Tuesday NBA Roundup: Can Improved Knicks Return to the Playoffs This Season?

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Tuesday NBA Roundup: Can Improved Knicks Return to the Playoffs This Season?
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

The New York Knicks have seen more of the Boston Celtics over the years than they'd likely care to recall. In the nearly 70 years since these two original members of the Basketball Association of America—the precursor to the NBA—first faced off, the Knicks have won less than 40 percent of their games against their tormentors from Massachusetts.

The Knickerbockers' thrilling 120-114 win over the Celtics at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday won't put much of a dent in those all-time numbers. But for a New York team fresh off the worst season in franchise history, it was just the latest sign that the 2015-16 campaign, one already ripe with playoff hopes, could be the dawn of a more prosperous era.

That exciting present and promising future begins with a player unlike any who's ever taken the court in a Knicks-Celtics game: Kristaps Porzingis.

The lithe 7'3" Latvian came out firing from the jump. He connected on his first five shots and set new career highs for points in a quarter (16) and in a half (20), helped along by this three-pointer from across the Hudson River.

But a team's playoff mettle isn't measured as much in good times as in bad. To that end, the Knicks might just have what it takes.

Porzingis' 26-point night wasn't all sunshine and gumdrops. He fouled out for the first time in his NBA career after contesting Jae Crowder's corner three in the fourth quarter—but not before hosting his own block party.

Carmelo Anthony (17 points) could only watch from the bench, with his ankle in poor shape after a second-quarter stumble with a referee, as Boston erased a double-digit deficit and pulled ahead in the final frame. KL Chouinard of Hawks.com noted possible circumstances leading to Anthony's injury:

But the Knicks are not the two-man team that tabloid headlines might suggest.

While Isaiah Thomas was going bonkers for Boston (34 points, 16 in the third quarter), Arron Afflalo was busy steadying the Knicks offense with 20 of his 24 points in the second half. Jerian Grant, much maligned for his horrendous shooting (36.1 percent from the field, 15 percent from three), came through with his finest game thus far—16 points and eight assists—to prove New York isn't a one-(rookie)-horse town.

Robin Lopez (15 points, five rebounds) came up with some big buckets after the break, just as Derrick Williams (15 points, 10 boards) did down the stretch. Williams was pleased with the win:

The win moved New York to an even 20-20—an impressive feat for a team that managed just 17 wins in 2014-15 and one that, in recent years, would've guaranteed the Knicks a comfy postseason seed halfway through the season.

But this isn't your older brother's Eastern Conference. If everything holds, the East will send eight squads with winning records to the playoffs for the first time in a full season since 2005.

For the Knicks, that means a spot on the very fringes for now. After its latest outing, New York sits a game back of the eighth-place Orlando Magic (20-18), in a virtual tie with Boston (19-19).

The Magic and C's won't be the only ones the Knicks will have to outlast in a race for the No. 8 seed that figures to go down to the wire.

The Washington Wizards (17-19) have participated in the past two postseasons and should be in the running for a third once they whittle down their injured list. The Charlotte Hornets (17-20) were in the thick of things prior to their seven-game slide. The Milwaukee Bucks (16-24) are just five games shy of rejoining the field they crashed last spring.

The sledding could get rough for the Knicks if Anthony has to miss time nursing his sore ankle. But if Porzingis can continue to blossom into a star, and the cast around him keeps coming together, MSG may well be hosting playoff games again in April and May.

 

Bucks Turn Tables on Bulls

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Milwaukee Bucks saw the Chicago Bulls, they failed to muster a single lead over their Central Division rivals on the way to an 11-point defeat. That was still an improvement over the meeting before that: a contentious 54-point pounding in Milwaukee that put the Bucks' postseason to bed.

This time, Giannis Antetokounmpo and company gave Chicago reason to "Fear the Deer"—and not just because of the antlers splayed across the Bucks' newly unveiled—and the NBA's first-ever—alternate court.

Antetokounmpo (29 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) led all five Milwaukee starters in double figures as they bounded back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit en route to a 106-101 win over the Bulls.

Folks in the Windy City will be more worried about the patellar tendonitis flare-up in Derrick Rose's left knee than the final score. But for the Bucks, a big win over their Interstate 94 neighbors could prove even bigger later on as they look to climb back into a crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Hot-Shooting LeBron Leads Cavs to OT Win in Dallas

Even after 13 years, four MVPs, five NBA Finals trips and two titles, LeBron James can't always ignore the noise outside his own locker room. After the Cleveland Cavaliers' 95-85 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, James admitted a tweet about his poor perimeter shooting from NBA.com's John Schuhmann had been on his mind. Here's Schuhmann's tweet:

"I actually saw [it] on my Instagram feed that I was the worst-shooting player in the NBA," James said, per Cleveland.com's Chris Haynes. "I actually saw that when I woke up from a nap. I remember exactly when that was. Denver. Right before the Denver game, so I answered the call."

James answered that call again Tuesday, hitting 3-of-6 from three opposite the Dallas Mavericks. But his biggest shot of the night—a driving dunk over Devin Harris to tie the score at 95—came right at the rim.

James' slam sent the game to overtime, wherein he, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving combined to score all 15 of Cleveland's points on the way to a 110-107 win. James finished with 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

The Cavs will need James to keep his roll going if they want to end the San Antonio Spurs' 31-game home winning streak on Thursday.

The last team to beat the Spurs in the Alamo City? You guessed it—Cleveland, courtesy of Irving's career-high 57 points 10 months ago to the day.

Vintage Tony Carries Spurs

Allen Einstein/Getty Images

That Spurs home loss was also the last time Tony Parker scored 30 points in an NBA game. On Tuesday, the former All-Star put an end to that drought—and not a moment too soon for San Antonio.

With Kawhi Leonard (seven points, 1-of-7 from the field) mired in an off night, Parker pulled through with a season-high 31 points—23 of which he tallied after halftime while helping the Spurs expand a nine-point lead to 19 in the third quarter.

Parker was one of five Spurs to score in double figures, along with LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points, 13 rebounds), Tim Duncan (14 points, nine boards), Manu Ginobili (15 points) and Boris Diaw (12 points). Aldridge and Duncan did well to bottle up Andre Drummond (17 points, 10 rebounds), who suffered from foul trouble in the first half.

That kind of balance is why the Spurs have won nine in a row, own a sparkling 34-6 record and sport one of the NBA's most efficient offenses, according to NBA.com. Leonard may be San Antonio's top MVP candidate this season, but this team is long on those types of talents, with Parker among the most lethal.

Rockets Survive Battle of Fading West Powers

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The 2015-16 season hasn't been kind to the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies. The former fired their coach 11 games in. The latter has been steadily abandoning its "Grit-N-Grind" identity, recently relegating Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to the bench.

Fittingly, the West's two declining giants were deadlocked at 83 partway through the fourth quarter on Tuesday. But only one of them boasts a superstar on the right side of 30, and that superstar (i.e., James Harden) came up big down the stretch.

Last season's MVP runner-up scored or assisted on nine of Houston's next 14 points to launch the Rockets to a 107-91 win. He led all scorers with 25 points, while Dwight Howard, his partner in crime, went 5-of-5 at the free-throw line, including four straight on hacks in the final three minutes.

Houston still sits a half-game back of Memphis in the standings, but it won't likely be there for long if Harden and Howard can keep up their dual dynamism.

Durant Shows KAT How It's Done

Once upon a time, Karl-Anthony Towns was the one fawning over Kevin Durant.

On Tuesday, Durant turned the tables, foretelling a place in history for the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft, per the Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski:

Then, Durant went out and showed Towns what a future Hall of Famer looks like during the Oklahoma City Thunder's 101-96 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The former MVP led all scorers with 30 points, including 12 straight to end the game and fend off a furious Wolves rally.

And where, pray tell, was Towns while KD was going wild? On the bench, probably studying his idol's every move, until scoring a putback bucket in the waning moments.

Signs of Life for Suns' Backups

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Fun times have been fleeting for the Phoenix Suns of late, but this disastrous squad had a few Tuesday, albeit in a 116-97 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

With Eric Bledsoe done for the season and Brandon Knight out with an illness, Jeff Hornacek went to the Kentucky B Team of Archie Goodwin and rookie Devin Booker in the backcourt. Those two combined to score 22 of their 31 points in the third quarter to boost Phoenix to a brief lead.

Meanwhile, Markieff Morris (16 points), Mirza Teletovic (19 points, five threes) and T.J. Warren (10 points) all scored in double figures off the bench.

Numbers like those will come in handy if (or when) the setting Suns dangle these guys on the trade market before the Feb. 18 deadline.

Superstars Watch Lakers Nip Pelicans

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Anthony Davis was out with a bad back. Kobe Bryant left after 16 minutes to rest his sore Achilles. Neither absence stopped the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans from putting on a show at Staples Center.

With the Mamba down, Lou Williams (19 points) and Jordan Clarkson (18 points) played up—particularly at the free-throw line, where they combined to convert 17-of-19 attempts.

L.A.'s rookies came up big for the home team, too. Larry Nance Jr. delighted the crowd with his nightly oop.

Anthony Brown broke the Lakers' 0-of-14 streak from beyond the arc with a big three in the third. D'Angelo Russell (13 points) hit a couple of fourth-quarter shots before Julius Randle tagged in to score five of his seven points and grab a handful of his 11 rebounds in crunch time.

Tyreke Evans led all players, including six Pelicans, in double figures with 21 points and had a shot to tie the score at 94 in the waning moments. But he missed, and the Lakers escaped with their ninth win of the season, 95-91.

Just don't expect the Purple and Gold to put together a streak. Their next game comes Thursday against the Golden State Warriors in what will be Bryant's last appearance at Oracle Arena.

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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