now Anderson is on pace to finish better than 40 percent on 3-pointers for the first time in his career.

Matt Bonner, Spurs: He is averaging all of 12.1 minutes (11th on the team) and 4.1 points. And he absolutely deserves to be at All-Star weekend. Bonner is second in the league in 3-point percentage and on pace to shoot better than 45 percent behind the arc for the second time in three seasons.

Stephen Curry, Warriors: Barring a late injury on the Western Conference All-Star squad for the Sunday main event, appearing in the 3-point contest will have to do as a consolation prize. It may do very well, though. Curry is third in the league in accuracy behind the arc, making him one of the favorites to win the title.