1. Knicks Winning In Impressive Fashion
It isn't realistic to think the New York Knicks are going to continue at the torrid pace they have set during the first days of the season, which was extended Monday night when they blasted the Philadelphia 76ers for the second straight night, 110-88.
Never before in team history have the Knicks won the first three games of the season by double digits. So far their average margin of victory has been just a shade under 20 points. Even with the Sixers missing Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson, that's not just stunning, it's downright historic.
This sort of dominance cannot last but it also shouldn't be cheapened by calling it a simple hot streak. There are some trends developing that the Knicks might be able to rely on to establish an identity they can count on when all those jumpers aren't falling as freely.
The Knicks just aren't going to average 14 3-pointers a game on 45 percent shooting from outside the arc all season as they have for the first three games. It would be hard to believe that they're going to average 105 points a night or routinely go 19-of-19 at the foul line, as they did Monday in what was another nearly flawless teamwide effort.
There are a few positives going on that are more sustainable and those are what are serving as notice to the rest of the league.
Overall, the Knicks' defense has been remarkable in the early going, even matching up with teams featuring strong offenses. The Heat started the week with the second-most potent offense in the league and were held to just 84 points by New York. The Sixers averaged 103 points in the preseason only to see their offense blown up by the Knicks' active and aggressive defense on back-to-back nights.
One of the reasons Mike Woodson was able to keep the job as coach were the improvements he made to defense when he took over last season. With an entire training camp to create some habits, his team is off to quite a defensive start. The Knicks are allowing only an average of 85 points and 41 percent shooting over the first three games.
These are basic stats but also the two numbers Woodson heavily focuses on. He writes them on the board in the locker room for his players to see and track.
The reason those numbers are low is the activity the Knicks are showing defensively. Last season when he won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, Tyson Chandler joked that he owed a lot to his teammates because they had let so many players drive past them to force Chandler to pick them up and make plays that got him attention. Right now, though, the Knicks' help defense and rotations have been aggressive and crisp, already easing the burden on Chandler.
In part because of additions Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer and Pablo Prigioni, the team is now stocked with perimeter defenders who like to get into passing lanes and pick pockets. The Knicks are averaging a whopping 10 steals a game and it has helped them put up 17 more points total than their opponents off turnovers in the first three outings. These are trends that lead to wins.
So is the way the Knicks are doing the inverse and taking care of the ball offensively. Monday they only had seven turnovers and so far are committing about five turnovers fewer than their opponents per game.
This again can be attributed to having more ballhandlers on the roster with Kidd, Prigioni and Raymond Felton all acting as professional point guards out there. So far the Knicks are averaging three more assists and four fewer turnovers per game than they did last season, part of the recipe for a more efficient team. This is happening with three expected rotation players -- Amar'e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert and Marcus Camby -- out for the time being.
There was an expectation that the Knicks were going to be improved this season as their offseason moves made their bench deeper, shored up some weak spots on the roster and gave them a few more offensive options. It was not expected they would emerge from the preseason already showing so much chemistry and across-the-board improvement in both quantifiable and intangible categories.
The Knicks aren't just 3-0 and owners of three straight blowout wins -- they are looking like they could be the surprise team in the Eastern Conference based on what they've shown thus far.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Not bad, rook. Dion Waiters played with all the irrational confidence of a, say, Jamal Crawford, and could only smile as his heat checks torched the net and resulted in a game-high 28 points.
Defining moment: DeAndre Jordan got switched onto Kyrie Irving and ... well, yeah. Irving stuck a 3-ball right in Jordan's eye to put the icing on top of a marvelous performance.
X factor: The rookies. Cleveland obviously got a lot out of Waiters, but big man Tyler Zeller shined as well with 15 points on a variety of creative finishes at the rim.
Recap | Box score
MVP: DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins dropped 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting and grabbed 15 boards, causing all kinds of issues for everyone on the Warriors frontline, especially David Lee.
X factor: Aaron Brooks came off the bench and scored 9 points in the fourth quarter, most of which were late, clutch buckets keeping the Kings ahead and ultimately helping them seal the win.
Defining moment: As bad as the Warriors played, they had a chance to win it with 1.3 seconds left in the game. Stephen Curry took a deep, contested 3 that hit the rim and missed as time expired.
Recap | Box score
MVP: O.J. Mayo is settling nicely into his new role in Dallas. He had a remarkably efficient shooting night, leading all scorers with 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting, including 6-of-8 from three-point range.
X factor: Bench scoring. Dallas' reserves contributed 42 points, including 16 from Chris Kaman. Portland's bench as a whole only outdid Kaman's production by one point, finishing with 17.
Defining moment: Despite sloppy offense and poor defense, the Blazers managed to hang around until the middle of the fourth quarter. A late run by Dallas blew the game open and Portland never recovered.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Marc Gasol. He paced the Grizzlies with a very efficient 22-8-8 on 10 shots. Makes you wonder if he practiced with Lionel Messi when he was with Barcelona.
X factor: Zach Randolph's Z-Bounds. Randolph managed to pull down nine offensive rebounds, most of which led to easy Grizzlies buckets. It's hard to lose when you get those extra possessions.
Defining moment: With the Grizzlies up seven with three minutes to go, the Jazz pulled down a Memphis miss. Zach Randolph promptly stole it away and dished to Mike Conley for a wide open 3. Extra possession dagger.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Minnesota's Andrei Kirilenko put up a stat-stuffing game with 16 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four blocks. But he was also instrumental in the Wolves' 22-point comeback, which included eight points in the second half, and shooting 7-of-11 from the field for the game.
LVP: Brooklyn Nets' complacency. Ahead big in the second half, the Nets stopped attacking, stopped hitting buckets and thought they had the game locked up. They didn't. Minnesota took advantage of a defense that completely fell asleep and blew a sure win.
X factor: After Minnesota caught up to the 22-point deficit, their offense was run by another Russian in Alexey Shved, who despite only scoring six points, was a crucial in taking the lead. He was able to run the floor and hit key jumpers for the Wolves to seal the game.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Take your pick of Miami's Big Three, but LeBron James made all the right reads on the pick-and-roll and filled the stat sheet with 23 points, 11 boards and a plus-25 in 30 minutes.
LVP: Michael Beasley hardly made Miami fans miss him with his seven-point, one-rebound performance that included some matador defense on James when matched up on him.
That was ... easy: The Heat led from wire to wire and maintained a comfortable advantage all game before blowing it open in the third quarter against a Suns team whose defensive rotations were a bit late all night.
3. Monday's Best
Dion Waiters, Cavaliers: The rookie shot down the Clippers, sinking 7 of 11 3-point attempts en route to 28 points in his fourth game. According to Elias, Waiters is the first player to have seven or more 3-pointers in one of his first six games in the NBA.
4. Monday's Worst
Roy Hibbert, Pacers: This wasn't what Indy was looking for when it re-signed Hibbert to a $58 million deal. Hibbert went 1-for-7 from the field en route to a two-point, five-rebound night in the 101-79 loss to the Spurs.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"It's curious that a team this successful hasn't started that well before."
-- Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, whose team is off to its first 4-0 start in its 40-year history.
8. Solace For Wallace
9. With Mayo On Top
O.J. Mayo scored 32 points on Monday against Portland for his second straight game of 30-plus points, after he had 30 against Charlotte on Saturday. Mayo had seven 30-point games as a rookie in 2008-09, the highest total among NBA rookies that season, but he had only one over the past three seasons.
10. Dunk Of The Night
Melo Stays Hot
MVP: Carmelo Anthony, the NBA's most prolific scorer north of Houston so far this young season, was the best player on the floor, again, on Monday night. Though he wasn't quite as bloodlessly efficient as he was during Sunday's dispatching of these same Sixers, Melo led the field with a tone-setting 21 points on 16 shots.
Defining moment: Philadelphia actually got out to a 14-4 lead in this one before being outscored 106-74 the rest of the way. You could say that every moment after that brief Philly advantage was defining, in that in each of them it was equally obvious that the Knicks are much better than the Sixers.
That was ... something: Larry Bird, Steve Nash, Mark Price, Reggie Miller and Dirk Nowitzki are the only members of the NBA's vaunted 50-40-90 club. The Knicks were three made field goals away from reaching that mark as a team against Philadelphia. New York hit 13 3-pointers and was 19-of-19 from the foul line.
The Eternal Duncan
MVP: Tim Duncan. He and Tony Parker had the two-man game working, sharing the ball between each other and everyone else. The Spurs had the best offense in the league last season and Monday they showed why. They carved up the Pacers, and players were more than willing to make the pass to the more open guy.
LVP: Roy Hibbert. The biggest man on the court, and the one fresh off a max contract extension, didn't score in the first half. He has spent the past two offseasons befriending Duncan and trying to pick his brain about how to thrive in this league. This time, Duncan picked him apart.
That was ... anticlimactic: When two of the "sleeper contenders" in each conference squared off early in the season, it was expected to be, if not an instant classic, a game that would bring out the best in both teams. Instead, we got a game that was over before it began.
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