1) One one-year anniversary of taking over, Leon Rose has Knicks thriving
If the playoffs started today, the four-seed New York Knicks would host a series at Madison Square Garden.
If you had made that statement one year ago today — the day Leon Rose took over as Knicks president of basketball operations — you would have been quickly reminded that New York has not legalized that stuff yet. Maybe Rose would work out in a position where so many others had failed (or been cut off at the knees by James Dolan when they succeeded), but turning around this ship was expected to take several years.
No, it didn’t. The Knicks are over .500 on March 1 for the first time since 2013 (the last time they made the playoffs).
The Knicks just finished a 9-5 February that included weekend wins over the Pistons (a bad team having a worse shooting night) in Derrick Rose’s return to Detroit, and the Pacers (a good, scrappy team that is always difficult to beat). New York is 18-17 and sits alone as the four seed in the East.
Rose made a series of smart — and, more importantly, patient — choices to land New York here. He didn’t look for a quick fix.
The best move was hiring Tom Thibodeau as coach. This job was always Thibodeau’s if he wanted it — he and Rose, his former agent, were tight — but there were questions about Thibs developing a young roster. He came in and instilled a work ethic, a culture, and a strong defense — second-best in the NBA, ahead of the Jazz (use Cleaning the Glass’ garbage time filter and the Jazz are second and the Knicks third, but that’s splitting hairs, the Knicks are elite on that end this season). Thibs has the Knicks playing hard and making smart decisions nightly. They are highly prepared — that has set them apart.
Rose explored trading Julius Randle but didn’t, and Randle responded with an All-Star season and giving them enough offense to make it work — 23.4 points a night, 10.9 rebounds, and improved playmaking. On Saturday, he outplayed Domantas Sabonis in the Knicks’ win over the Pacers.
RJ Barrett has developed into a guy who can put up points — 24 against the Pacers Sunday — and while he’s not terribly efficient getting them, the Knicks are winning, and he is part of it. Randle and Barrett have emerged as part of whatever is ultimately built in New York, whatever this team looks like in a couple of years.
There’s still work to do this season.
Only 1.5 games separate the Knicks as the four seed and the Bulls/Pacers, who are tied for the 9-10 seed and would have to win two play-in games just to make the postseason. The Knicks are just 3.5 games up on Atlanta as the 11 seed and missing even the play-in games. The middle of the East is still a morass and the question is which teams will break out of it?
The Knicks may be that team — their defense can carry them that far.
That we are even having that conversation is a huge credit to Rose.
2) Clippers revert to isolation late, Bucks keep ball moving and get win
The Clippers have beautiful ball movement this season because their shot creators — Paul George and Kawhi Leonard — have fantastic court vision.
However, late in the game, the Clippers abandon the flow of their offense to go with George or Leonard in isolation, trying to hunt mismatches. It can work — those are elite players who can attack the rim, get to their midrange spots, or make a defender pay for going under a pick — but the Clipper offense becomes stagnant and predictable. On Sunday, the Clippers used that offense to get their shots, and George missed two and Leonard one (all good looks, to be fair).
Compare to Bucks final bucket, which was all about ball movement and smart plays (Khris Middleton’s one dribble freezes Patrick Beverley and opens things up).
The Bucks got the 105-100 win and it should be a boost for a team that has not felt like itself this season. But nobody should read too much into a February win or loss (this game could have swung the other way).
The end of game ball movement, though, that’s something the Bucks can use come the playoffs — and the Clippers need to find more of in crunch time.
3) Kings’ Buddy Hield makes a little history, but Hornets make the plays late
Shout out to Buddy Hield, who Sunday became the fastest player to 1,000 made threes in the league, doing it in 350 games (Stephen Curry was 369, Klay Thompson 372).
Check out all 8 of Buddy’s 3-pointers tonight https://t.co/vPZ4d6v9rV pic.twitter.com/E4GgHB0iEE
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) March 1, 2021
That doesn’t take the sting of this loss away for Sacramento.
The Kings led by eight with a minute to go. Charlotte made it a free throw contest, and Hield and Marvin Bagley missed while the horrible Sacramento defense had no answer for hot Terry Rozier — Harrison Barnes fouled him on a three — and Charlotte closed on a 15-5 run, capped off by Malik Monk with the game-winner
The future of the Hornets was on display in this game. P.J. Washington had a career-best 42 points, and LaMelo Ball had an impressive game with 24 points and 12 assists. Charlotte looks like a young team learning things every game.