Knicks Escape Utah with Much-Needed Win
5 Thoughts on the Win:
1. The emotion was relief. It was written clearly on the faces of the Knicks when the final horn sounded at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Tim Hardaway Jr., who played a huge role in pushing his team to the win, couldn’t ignore the obvious sense of escape the team felt after this one ended.
“We got lucky, man,” he said.
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This has been the script lately for this team: play well enough to win, do just enough to lose and it comes down to make-or-miss situations late in the game. It happened against the Bulls. It happened against the Pelicans. It happened against the Grizzlies.
It almost happened again in Utah, but this time, as Hardaway said, “thankfully the ball went our way and we got the win.”
The Jazz had three attempts from three-point range to tie the score on the final possession to force an overtime the Knicks wanted nothing to do with after blowing a 10-point lead in the final two minutes. The second two looks were uncontested, as the Knicks scrambled around trying to get the long rebounds. The usually-reliable and historically Knick-killing Joe Johnson missed a corner look and then Joe Ingles, who shoots 40% from downtown, bricked his chance from the other corner.
On to Los Angeles.
2. Hardaway was re-inserted into the starting lineup for the game, which made a world of difference at the start. The trick was to give him breaks throughout the game so he could still be on the court down the stretch, where he has been terrific this season.
The medical staff is holding Hardaway Jr. to a minutes cap in the mid-20s during this road trip. He played 27 minutes in this game, which is another reason why the Knicks did not want overtime. That would have put Jeff Hornacek in a tough spot. Hardaway had 31 points and scored some huge buckets in the fourth quarter.
But let’s take a moment to appreciate what Hardaway Jr. has done since his return from missing 20 games with a stress injury in his leg. He’s played four of the five games and is averaging 22 points per game on 52.6% shooting, including 43.8% from three-point range. He’s doing this in 27.6 minutes per game.
That’s remarkable for a player who missed six weeks of action. He essentially has picked up right where he left off. In the previous 17 games before his injury, Hardaway Jr. was averaging 19.9 points per game on 44.8% shooting.
Remember how you felt about his contract when the Knicks signed him this summer? He’s certainly changed the perspective on that this season. Beyond the numbers, Hardaway Jr. has played with a great intensity that this team certainly missed when he wasn’t on the court.
3. Hornacek played 12 of the 13 available players in this game. He had a very quick hook with several players, which seemed to send a message after the loss in Memphis: if you don’t come into the game ready to play, you won’t last long.
The most notable case was rookie Frank Ntilikina. He came into the game in the first half playing way too soft and hesitant and within three minutes, he was out and Trey Burke came in. Burke played fairly well in the first half, but when it came time for subs in the second half, Hornacek gave Ntilikina a second chance.
Same result. Not much of anything. This time, Hornacek didn’t wait more than two minutes before he pulled the rookie off the court.
Ron Baker saw some extensive minutes late in the first half and also in the third quarter. His job was to pester Rodney Hood and get him off his game. Hood had 14 points at the half, but only had four in the second half. He left the game with a leg injury and wasn’t available for that fateful final possession when his three-point shooting would have been valuable.
Meanwhile, Ntilikina, who has seen a lot of fourth-quarter playing time this season, was left on the bench in the fourth against Utah. When it came time to sub, Hornacek went to Burke.
And Burke took the ball and never gave it back.
He played the final 9:58 of the game and scored five points with two assists as he ran the offense down the stretch to a win.
“He did,” Hornacek said, “what a point guard is supposed to do.”
He ran high screen-and-roll with Kristaps Porzingis (18 points) and Michael Beasley (10 points) to near perfection and also made the Jazz pay for going under the screen by nailing a three. Did the Knicks see enough here to move Burke ahead of Ntilikina in the rotation?
Hardaway Jr., who teamed with Burke in the backcourt at Michigan, was encouraging his buddy to show out. It wasn’t lost on Tim, or Trey, that he was re-establishing himself against the team that drafted him in 2013.
“I think I was a little conservative when I first walked into the game,” Burke said, “but I got comfortable as time went by.”
4. Wally Szczerbiak mocks so much of my analytical data as “useless stats,” but here are some numbers that will make Hornacek fume and yet perhaps also supports the theory within the locker room that this team isn’t as far off from who they were early in the season.
The Knicks shot 49.4% from the field and 55% (11-for-20) from three and scored 117 points in this game, which represented the eighth time over the last nine games that the team has shot over 46% from the field, 37% from three, which are both above the NBA shooting averages this season.
In fact, in this nine-game stretch, the team is shooting 48.6% from the field and 41.4% from three while averaging 109.6 points per game.
Yet they’ve gone 3-6 in that stretch.
While late-game execution has been an issue, the defense is clearly the bigger problem. During these nine games, the Knicks have 7.6 blocks and 6.8 steals per game, but they’re allowing 112.3 points per game despite pedestrian shooting by their opponents (45.5% from the field, 34.2% from three).
So what’s the issue? Turnovers and fouls.
The Knicks are turning the ball over 15.2 times per game in this stretch, which is giving their opponent more possessions. They’re also allowing 12.1 offensive rebounds per game, which are even more possessions. Add to that 22 fouls per game, which turns into 24.8 free throw attempts per game for the opponent, you have the formula for self-inflicted wounds that render irrelevant a red-hot offense.
Just picture Hornacek sitting on the team plane, watching the game back on his iPad and repeatedly slamming said iPad against his forehead.
Or me doing the same thing each morning.
5. An ESPN report said the Charlotte Hornets have made Kemba Walker available for trade before the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Immediately, as if often the case when a known player is available, #KnicksTwitter went into a frenzy.
Walker, who turns 28 in May, has one year left on his contract after this season at a very affordable $12 million salary. He will become a free agent in 2019.
The Bronx native has said all the right things following the report. He would prefer to stay in Charlotte, but make no mistake that his preferred destination would be to come home and play at the Garden.
All of this sounds like a no-brainer until you read deeper into the reports about the Hornets’ intentions in any Walker trade: dumping more salary for expiring contracts and draft picks. So what we have here is not just the addition of Walker, a 20-point scorer at the point guard position, at a very cap-friendly contract, but you’d have to be willing to saddle your payroll with one of the following:
– Oft-injured Nic Batum, who has three more years left after this season at an average of $25 million each, running through the 2020-21 season.
– Oft-injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who has two years left after this season at an average of $13 million each.
– Underwhelming Marvin Williams, who has two years left after this season at an average of $14.5 million each.
This type of move would put you into the luxury tax and take you out of free agency until 2021. So what’s the trade-off? Does it make you anything more than a lower-level playoff team?
There’s a lot to weigh when it comes to this scenario. Walker is a local kid who has had some huge games at the Garden as a college star at UConn. The question you have to ask is, does a move like this fit in the plan that was put in place by Steve Mills and Scott Perry?
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Depleted Rangers Need All Hands on Deck in Colorado
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The Blueshirts have won two consecutive tilts and are coming off a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The Avalanche are unbeaten in their last eight contests and are looking to make it nine in a row, something the franchise has not accomplished since October, 2000. This is the second and final meeting of the regular season between the clubs, where Colorado beat the Rangers on opening night of the season at MSG, 3-2.
On the injury front the hits just keep on coming for the Rangers. Kevin Shattenkirk will join a list of wounded that already includes Marc Staal, Kevin Hayes and Chris Krieder. Shattenkirk will undergo knee surgery Monday and is out for an indefinite period of time, although the injury is not expected to end the defenseman’s season. There is a chance that Staal and Hayes may return tomorrow night when the team plays Los Angeles.
It sounds as though the injury to Shattenkirk has been lingering since September, only to get progressively worse as the season moved along. This would certainly go a long way in explaining the New Rochelle native’s lack of mobility in his first forty- six games on Broadway. Various treatments were utilized in an attempt to muscle through but despite the grin-and-bear mentality, at the end of the day the injury was too debilitating to overcome.
Playing through pain is something every player deals with over the course of a season. While it was admirable that Kevin tried to persevere, his play was compromised and he will be a better Ranger when he returns with two good legs to compete on.
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon is second in the NHL in scoring with 57 points and is riding an eight-game point streak, having accumulated seven goals and 10 assists. The top pick in the 2013 amateur draft and the 2013-14 rookie of the year looks to be playing as the elite player that he was expected to be.
His game is one of power, speed and instinct. An Avalanche franchise that was dead-last in league standings a year ago are legitimately in the playoff hunt as a result of MacKinnon’s dominant play.
The Avalanche are yet another team that will put you quickly on the ropes if you do not move things in a North-South manner. Keep it clean and simple by playing the game this way as opposed to East-West, particularly at both bluelines.
2. Defend as 5
The roster is somewhat compromised this afternoon with injuries to key people. It will be necessary that there be an all-hands-on-deck mentality in the defensive zone.
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Trust in Process Leading to Devils’ Progress
In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko looks at Taylor Hall’s heroics, the battle in the Metropolitan Division and Keith Kinkaid’s play in goal in place of Cory Schneider.
MSGNetworks.com: Taylor Hall came to the Devils‘ rescue Thursday night, scoring the game-winning goal in the OT win over the Caps. How much comfort does it give you that the team has a big-money All-Star player like Hall to come up big in clutch situations?
Ken Daneyko: If you’re going to be a good team or an improved team, you need balance. But you also need for your top guys to be your top guys. Taylor has certainly been that all season long and he’s taken on a leadership role on the team.
It’s taken time for him to get settled in after the shock of the big trade last season, but you have to be impressed with how he’s taken command. He wants to be a difference maker and he wants to be a guy that’s part of the improvement of a team that’s trying to get to the playoffs.
MSGNetworks.com: Thanks to Hall, the Devils are now only four points behind the Caps for the lead in the Metropolitan Division. Where do you think the Devils fit in the divisional battle?
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Ken Daneyko: Everybody in the Metro is above .500 and they’re all good teams. You know that going in and you accept the challenge. You don’t dread and you know it’s going to be a tough schedule. But, they’ve won two important divisional games and it’s been a topsy-turvy kind of fight.
Thursday night was a good win because the Caps have given the Devils fits, not only this year, but for years. With the Devils being a much more improved and formidable team, you want to show that you’re going to continue to take steps. You have to beat top teams and the Caps are the top team in the division right now, and not just because they sit on top of the division.
It wasn’t easy by any means, even after it looked like the Devils played a complete game. They gave themselves a chance to win, which didn’t happen the last two times they played Washington. They get scored one late and surrendered a two-goal lead, and you’re thinking it doesn’t matter what they do, it’s tough to beat this team. But it was yet another step in the right direction and the Devils do what they did in overtime, led by Taylor Hall.
Some people might complain that they gave up the lead, but it wasn’t like they were playing badly. The Devils played one of their better games, but the Capitals are good. They came on strong and were able to get the equalizer later in the third period. It’s all a part of the process and coach [John] Hynes wants them to learn how to close games out. That was a fun game, though and it’s all always exciting to beat a team like Washington.
MSGNetworks.com: One of the things you notice immediately about this Devils team is that they have a lot of character. Against the Caps, you saw a lot of it: Brian Boyle stepping in to fight Tom Wilson to defend Brian Gibbons and winning a tough a game after surrendering a two-goal lead. Is that something that develops over time or do you think this team had it from the start?
Ken Daneyko: Usually it happens over time, but this was addressed right at the start of training camp. That was something general manager Ray Shero and John Hynes looked to address right away. You better play for your teammates and play for the crest on your jersey. You can’t win if you don’t play like a team and a be a team. Of course, they needed more talent and obviously, they got that.
We talk about the Metro and the National Hockey League in general and how close it is. The game is so tight that the little intangibles are the things that swing games. The Devils aren’t an overly big, physical team, but that doesn’t matter.
As for the fight, it turned out to be a clean hit by Wilson, but I thought it was perfect timing. Players react. They don’t have the luxury of seeing what we see on TV and the replays. Boyle was reacting to a big hit on a smaller linemate and he stood up to a big physical player. It doesn’t matter if you win, lose or draw a fight, it’s more about sticking together.
It’s no coincidence that the Devils killed that penalty and then scored shortly after. You don’t mind killing those kinds of penalties. Those are the intangibles that I’m talking about and they happen for a reason. They killed that penalty for Brian after he got the instigator, and Miles Wood gets the goal right after. These things all go hand in hand.
MSGNetworks.com: Guys like Boyle have contributed to the good mix of youth and veterans on the team this year. Does it seem like it’s coming together at the right time?
Ken Daneyko: You need all different types of players to have a good team. Whether it’s speed or the ability to kill a penalty or be a good forechecker or a game breaker like Taylor Hall, you need a combination of it all. As a group, they’ve done a good job.
Before the recent game against the Islanders, Coach Hynes called out the team and demanded that they had to be better. They were waning from their defensive structure and responsibilities. That happens during an 82-game schedule with any team and any player. You’re not going to play 82 perfect ones! They knew they had to end their six-game winless streak quickly. They didn’t wallow in it and they were able to stop the bleeding.
That’s what’s good about this team, they don’t get too high or too low. They stay balanced and know that every game is different. Every game is going to be tougher as it goes along here. Who knows where it’s going to end up, but if they continue the process, they’ll be fine. They’ll continue to grow and be a better team for sure.
MSGNetworks.com: Finally, a big reason why the Devils ended their skid was the play of Keith Kinkaid, who’s stepped in for Cory Schneider the last two games. How much of a relief is it for Coach Hynes to have a reliable backup like Kinkaid?
Ken Daneyko: The bottom line in this league is that you need two goalies. There’s just so many elements involved that you have to have guys step up, whether it’s because of injury or in this case Cory being sick. It’s been trying at times for Keith because there have been some long periods with him not playing games, but that’s part of the job. He’s been able to step in and get the job done.
We all know there’s no goalie controversy here, Cory’s the No. 1 guy and they’re going to rely on Cory heavily. Both those guys are going to lean on each other and you need both guys to be good. It’s a friendly internal competition and it’s always good to see your counterpart have good performances. It gets you revved up. You support each other and that’s what this team has been able to do.
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Banged-Up Rangers Suffer Injury Blow to Shattenkirk
On Friday, Shattenkirk admitted that his unwillingness to “disappoint” people – family, friends, fans, teammates and himself included – in his first season in New York, played a part in his trying to play through a torn meniscus in his left knee, which he’s had since September.
On Monday, Shattenkirk will have surgery to repair that knee, and he will be out indefinitely, though the defenseman believes he will be back for the season’s stretch run.
“It’s tough,” Shattenkirk said, his face telling just how tough.
“Thinking about this year, you want everything to go perfectly, and I think I’ve been trying to battle through this for a lot of reasons. When it came down to it, today, and we talked about it, you have to think about yourself. I’ve been worried about a lot more things, trying not to disappoint a lot of people – me included in that.
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“It’s hard to be leaving a team. It’s never easy to be sidelined. You don’t get to hang out with the guys as much and feel that camaraderie. But I also feel like, what I was putting out on the ice … I wasn’t giving the guys on my team the best that I had. That almost makes you feel worse. You don’t want to be disappointed as a teammate. I think that this is the first step to get back to where I am and come back and have a meaningful impact down the stretch.”
Shattenkirk’s strengths are his skating and his ability to move the puck and make plays. The knee injury has certainly contributed to a stat line that says zero goals in 30 games (since Nov. 6) and one assist in his last 13.
“It’s been painful and it’s something that I’ve been able to, with the training staff here – they’ve done a tremendous job of helping me manage the pain,” he said.
“What has really been the x-factor is that it limits me off the ice as far as training and keeping my body in the shape that I normally can. And I feel that because of it, my left leg is starting to get a lot weaker and not allowing me to play my game and have the escape-ability and the explosiveness in my skating that I think anyone will tell you is a big part of my game. I feel like, recently, it’s been something that’s really been glaring. It’s kind of the point where we needed to decide whether or not to do this, and I think it’s the right thing to do in the long run.”
Chris Kreider (blood clot, ribcage surgery) remains out long-term. Kevin Hayes (leg) and Marc Staal (hip) will skate in Denver Saturday and Sunday, but are 50-50 at best for Sunday’s game in Los Angeles, coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Rangers recalled defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, 22, from Hartford to replace Shattenkirk on the power play, and also brought up forward Daniel Catenacci, 24, to have an extra player on the trip.
The Rangers also assigned rookie Lias Andersson, their first-round draft pick last summer, from Frolunda, his team in Sweden, to Hartford.
Vigneault said he spoke with Hartford coach Keith McCambridge Friday, and that he said of DeAngelo, “the last couple of weeks he’d been very solid moving the puck out of his own end, good on the power play, so he felt that at this time he was probably playing his best hockey since he’s been in Hartford.”
Ultimately, Shattenkirk and the team’s medical staff determined the surgery was the best option.
“It’s been going on since the end of September into early October,” Shattenkirk said.
“We did a cortisone shot before the season, which started to wear off right around eight to 10 weeks or so. We tried another PRP (platelet rich plasma) injection over the bye week. Just the inflammation and everything really started to creep back in. So it’s really been going on all season – something we’re trying to progressively attack and it just hasn’t responded the way we hoped it would.”
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Kevin Shattenkirk Injury Update
NEW YORK, January 19, 2018 – New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton announced today that defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has a meniscus tear in his knee and will undergo surgery. The surgery will be performed by Dr. Bryan Kelly at Hospital for Special Surgery. Shattenkirk will be sidelined indefinitely.
Shattenkirk has skated in 46 games with the Rangers this season, registering five goals and 18 assists for 23 points.Posted on
Plenty of Frustration To Go Around
5 Thoughts on the Game:
1. Bill Pidto tossed his pen before he even got through his introduction to the postgame show. He was furious. As Wally Szczerbiak and I tried to offer more level-headed perspective on a maddening game and it’s bizarre ending, Pidto was already telling us that Twitter was on his side.
But before we get to the opinion, let’s deal with the facts of what happened at the end of this most frustrating loss of the season. The facts as the NBA saw them in the L2M (Last Two Minutes) report from the game, which was posted on the NBA.com/Official site here.
With the Knicks trailing by three (102-99), the league agreed that Kristaps Porzingis should have been called for a foul on the rebound of Tyreke Evans’ miss. Porzingis grabs the arm of Jarell Martin which, the league says affected his ability to retrieve the rebound.
OK, so the Grizzlies get the ball back with 25 seconds left with a sideline out-of-bounds play, which follows a timeout. However, the league says that JaMychal Green did not inbound the ball in time and should have been called for a five-second violation.
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So it should have been Knicks ball, down three with 25 seconds left.
Instead, the ball got to Evans, who was under pressure by Courtney Lee. It resulted in a loose ball situation and Tim Hardaway Jr. could not pick it up. He and Evans wrestled for it and a jump ball was called. The league said in the L2M that Lee should have been called for a foul, but was not.
So now we’re even in the calls that worked against each team on this play.
But you could argue if the 5-second violation is called, there is no Lee foul and, more importantly, there is no jump ball. This matters most because here’s where Lee was called for a critical, essentially game-ending technical foul. The league’s only comment about the tech was that all technical fouls are reviewed by League Operations.
So the biggest issue the Knicks can have is with the missed 5-second violation, which would have given them the ball down three with 25 seconds left. Basically, they could have had the final possession to get off a game-tying shot to force overtime.
2. Jeff Hornacek didn’t want to hear about any of this. He wasn’t focused on the last two minutes as much as he was the first three quarters. In fact, you could see the look of displeasure on his face early in the game.
“It was from the start,” Hornacek said. “We talked about setting a tone and we came out there and were happy with not closing out on guys and giving guys easy shots . . . We let them get going early with no defense and then down 18 we now all of a sudden want to play defense. That’s how it should have been from the start of the game.”
Memphis scored 32 points in the first quarter and had 61 at the half on 57% shooting. Things were close early in the second quarter, but the Knicks were outscored 21-10 over the bulk of the rest of the half and trailed by 8. That’s when Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who played hurt (scratched cornea) after an errant pass drilled his headset at the broadcast table, spoke the words of a former player who didn’t like the body language he saw.
“You’ve got to talk about their character,” Clyde said of the team. “Where is this team going?”
An uninspired performance against an undermanned team when you’re desperate for wins and some positive momentum on a long road trip is a very bad look.
So where is this team going? And who is leading it?
3. Pidto was mad, like most of you were, with the officiating and, namely, Derrick Stafford, who was the crew chief. Stafford did talk to a pool reporter — that’s one member of the media who volunteers to go interview the referee and share the quotes with his colleagues — about the technical foul he called on Lee just before the jump ball.
“As we were lining up to do a jump ball, Courtney Lee came up to the lane and bumped the kid named Dillon [Brooks] from Memphis,” Stafford said. “After Dillon was bumped, I stepped out of the circle and warned both guys to knock it off and let me toss the ball. After I stepped back into the circle, Courtney Lee used what I considered inappropriate language toward the young man, so I called a technical foul.”
Here’s where all of us who have followed the NBA for decades will agree it takes the most magical of magic words to earn a tech in that situation. Lee must have gone deep into the archives of profanity to earn the solo tech, rather than the more common double-tech.
But Courtney insisted all he did was tell Brooks not to mess with him. “You got the wrong one, rook,” Lee said to Brooks.
Lee then said that Brooks told him he had no idea who he was. Credit to Lee for revealing that kind of self-deprecating honesty.
“I said, ‘You know who I am’,” Lee added, “and I got the tech.”
If you believe Lee’s account, Stafford overreacted. But as Hornacek pointed out, the Knicks still lost the tip, so it really all was a moot point. All it does is add more fuel to the fire when it comes to curiously intolerant behavior by the officials towards players this season. This has been brewing since November. But that’s another story.
In this situation, it turned into a heated debate around the Knicks. Some felt they played too poorly to deserve any breaks. Others felt the bad calls took away a chance to steal a critical road win despite the bad night.
After all of it, there’s one collective emotion: this game didn’t sit well with anyone.
4. Enes Kanter had another one of those games where he put up big numbers but didn’t factor in the latter stages of the game. He had 20 points and 9 rebounds in just 27 minutes, with most of the damage coming in the first quarter (14 points, 5 rebounds in 12 minutes). He did not play at all in the fourth quarter.
Kanter has been outspoken about his lack of use in the fourth quarter, but in a recent sit-down with ESPN, he remains steadfast in his desire to remain a Knick.
“I want to retire here,” he said in the interview. “This is the place I want to be.”
Kanter has an opt-out this summer and if he exercised it he would walk away from the final year and $18.6 million to go into free agency. But it could also lead to him walking away from the place he wants to be: New York.
As the main piece in the Carmelo Anthony trade with the Thunder, Kanter has been a revelation this season with the Knicks. He’s one of the game’s best rebounders, has brought a sense of toughness and pride to the Garden and has shown an ability to score against anyone in the painted area. His limitations, however, surround his struggles in pick-and-roll defense and closing out on perimeter shooters and in passing. The Knicks have a major logjam at the center position and there’s already great interest in Kyle O’Quinn, who also has an opt-out and stands to earn a huge raise as a free agent.
So here’s the question with the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaching: what kind of value does Kanter have on the trade market?
One thing to consider: Kanter has a $2.6 million trade kicker this season, which could deter teams from making a move.
5. Porzingis wasn’t voted a starter for the All-Star Game. The results were announced on Thursday and KP was edged out by Joel Embiid of the 76ers for the third and final spot among the East forwards. KP trailed Embiid from the start of the fan voting and was beaten by almost 170,000 votes. It’s worth noting that KP’s 1,116,769 votes represented the fifth-most of any player in the East. The media vote also went to Embiid by a landslide, with Embiid getting 66 votes and KP earning just 14.
However, the player vote had Porzingis in the starting lineup with LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The players gave KP 100 votes, while Embiid received 94.
The fans accounted for 50% of the final vote, while players and media were 25% each.
Porzingis can still wind up in Los Angeles on Feb. 18 for the game as a reserve player, which will be voted by head coaches. That will be announced on Jan. 25.
This season the All-Star format has changed. The two top vote-getters in each conference, LeBron, and Steph Curry, were named captains and they will pick their teams out of the pool of players selected for the game. The first four selections they make must come from those who were voted starters.
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Hornacek, Knicks Don’t Need Excuses
Bench a starter, go ahead. Sub the first unit, be my guest.
The team’s 105-99 loss in Memphis Wednesday night was arguably the worst setback of the season.
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Were they bad calls, maybe terrible calls? Sure.
But the Knicks never would have been left at the mercy of refs or bad three-point shooting, or first-time starter Deyonta Davis, if they had shown up for the first three quarters.
The Grizzlies (15-28) won just their 10th home game of the season and they did it without star center Marc Gasol, injured star guard Mike Conley and injured swingman Chandler Parsons.
They took an 18-point lead over the Knicks (20-25), who made it easy for the Grizzlies to shoot 35.7 percent on 3s (10-28) and grab 15 offensive rebounds.
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This was as winnable a game as the Knicks will get on their current seven-game road trip that could decide their postseason chances.
The Knicks are 1-1 on this road trip if you count beating the Nets in Brooklyn. They are 5-16 on the road for the season.
But the loss in Memphis proves the Knicks have some work to do on the road. They surrendered 88 points through the first three quarters.
So by the time Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tyreke Evans went up for a jump ball with 17 seconds left and the Knicks having closed to 102-99, the technical foul called on Lee for jabbering with rookie Dillon Brooks was irrelevant.
“They won the tip anyway,’’ Hornacek said. “That had nothing to do with this game. It was from the start. We talked about setting the tone. We came out and I’m not happy with not closing out on guys, giving guys easy shots.’’
The Knicks have a formidable game at Golden State on this trip, but of the other four games, three are against teams with sub-.500 records. Hornacek said the Knicks were angry after their performance against Memphis. They should have been.
“They got to take that anger they had in the locker room after the game into the next one,’’ Hornacek said. “Talk is cheap. You got to go out there and lay it on the court. That’s the desperation. They played with desperation when down 18.’’
Which is why Hornacek now has carte blanche. Whatever moves he chooses to make, the Knicks will have to live with it. Or prove him wrong.
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Can Rangers Keep It Going Against Sabres?
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The teams met for the first time this season at Citifield, playing in this years’ Winter Classic on New Years Day. J.T. Miller scored on the power play in overtime and the Blueshirts secured a 3-2 victory. It was a beautiful, cold, sunny winter afternoon where the league celebrated it’s outdoor roots.
For those of us who had the chance to play outdoors in our youth, the spectacle provided another opportunity to pause and reflect upon the game of hockey and it’s innocent past. Find a frozen pond, lake or river, clean it off, choose up sides and go play. Nothing better.
The Rangers enter tonight’s game coming off a very sound 60-minute tilt that saw them handily defeat the Flyers, 5-1. Rick Nash scored twice, after going without a goal in his previous twelve games. For this edition of the Rangers, Nash is a tremendously important player within the locker room and on the ice. He is a committed three-zone player and by all accounts, offers the most steady hand during the ups and downs of the long regular season.
Nash’s offensive skill set does not compare with snipers such as Alexander Ovechkin or Nikita Kucherov, yet at the end of the day, he does need to be the goal-scoring catalyst to his club that both Ovechkin and Kucherov are to theirs. Rick has been a streaky goal-scorer over the course of his career and here’s to hoping that the two against Philly sets him off on a run.
Marc Staal did not play the third period against the Flyers after suffering a hip-flexor injury early in the game. Staal is not expected to miss significant action, and for a team that has struggled at times in their own end of the ice, that is good news. On a night-to-night basis Staal, the longest-tenured Blueshirt on the roster next to Henrik Lundqvist, has been the teams most consistent defender. There were many off-season questions about his future on Broadway but his smart, well-positioned play is living proof that you still have to be able to defend despite all the emphasis on goals.
Tonight’s game will be Buffalo’s first after their five-day break, and the Sabres sport an 11-29-4 record, putting them in the 30th spot in the 31-team league. There are enough parts to this lineup, including Rasmus Ristolainen, Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane to warrant a better record. Questionable team speed and inconsistent goaltending, the bane of existence for any struggling team, seem to be a couple of issues. That being said, this group should be better.
1. Get There
The Blueshirts were tremendously effective defending against the Flyers with proper stick positioning. The key to an effective stick when defending is moving the feet and getting quickly to the opponent. To have a chance to make the right play with the stick, you have to get there to make the play.
2. Penalty Kill
The Rangers penalty kill has been perfect in the last four games, going 9-for-9 during that stretch. A quick rotating presence in the defensive zone, and collapsing to the middle when the opponent looks to shoot has forced recent power plays to the outside, limiting the quality of the shots against.
Jack Eichel and Evander Kane drive the Sabres offense. When he is paying attention, Eichel is a world-class threat when passing and shooting the puck. When he is disciplined, Kane is among the top power forwards in the lead. Defending the former and irritating the latter will go a long way towards securing a couple of points.
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Rangers Season at a Crossroads
We saw Henrik Lundqvist, during the “Road to the Winter Classic” and just before the Christmas break, telling his Rangers teammates that they should know they haven’t been good enough and asking if they all agree.
“In my mind, it’s not a couple of games,” Lundqvist said in a post-game video posted on the team’s website.
“I think the past month here, the level is just not high enough. You almost get tired of yourself sitting here trying to find the right thing to say. It comes down to, just go out and execute now. We can talk about what we need to do, how important it is in coverage, and getting pucks deep, and when we do that we’re a good team. But enough talk. We just need to do it.”
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That’s where it starts when the Rangers play well … and when they don’t. It starts with better coverage in their own end, but also down the other end, where spending time in an opponents’ zone with an effective forecheck can alleviate any difficulties that come with having to defend for too much of a game, or even a stretch of a game.
It’s a matter of will and focus, sometimes. Simple as that. But the Rangers haven’t forechecked nearly enough lately and their coverage has been spotty, largely as a result of being overtaxed by chasing the puck instead of having it.
So both ends suffer.
The Rangers have zero regulation wins in their last 10 games (a few of them, such as a 1-0 shootout win vs. Washington, were strong performances). They have allowed 30 or more shots on goal in 15 straight, including four games of 40 or more. They’ve yielded 40 or more shots 12 times through 44 games.
That playing too much in the defensive zone has translated into a struggling offense too, with just 15 goals scored in the last nine games and two goals or fewer in eight of those (the exception being three in the overtime win over Buffalo in the Winter Classic).
Injuries are piling up too, with Kevin Hayes and Ryan McDonagh missing Sunday’s game – the first this season in which three regulars were out. The Rangers really miss Chris Kreider, out long-term after ribcage surgery following a blood clot.
Kreider may not be on the level of a true “star” player, but he is so important to this team as a speed weapon, arguably their most serious goal-scoring threat, and a player who can not only create turnovers but also recover puck on the wall. Not to mention the havoc he causes in front of opposing goalies, particularly on the power play.
On Sunday, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was asked about the need to generate more shots, something the Rangers’ forwards haven’t been inclined to do. Many teams now go for quantity over quality, hence the skewed shot totals.
“A lot of teams are (taking) bad-angle shots, and jam away at those rebounds,” Vigneault said. “We’ve been a team that’s been able to get a lot done in the past, 5-on-5. The makeup of this (team) is obviously a little different, so we probably need to simplify a few things and (taking more shots) would be one of them.”
“This (the Pittsburgh game) was definitely a step in the right direction,” Lundqvist said, comparing the effort and performance to Saturday’s 7-2 loss to the Islanders. “We had more energy jump to our game. We played a really good team.”
He paused and added, “but it comes down to, in my mind, awareness. You know, just being on our toes. Again, a step in the right direction, but overall we know we have to come together here and start playing our best hockey if we want to stay in the race. Teams are getting better, so, yeah, if we want to stay in there we’ve got to improve. The battle level needs to be extremely high every night.
“You’ve got to face it, too. The last 15-20 games, we’re a team that’s going to battle to get in (to the playoffs). We score about two goals again, so obviously we’ve got to limit our mistakes to stay in games. That’s a fact.”
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