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Around The League

Shootaround (Oct. 24) -- Knicks prep for a season of unknowns

Oct 24, 2016 9:04 AM ET

8:27

Knicks begin season as great unknown | New dynamic in Spurs-Warriors | Clippers seek true home-court edge | Curry sticks up for Green

No. 1: Knicks face great unknown -- Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Kristaps Porzingis, Joakim Noah and more. The New York Knicks have the core ingredients of what should be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference this season. But the right ingredients alone do not guarantee anything. The Knicks are battling the great unknown as they head into Tuesday's season opener in Cleveland (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). It's the first step in what can only be classified as a crucial season during the Phil Jackson era, as Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reports:

Take one future Hall of Famer and elite scorer. Mix him with two pieces from Chicago that seem like they’re perpetually battling injuries. Throw in a 21-year-old stud from Latvia and an easy-going coach who wants to pick up the pace. Put them all together under a triangle sauce, and what do you get? Nobody knows.

“It’s kind of the unknown,” Carmelo Anthony said. “As of right now, that’s what gets me excited, gets me going. Not knowing who we are going to be and what we’re going to accomplish but understanding being optimistic about what we can accomplish. I think not knowing what’s going to happen is getting me excited.”

The experiment of the Knicks, if nothing else, will be worth watching for the journey. Anything short of the playoffs will be a huge disappointment. But even beyond that, the season can serve as vindication for Phil Jackson, or further proof he doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing as an executive.

Theoretically, the pieces can fit with a penetrating point guard in Derrick Rose and a defensive anchor in Joakim Noah. But Jeff Hornacek has to figure out how to make it come together while placating Jackson’s triangle desires. There’s only one ball, and three players who feel they deserve it in Anthony, Rose and Kristaps Porzingis. The key is unselfish play and defined roles, although the start figures to be rough with Rose missing preseason because of his civil trial.

“Everything looks good now on paper. But it’s not until we get on the court and start putting things together and seeing who fits with who and how it fits in,” Anthony said. “What are we going to do? What’s our identity going to be as a team? How we want to play on both sides of the court. So that won’t be answered until we get going.

“The first month of the season we kinda knock some kinks out. But I believe once we get it rolling it’s going to be a good thing to watch.”

Most are predicting the Knicks will fall well short of Rose’s declaration of “Super Team.” Not one GM in NBA.com’s annual survey picked them to finish in the top-4 in the Eastern Conference. One notable pundit high on the Knicks is Garden employee Isiah Thomas, who predicted on NBA TV his former team would be a surprise conference finalist. But mostly the Knicks are being plotted as a bubble playoff team.

“The question is going to be health,” TNT analyst and former Knick killer Reggie Miller said. “You are wondering if Noah and Rose can get to the finish line because of the health problems over the last few seasons. Are they better on paper? Absolutely. I just hope they can get to the finish line. If they can stay healthy for 82 games, they have a real shot of making the playoffs in the East.”

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No. 2: Different dynamic afoot in Warriors-Spurs opener -- Fans waited seemingly forever to get a glimpse of the two teams that powered through the Western Conference last season. The Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs didn't face-off until Jan. 25, some three months into a record-setting season for both teams. While they won't have to wait anywhere near that long this season (the Warriors host the Spurs in Tuesday's season opener (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT), there is a totally different dynamic for both teams this time around. Carl Steward of The Mercury News explains:

The biggest difference this season is that the world won’t have to wait for clues about that possible matchup. The Warriors host the Spurs in the season opener at Oracle on Tuesday night.

Then there will be the second-biggest difference: Even though the Spurs will come to town still boasting numerous familiar faces, the most conspicuous face of Tim Duncan will not be among them. Now retired after a 19-year Hall of Fame career, it simply won’t seem the same.

“Yeah, definitely, that will be extremely weird,” Draymond Green said on Sunday. “But as we all know when we start this, one day it must come to an end. You just give what you can give while you have the opportunity to, and if you can leave half the legacy behind that Tim Duncan did, you did a pretty good job.”

Green said he could remember watching Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett -– all now retired — playing in the league when he was 6 or 7 years old. When Warriors forward Kevon Looney’s name was dropped into the conversation, Draymond piped, “Was Kevon even born yet when Duncan started in the NBA?”

Close. Looney was born in February of 1996 and Duncan made his NBA debut at the end of October in 1997, so it’s safe to say he was probably still in diapers. But as he grew, Looney said Duncan had a big impact on his introduction to basketball.

“My dad always referenced him as the post player to watch,” Looney said. “His footwork, how he used the backboard, how he always made the right play. I think every big man should watch film of him.”

The Spurs will begin the season with a comparative youngster in Duncan’s spot, 36-year-old Pau Gasol, signed as a free agent in the offseason. Warriors fans might recognize another San Antonio addition as well in the form of longtime Golden State forward David Lee. It should add some good spice to the opening night game, but the Warriors don’t seem particularly stoked that San Antonio happens to be the first foe of the new season.

“It doesn’t matter for us,” Stephen Curry said. “We have to play everybody on our schedule when they show up. It’ll be a really good atmosphere, obviously, and I’m sure there will be a very high level of play on both ends. It’ll take a lot to get a win, but I think we had the same focus last year playing New Orleans on opening night.”

Green echoed those sentiments, saying, “Obviously when you start off against those guys it’s a test right away. But it’s just one of the 82 games. It’ll be a very fun way to start the season off, and a tough way to start it off. But at the end of the day, there are 29 teams other than us, and no matter who you play, you’ve got to come out and be ready to give 110 percent when you step on the floor. Anybody can beat you.”

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No. 3: Can the Clippers take care of home? -- Home sweet home doesn't always apply for the LA Clippers, who share a physical home with the Los Angeles Lakers but don't sport the sort of edge on their home floor the way you'd expect of an elite team. If the Clippers are going to take the next step this season, it has to start with taking care of the business at home. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register provides the details:

The Clippers want to make this clear – what you’re about to read isn’t about the 19,000-plus fans in the seats. It’s not about the acoustics. It’s not about in-game operations, the dance team or the giant condor in the helmet and knee pads.

The Clippers’ Staples Center problem isn’t about anyone other than the Clippers.

Before the Clippers’ practice Saturday, Chris Paul wanted to talk about the problem, pivoting on a question about quick start to a different line of thought.

“One of the biggest things for us is our home court hasn’t really been a home court,” Paul said. “I don’t know. For some reason we just haven’t made it a tough place to play.

“ … Obviously it’s our mentality. We’re the ones playing. We have to give our crowd something to cheer about, something to get behind. We’ve got to make Staples Center, for our home games, a tough place to play.”

The numbers show that it is actually tough on teams coming into Los Angeles to play the Clippers – but it’s more like kinda, sorta tough.

The Clippers went 29-12 in home games last year – the seventh-best record in the league. But, for Doc Rivers, “seventh best” isn’t good enough for the Clippers to have a great season.

“When you’re good and you’re really good, you should value home more and win games,” Rivers said. “I don’t think we did a good job of that last year. … Our record should have been a lot better. You look at how many games we won and consider how many home games we lost, we should have had much better regular season.

“You have to win home games if you want to be a great team.”

Last year was the second season in a row where the Clippers saw their home win totals decline. In that stretch, they’ve won 59 regular-season home games at Staples Center. Over the last two regular seasons, Golden State won 78 at home. San Antonio won 73. Cleveland won 64.

The fix can only come from one place – within.

“I feel like sometimes we’re a better road team than we are a home team, and that’s not good,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “I mean it’s good, but we want to be a great team at home and a really, really, really good team on the road. We need to figure out how to transition that, and we’ll be fine, but we’ve got to pick it up at home.”

“I feel like when we’re at home, we rely on our crowd, we rely on, ‘OK, we’re at home.’ But (when) we’re on the road, we know it’s us against everybody else in this arena, so that’s more motivation, more fire, I guess. So, we’ve got to find that same fire at home.”

And, they’re not pointing fingers at the crowds. They’re pointing them at themselves.

“Don’t get it twisted. Our crowd is behind us all day every day,” Paul said. “But, it’s us that have to give them a reason to a cheer and all that stuff like that. That’s on us as a team. The way we come out, we’ve got to provide that energy.”

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No. 4: Curry defends teammate Green -- Normally Draymond Green is the one covering Steph Curry's back on the defensive end. But in an interesting role reversal, the reigning two-time KIA MVP went on the defensive in support of Green in the aftermath of a critical magazine article that painted Green as the potential problem for Oakland's super team. Sam Amick of USA Today Sports has more:

Stephen Curry pushed back against the public narrative surrounding his Golden State Warriors super team after practice on Sunday, coming to the defense of teammate Draymond Green after a recent ESPN article painted him in quite the unflattering light.

This comes after new addition Kevin Durant has been routinely ridiculed in some circles for making this free agency choice in July. Before that, it was Curry receiving so much criticism after the Warriors fell short in the Finals in June. That din, like most when it comes to these Warriors, never died down.

Behold the NBA’s latest black hat team and all that comes with it. Or, as one team security member’s t-shirt read, the “Super Villains.”

But media chatter is one thing – and there will be an endless stream of it surrounding this team all season long. The question that matters, and that I posed to the back-to-back MVP here at the tail end of their preseason, is whether or not the mood behind the curtain is a point of concern for him and his team.

“Honestly, none of that stuff (the negativity) has crept in,” said Curry, who has played with Green since he was drafted in the second round by the Warriors in 2012. “We have to respond. Obviously the article about Draymond, we all thought it was ridiculous and kind of looking through a keyhole at somebody’s life that you don’t really know about.

“We see every single day what goes on, what a guy like Draymond brings to the table for us, how he makes us better, how KD (Durant) does that for us, what Klay (Thompson) does for us, all the way down the list. And we appreciate everybody’s role. We appreciate what our common goal is. When we get back in the locker room, and practice, and when we’re by ourselves, the mood is pretty solid, something that I’m pretty confident will allow us to have maturity when it comes to the noise around us and how we handle it and not letting that affect how we play on the court and how we see each other and let that get in the way. I’m going to do my part in trying to lead that charge, and make sure it’s all about basketball.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Minnesota has some intriguing options at point guard with John Lucas III and Tyus Jones on the opening day roster ... The Yi Jianlian experience in Los Angeles could be over before the regular season gets started for the Lakers ... The Raptors will have to start this season without the services of Jared Sullinger ... The Houston Rockets are already learning how to play without Patrick Beverly ... Hard work and dedication has finally paid off in Miami for Rodney McGruder ...


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