Shootaround (March 13) -- Kristaps Porzingis says confusion has marked New York Knicks' season
Plus, trouble continues for the Bulls, the Blazers gear up for a big road trip and more
No. 1: Porzingis: Knicks’ confusion spans ‘from top to bottom’ — If there is a master plan in New York, prized Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis isn’t privy to its details. In fact, Porzingis isn’t quite sure what to make of the Knicks’ disastrous season these days. After Sunday’s loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets, he vented his frustrations with the direction of the franchise in a way that only he can, suggesting that the confusion has permeated the organization from top to bottom. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News has more:
The Knicks have operated this season under a haze of confusion, alternating between different schemes, different identities and a weak triangle.
That’s according to Kristaps Porzingis, who described the confusion in his organization as all-encompassing.
“From top to bottom, everybody,” he answered. “So it’s hard to play like that.”
Porzingis’ candid comments were spoken in front of his locker following the latest Knicks’ debacle, a 120-112 defeat to the Nets that underscored, yet again, Jeff Hornacek’s squad is awful on defense. It probably hurts defensively that anchor Joakim Noah is out for the season, but Porzingis also pointed to the inconsistencies in the game plans.
Earlier in the season, the Knicks placed assistant Kurt Rambis in charge of the defense and stopped switching on pick and rolls. They then re-emphasized the triangle offense because, among other reasons, it put them in a better position to thwart transition baskets on the other end.
Nothing has worked. The Knicks are allowing 108.7 points per game.
“We’ve been switching things up. Never at any point in this season, we played like we wanted to. So it was always like, ‘Maybe this will work. Maybe this will work,'” Porzingis said. “So we were kind of looking for stuff and coaches they obviously try to do the best job they can and giving us as much as they can so we have the information. But we never really got it together and were able to execute the way we should have. It’s been a lot of confusion.”
Porzingis, who has applauded the increased focus on the triangle, is also not impressed with the Knicks knowledge of Phil Jackson’s system.
“First of all, we don’t really know the triangle that well. We’re really basic with what we do,” he said. “So a lot of times, it’s basically one-on-one. Whoever it is. Me, Carmelo, Derrick, Courtney. We just try to make something happen. And that’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s very random.”
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No. 2: Wade insists Bulls have to turn things around as a unit — The struggle is real for the Chicago Bulls right now. And veteran superstar Dwyane Wade is the first member of the organization willing to admit it. Nick Friedell of ESPN.com provides some much-needed context:
In his 14th NBA season, Dwyane Wade has seen all the highs and lows the NBA has to offer.
But in the wake of the Chicago Bulls’ fifth straight loss, a 100-80 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon, the future Hall of Famer acknowledged what Bulls fans have known for weeks: Coach Fred Hoiberg and his team are in a difficult spot as they try to win games and make the playoffs while developing players for the future in the process.
After some initial success following a trade deadline deal that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow, the Bulls have played lifelessly in five straight defeats.
When asked if the Bulls’ commitment to developing younger players can frustrate the rest of the team, Wade was diplomatic in his response but acknowledged some frustration with the circumstances.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I wish upper management could be answering these questions because I’m tired of answering the same ones every game. I don’t know. I wish I had the answer, I don’t … I just want to get out there and try to play, try to lead.
“And try to find a way that me and Jimmy can be better to help these guys,” Wade said of All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler. “We got to go look at the film, sit down with coach … we got to figure out a way for us to be better so we can help everybody else be better.”
Wade came to the defense of Hoiberg while discussing the issues the Bulls are facing both in the short term and long term.
“A lot of people have a lot of things they can say about Fred as a coach, but I will defend him on this: This is a tough situation he’s put in right now,” Wade said. “That’s why sometimes I’m glad I’m on this side of the coin. I’m glad I got a jersey on; I don’t have to make certain decisions, because it is tough. But no one is really going to care too much. Fred gets a nice paycheck, I get a nice paycheck, Jimmy gets a nice paycheck, blah, blah, blah — so people don’t care when you get paid good. So we all have to figure it out together. We’re all in this together. This 2016-17 team, we all go down together no matter what the story, and it’s on us.”
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No. 3: Cavaliers burned by switching strategy — With every loss the Cleveland Cavaliers incur this time of year, the naysayers and know-it-alls crank up with their theories as to why it happened. Sunday’s 117-112 road loss to the Houston Rockets came against one of the league’s biggest superstars (James Harden), and perhaps because of the Cavaliers’ own penchant for “switching.” Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com provides some context:
Earlier this season, Tristan Thompson was asked how he measures his own success on defense. He gave the typical answer, with one interesting point of emphasis.
He said he prides himself on being able to switch onto smaller guards. Not Sunday night. Not against MVP candidate James Harden.
The Rockets’ leading scorer kept running the high pick and roll and the Cavs chose to switch. Thompson — with his hands out wide and sometimes back, a strategy he likely picked up from watching the Golden State Warriors, who do that repeatedly to keep Harden off the free throw line — couldn’t handle Harden’s attacking style.
Along with not being able to keep up on Harden’s strong left-handed drives, the constant switching pulled Thompson away from the basket.
When Harden beat Thompson off the bounce, there was no one near the rim to prevent easy layups. If Harden settled for a 3-pointer or missed on his drives to the hoop, Thompson, the Cavs’ best rebounder was out of position, unable to finish the defensive possession.
The Rockets won the battle of the boards Sunday, 52-38. They also pounded Cleveland on the offensive glass, 20-4.
According to ESPN stats and info, the +16 differential is the largest in a game this season.
Only Trevor Ariza failed to reached double-digit offensive boards for Houston.
Along with the switching strategy, not having Love, one of the league’s better rebounders, certainly played a part in the struggles as well.
Prior to Love’s injury, the Cavs ranked tied for ninth in rebounding, averaging 44.1 per game. In the 11 games without Love, the Cavs are 24th in rebounding, averaging 41.6.
They’ve been out-rebounded in five of the six losses sans Love.
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No. 4: Trail Blazers bounce back to kick off crucial road trip — The beauty and curse of the NBA schedule is how quickly the action comes at teams. The time for savoring a win or sulking after a brutal loss is often brief, given the nature of the calendar. That’s why the sting of a tough home loss to Washington at home Saturday night didn’t linger into Sunday’s win in Phoenix, the first game of a crucial, late-game road trip for the playoff-spot hunting Trail Blazers. Jason Quick of CSNNW.com explains:
With 5:34 left in a suddenly nip-and-tuck game, and the Trail Blazers reliving the nightmare of losing a big lead, Meyers Leonard confidently made a prediction.
“We are going to win by seven,’’ Leonard said as the Blazers emerged from a timeout up 94-93.
Leonard was only partially right: The Blazers won by nine.
Led by Damian Lillard’s 39 points and a 12-point fourth quarter from CJ McCollum, the Blazers — for a night at least – exorcised some ghosts by losing a big lead, then coming back to defeat the Suns 110-101 at Talking Stick Arena.
The win came one night after Portland squandered a 21-point halftime lead and eventually lost in overtime to Washington. On Sunday, the Blazers led by 18 in the third quarter on before Phoenix twice took a one-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Around that time, Leonard made his prediction coming out of a timeout.
“It was understanding time, and our positive energy in the huddle,” Leonard said of his prediction. “I felt like some of the plays weren’t going our way, but we were making the right ones, and also, Dame has the hot hand. Whenever he has it going, I feel pretty confident the way the game is going.”
While Lillard scored 28 of his 39 in the first half, McCollum did his damage late, hitting all five of his shots in the fourth quarter. There were also some momentum plays from Al-Farouq Aminu — a block thwarting a Suns fast break and a tie-breaking three pointer among them — and a big three-pointer from Allen Crabbe that helped the Blazers close on a 16-8 run and begin a crucial five-game trip with a win.
“We have to do a better job putting teams away,’’ McCollum said after finishing with 26 points.
It was the fifth win in six games for the Blazers (29-36) and it moved them to within 1.5 games of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with 17 games remaining.
“I mean, we fighting, that’s what it comes down to,” Lillard said. “It’s not always perfect game, not always a pretty game, but down the stretch we’ve had a chance in every game … I just like that we are competing. We are playing with a lot of pride. Playing like we care about where our season goes.”
Lillard iced the game with a three-pointer with 1:01 left, pushing the Blazers’ lead to 108-99, finishing the game three points shy of his season high. He went 13-of-26 from the field and added six rebounds and two assists.
“I thought he pretty much willed us to the win,” coach Terry Stotts said. “You could just tell how he played, his demeanor, the way he fought through some of the adversity. I thought he really shouldered a lot of the responsibilty.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kawhi Leonard’s status for tonight’s game against the Hawks (8 p.m. ET, TNT) has been upgraded to “questionable” … In addition, LaMarcus Aldridge is set to undergo more tests today on his heart … Jermaine O’Neal wants to tell the whole story about the brawl between Pacers players and Pistons fans from 2004 … No, Markieff Morris’s game-winner in Portland should not have counted, but that doesn’t mean the Wizards shouldn’t savor the moment … The Clippers and Jazz are ready for a good ol’ fashioned Western Conference showdown tonight that could be rekindled in the playoffs …