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Ranking the 70 Greatest Knicks of All-Time (Part 2)

To commemorate the Knicks’ 70th anniversary, Tommy Beer, in a two-part series, ranks the 70 greatest Knicks.

Tommy Beer

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Earlier this week, Basketball Insiders released the first installment of a two-part series ranking the 70 greatest New York Knicks of all time to commemorate the franchises’ 70th season, which you can read here.

Now, Tommy Beer ranks the remainder, from #34 all the way down to #1:

34. Johnny Green
Green spent his early 20s in the Marine Corp and was 26 when the Knicks selected him fifth overall in 1959 draft. He became a full-time starter in 1961-62 and averaged 15.9 points and 13.3 rebounds. He bumped those averages up to 18.1 and 12.1 the following year. He was named to the All-Star team both seasons. In February 1962, he set a Knicks team record by grabbing at least 20 rebounds in three consecutive games. Walt Bellamy, Willis Reed and Tyson Chandler are the only other Knicks to have matched that streak.

33. Ray Williams
The Knicks selected Williams with the 10th overall selection in 1977. He struggled as a rookie, but then averaged at least 17 points and five dimes per game for each of his next three seasons. His best season with the Knicks was his third, when he averaged 20.9 ppg, 6.2 apg and 5.0 rpg in 1979-80.

32. Stephon Marbury
When the Knicks traded for Marbury in 2004, it seemed like a dream scenario for both the point guard from Brooklyn and his hometown team. Unfortunately, there were up and downs in the marriage, before it ended in an ugly divorce. Marbury posted solid numbers during his time in New York, with a cumulative average of 18.5 points and 7.1 assists. The Knicks also qualified for the postseason in 2003-04 (the only time they did so from 2002 through 2012), although they were quickly swept by the Nets. However, all the drama and bad basketball played during Marbury’s time in New York make it difficult to look back with much fondness.

31. Amar’e Stoudemire
“The Knicks are Back!” That’s what Amar’e boldly proclaimed for all the world to hear on the day he signed with New York. And for a few months, it looked like he was prophetic. Stoudemire started off his Knicks career with a bang, averaging 29.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in December of 2011. He set a franchise record by scoring at least 30 points in nine straight games that month. MVP chants rang out inside the Garden. He was named a starter in the All-Star game, the first Knick since Ewing to achieve that honor. Then, in February, the Knicks made the trade with Denver to bring Carmelo Anthony aboard. Predictably, STAT and Melo never meshed on the court. And, also predictably, Stoudemire’s knee began to betray him. He appeared in just 47 games in 2011-12 and then played just 29 games off the bench in 2012-13.

30. Tyson Chandler
Chandler had trouble staying healthy during his three seasons in New York, but he dominated the paint when he did suit up. He was phenomenal during his first season as a Knick in 2011-12. Chandler was incredibly efficient on the offensive end of the floor, shooting a league-leading 67.9 percent from the floor. At the time, Wilt Chamberlain was the only player in league history who had posted a higher FG percentage. Tyson remains the Knicks all-time leader in field goal percentage (63.8). No other qualified player is above 56 percent. However, Chandler was far more valuable on the defensive end. He spearheaded a revived Knicks defense and ended up winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011-12. He is the only Knick ever named DPOY. In June of 2014, in his first major move as Knicks GM, Phil Jackson traded Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Mavs in exchange for a package centered around Jose Calderon.

29. Marcus Camby
The highpoint of Camby’s Knicks tenure was the improbable run to the NBA Finals in 1999. When Patrick Ewing went down with an Achilles injury in the Eastern Conference Finals, Camby stepped in and stepped up. He averaged 14.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, three blocks and 2.2 steals over the course of that six-game series. Larry Bird called Camby the MVP of the ECF. The Camby Man also posted a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 4.1 in 2000-01, the highest single-season mark in Knicks history. Camby was traded to the Nuggets in exchange for Antonio McDyess on Draft Day in 2002.

28. Nathaniel Clifton
Sweetwater was not merely a significant contributor on the court for the Knicks; he also made a tremendous impact off the floor as well. Drafted by New York in 1950, Clifton became the first African-American player to sign a contract with an NBA team. He was 27 years old at the time, having played for the New York Rens and the Harlem Globetrotters in his early 20s. He also played for the Chicago American Giants in Negro League baseball. The Knicks advanced to the NBA Finals in each of his first three seasons in New York. He averaged 10.3 points and 8.5 boards over his seven-year Knicks career.

27. Kurt Thomas
Kurt’s claim to fame, other than the “Krazy Eyes” look he gave to officials after a questionable call, was leading the nation in both scoring (28.9 ppg) and rebounding (14.6 rpg) during his senior year at TCU. For five straight seasons with the Knicks – from 2000-01 to 2004-05 – Thomas averaged over 10 points per game. He averaged a career-best 14 points – along with 7.9 rebounds – in 2002-03. During the 2004-05 season, he averaged a double-double (11.5 points and 10.4 rebounds). He ranks third all-time in franchise history in defensive rebounds and fourth in blocks.

26. Walt Bellamy
Bellamy’s career numbers are undeniably impressive. He is one of just nine players in NBA history to tally more than 20,000 points and more than 14,000 rebounds in his career. The others are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Robert Parish, Moses Malone, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. In four seasons with the Knicks, Bellamy averaged a double-double with 18.9 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. He also holds a unique NBA record: Most regular-season games played in one season (88), thanks to the midseason trade that brought Dave DeBusschere to the Knicks.

25. Larry Johnson
By the time LJ arrived in New York (via a swap for Anthony Mason in July of 1996), he was no longer the high-flying dunk machine that starred at UNLV and won the Rookie of the Year in Charlotte. A back injury robbed Johnson of his athleticism and forced him to reinvent himself. LJ did just that, developing a stellar low-post game and a reliable jumper. He never averaged more than 15.5 points or six rebounds per game during his Knicks career, but he was a steady, reliable force on both ends of the floor. And, of course, his four-point play against the Pacers in the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals will never be forgotten by any Knick fan that witnessed it.

24. Willie Naulls
Naulls put up incredible numbers during his Knicks tenure. During three seasons in the heart of his prime, 1959 through 1962, Naulls averaged 23.3 points and 13 rebounds per game. For his Knicks career, he averaged 19.3 points and 11.1 boards. He was named to the All-Star team four times. His scoring average of 19.3 is the fifth highest in Knicks history. While with the Knicks, Naulls was also the first African-American player to be named the captain of a major professional sports team.

23. Jerry Lucas
Lucas was a terrific player in his prime. He won Rookie of the Year in 1964 and was named MVP of the All-Star Game the following year. Lucas made the All-Star Team in six straight seasons, from 1964 through 1969, and then again in 1971. By the time he arrived in New York, he was at the tail end of his career. He played only three seasons for the Knicks, his final three seasons in the NBA. He averaged 16.7 points, 13.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists during that first season (1971-72) with the Knicks. To this day, he remains the only player in franchise history to average double-digit points and double-digit rebounds while also averaging more than four assists per game over the course of a full season. In addition, over 16 playoff games that year, Lucas averaged 18.6 points, 10.8 boards and 5.3 assists, playing 46.1 minutes per contest. The following season Lucas played far fewer minutes and had less of an impact, but he was still a valued contributor on the 1973 title team. When he won that ring with the Knicks, he became the first man to win a championship in high school, college, the Olympics and the NBA.

22. Bob McAdoo
McAdoo only played a total of 171 games as a Knick over parts of three seasons; however, he packed plenty of points and rebounds into that short period of time. In 1976-77, he averaged 26.7 points and 12.7 rebounds. The following year he averaged 26.5 points and 12.8 boards per contest. Those are the only two times any Knick has averaged at least 26 points and 12 rebounds in the same season. In addition, McAdoo has the highest career scoring average as a Knick in franchise history (26.7 ppg), barely edging out Bernard King (26.5 ppg). McAdoo is also the team’s all-time leader in minutes per game (39.8).

21. Anthony Mason
Much like Oakley, the late, great Mase was the personification of the rugged 90s Knicks. He was a kid from Queens who attended tiny Tennessee Valley State. Mason bounced around the NBA and the minor leagues for a bit before latching on the with the Knicks in 1991. For the next five years, he captured the heart of the city by putting everything he had on the line every time stepped on the floor. He was a vital contributor on teams that went deep into the postseason every year. Belying his burly appearance and aggressive attitude, Mase had a soft touch around the basket and an incredibly high basketball IQ. In many respects, he was the predecessor to the modern-day “point forward.” He was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1994-95 and led the NBA in minutes played in 1995-96.

20. Bill Cartwright
Remembered mostly as the starting center on the hated Bulls team’s of the early 1990s, Cartwright’s career got off to a great start in New York. He averaged 21.7 points and 8.9 rebounds as a rookie in 1979-80. In the process, he became the only Knick in franchise history to average over 20 points per contest as a rookie. Cartwright also cracked the 20-point plateau his second season. A debilitating foot injury cost him the better part of two seasons in the mid-80s and he was eventually traded to Chicago for Charles Oakley in June of 1988. Cartwright ranks second in blocks on the team’s all-time list and was in top-10 in scoring until Melo knocked him out earlier this year.

19. Latrell Sprewell
The Knicks were able to get the incredibly talented Sprewell at a steep discount (Terry Cummings, Chris Mills and an aging John Starks) in January of 1999 due to his infamous confrontation with Golden State coach P. J. Carlesimo. He played 37 games for the Knicks that first season in New York, coming off the bench in 33 of them. However, he played superbly in the postseason, sparking the eighth-seeded Knicks all the way to the NBA Finals. The Spurs knocked out the Knicks in five games, but Sprewell averaged 26 points per contest. He had 35 points and 10 boards in Game 5, the last time in which New York participated in a Finals game. He averaged 17.9 points over his five seasons a Knickerbocker.

18. Mark Jackson
Action Jackson was born in Brooklyn and played collegiately in Queens at St. John’s University. Thus, Knicks fans knew what they were getting and were ecstatic when New York snagged him with the 18th pick in the 1987 draft. His chemistry with Ewing was immediate. Jackson was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1987-88. His assist per game average (8.0) is the highest in franchise history. He also ranks sixth in steals.

17. Micheal Ray Richardson
In terms of pure talent, athleticism and basketball ability, very few rate higher than Richardson. The Knicks selected Sugar Ray fourth overall in the 1978 NBA draft (two spots ahead of Larry Bird), and Richardson lived up to the hype early on. In 1979-80, Richardson led the NBA in assists (10.1) and steals (3.2) while scoring 15.3 points per game. He would earn All-Defensive First Team honors in two of his first three years in the league. Richardson recorded 18 triple-doubles as a Knick, the second most in franchise history. He still ranks second All-Time in NBA history in steals per game (2.63 spg). Sadly, in 1986, Richardson was banned for life by NBA commissioner David Stern for violations of the league’s drug policy.

16. Dick Barnett
Barnett arrived in New York in October of 1965, via a trade that sent forward Bob Boozer to the Lakers. Barnett averaged 23.1 points per game that first season as a Knick, which was his career-high, and was named to the All-Star team that year. He averaged at least 12 points per game in each of his first 12 seasons. Although he was 33 years old by 1970, Barnett was a key contributor on New York’s first title team. Starting in the backcourt beside Frazier, Barnett averaged 14.9 points per game in the regular season and bumped that up 16.9 points in the playoffs. He scored 21 points in Game 7 vs. the Lakers. Barnett remained the Knicks starting shooting guard until they acquired Earl Monroe.

15. Carl Braun
Braun began his Knicks career in 1947 and didn’t play his final game in orange and blue until 1961. He appeared in 740 games for the Knicks, which is fourth all-time in franchise history. Only Ewing, Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley stand ahead of him. He scored 10,449 points as a Knick, which ranks fifth all-time, behind only the big three (Ewing, Frazier, Reed) and Allan Houston. Braun led the team in scoring during his first seven seasons and was a five-time All-Star. It is also important to note that he missed two years of his prime (1950 through 1952) to serve in the United States Army.

14. Dick McGuire
McGuire is in the conversation for greatest Knicks point guard not named Walt Frazier. McGuire played eight seasons in New York and was named to the All-Star game five times. In 1949-50, he dished out a then-NBA record 386 assists, which stood as team’s highest total by a rookie for nearly four decades, until Mark Jackson came along. He led New York to three straight NBA Finals (1951-52-53). His Knicks No. 15 was formally retired on Mar. 14, 1992.

13. John Starks
Starks is still a cult hero in NYC, the result of playing with an unmatched fire and passion that Knicks fans loved. The undrafted kid out of Tulsa, Oklahoma who was bagging groceries a few months before securing an NBA contract, also developed himself into a superb NBA player. During his outstanding eight-year career with the Knicks, Starks was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1992-1993, became an NBA All-Star in 1994, and was awarded the League’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1996-1997. He averaged 14.1 points per game and remains 11th in total points (8,489), eighth in assists (2,394), seventh in steals (711) and first in made three-pointers (982) in Knicks history. Starks is also fourth all-time in postseason points. Oh, and this one time he dunked on Horace Grant (and MJ) and every teenage Knicks fan in the 1990s had a poster of “The Dunk” on their wall.

12. Carmelo Anthony
Ranking Melo is difficult, as he is a better player than some of the names listed above him; however, he has played a majority of his career in Denver (564 career games as a Nugget vs. 404 games as a Knick). Also, he enjoyed his greatest team success and playoff performances as a Nugget. Denver qualified for the postseason in each of his seven seasons, whereas the Knicks have failed to qualify for the playoffs for four straight years. Nonetheless, Anthony has authored some remarkable performances in his relatively short time in a Knicks uniform. He poured in a franchise record 62 points back on January 24th, 2014 in a win over the Bobcats at MSG. In addition, he led the 2012-13 Knicks to 54-regular season wins and helped New York advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first (and only) time this century. In the years since, he’s been the lone bright spot on some bad teams, giving fans a reason to pay attention to a poor product.

11. Charles Oakley
His numbers don’t jump out at you, and his stats won’t compare to many others on this list, but Oakley is one of those players whose true value was never measured by statistics alone. Oak was truly beloved by Knicks fans in the 1990’s due to his blue-collar work ethic and tenacious effort on a nightly basis. Hard-nosed defense and rebounding were Oakley’s calling cards. He ranks 10th all-time in NBA history in offensive rebounds, one spot behind Hakeem Olajuwon and one spot ahead of Tim Duncan. In 1994, he became an NBA All-Star and was named to the league’s All-Defensive First Team.

10. Earl Monroe
Monroe enjoyed his greatest individual success as a member of the Baltimore Bullets. He averaged 23.7 ppg for Baltimore over the first four years if his career. Then, on Nov. 10, 1971, the Knicks traded Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth and cash to obtain Monroe. Pearl adjusted his game to fit in alongside Clyde once he arrived in NYC. Monroe averaged just 20.6 minutes per game that first season in New York (due partly to nagging knee injuries) and scored only 11.4 ppg. He averaged 15.5 points for the Knicks second championship team in 1972-73. He later averaged over 20 ppg in 1974-75 and 1975-76.

9. Allan Houston
Houston will forever have a special place in the hearts of Knicks fans because he drove a stake through the heart of Pat Riley on May 16, 1999. With time winding down in the deciding Game 5 of the Knicks-Heat first-round playoff series, Houston curled off a screen, caught the pass and took a couple of dribbles before releasing a running one-hander from 16-feet. The ball danced on the front of the rim and bounced off the backboard before falling through the net with 0.8 seconds left on the clock. New York became just the second eight seed in NBA history to knock off a number one. That Knicks team would eventually advance all the way to the Finals, which is the last time the ‘Bockers have scaled those heights. Houston went to back-to-back All-Star games in 2000 and 2001 and is among Knicks’ all-time greats in several offensive categories. Houston is fourth on the all-time Knicks career scoring list, trailing only Ewing, Frazier and Reed. He is also second in three-point field goals and third in free throw percentage (.872).

8. Bill Bradley
Bradley is one of the most unique players in basketball history, let alone Knicks annals. He is a NBA Hall-of-Famer, an All-Star, and All-American; he was also a Senator and a Rhodes Scholar. Bradley was the prototypical “glue guy” on the Knicks title teams in the early 70s. He had his best season in 1972-1973, when he played in all 82 games and averaged career-highs in points (16.1) and assists (4.5), while also chipping in 3.7 rebounds. He ranks 10th in points, sixth in assists and third in games played on the Knicks all-time list.

7. Harry Gallatin
Harry “The Horse” was one of the NBA’s best rebounders during the 1950s. Although he was undersized at just 6-foot-6, he averaged double-digit rebounds each season from 1950 through 1958. Gallatin led the NBA in boards in 1953-54, pulling down 15.3 rebounds per game. He grabbed 33 rebounds in one game in 1953, a Knicks record that still stands. Gallatin was also incredibly durable. He played in 610 consecutive regular-season games and 57 postseason contests. He was named an All-Star in seven consecutive seasons, from 1950-51 through 1956-57.

6. Bernard King
King was a genuine shooting star, and if it weren’t for debilitating injuries, who knows how high he’d rank on this list. When healthy in his prime, King was arguably the most talented player in franchise history. His career scoring average (26.5) is the second highest amongst all Knicks. On January 31st and February 1st in 1984, King posted back-to-back 50-point outings against the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks. He was unstoppable in the playoffs that season as well, willing New York to a first-round series victory over the Pistons. King averaged a mind-boggling 42.6 points per game in that series while shooting 60.4 percent from the floor. The following season (1984-85), he led the NBA in scoring with an average of 32.9 ppg.

5. Richie Guerin
The team was often not very good during Guerin’s tenure with the Knicks, making the playoffs just once, but Guerin was great. He is one of only two Knicks in franchise history to average over 29 points per game for a full season, averaging 29.5 points in 1961-62. But Guerin wasn’t just a scorer. In that aforementioned 1961-62 campaign, he also averaged 6.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists. Per BasketballReference.com, Guerin is one of only four players in NBA history to average at least 29.5 points, 6.5 assists and six rebounds over the course of a full season. The other three players in that elite club are Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. During his prime, from 1957-58 through 1961-62, Guerin averaged 7.2 rebounds and six assists per game. His individual game career-highs of 57 points and 21 assists stood as franchise records for more than 50 years.

4. Dave DeBusschere
On December 19, 1968, the New York Knicks traded center Walt Bellamy and guard Howard Komives to the Pistons for Dave DeBusschere. It’s the single greatest trade the Knicks ever engineered. A gritty, underrated star on New York’s two title teams, DeBusschere was the final piece of the championship puzzle. His resume is incredibly impressive. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team in each of the award’s first six years of existence. (Remarkably, at least two Knicks were named to the NBA’s All-Defense First Team each season from 1968-69 thru 1973-74.) DeBusschere made eight All-Star games, was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983 and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.

3. Willis Reed
Reed’s incredible career was somewhat limited due to injuries. He played only ten NBA seasons (all with the Knicks) and played more than 69 games only seven times. Nonetheless, he was incredibly dominant in his prime. He is also the author of some of the greatest moments in franchise history; none more memorable than him limping out of the tunnel in the old MSG at approximately 7:34 pm on May 8th, 1970, fifteen minutes before the start of Game 7. Reed wasn’t as flashy as Clyde, but he was the heart-and-soul of those championships teams. “The Captain” was selected Finals MVP both years the Knicks captured the crown. He was also the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1964-65 and Most Valuable Player in 1969-70.

2. Walt “Clyde” Frazier
Willis Reed scored the first four points in the Knicks epic Game 7 victory over the Lakers in the 1970 NBA Finals, but Frazier did just about everything else that night. He poured in 36 points, dished out 19 assists, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded five steals. Read that last sentence again. Walt Frazier did all that in the single most important game in New York basketball history. Clyde is a living legend in the truest sense of the word. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in assists. He was named to the NBA All-Defense First Team seven consecutive times. Not only did he average over 20 points per game six times in his career, but he was also an excellent rebounder for a guard, averaging at least six rebounds per game in six straight seasons. Over a six-year stretch, from 1970 through 1976, Clyde averaged 21.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists per contest.

1. Patrick Ewing
First, let’s start with the stats. Ewing is the all-time franchise leader in points (having scored 9,048 more career points than Frazier, who sits in second), rebounds (Patrick grabbed 2,345 more career boards than Willis Reed), blocks and steals. And, yeah, Patrick never won a ring, but he put the Knicks on his back and carried them deep into the postseason with a subpar supporting cast year after year after year. He never quite reached the mountaintop, but is it fair to place the blame squarely on his shoulders? There are only three genuine contenders for the title of “The Greatest Knick of All Time.” Ewing, Frazier and Reed. The reason Patrick gets the top spot here is because he did the most with the least. Consider this: There were six (yes, SIX) Hall-of-Famers on Willis and Clyde’s legendary championship teams. In 1969-70, three of the Knicks five starters (Reed, Frazier and DeBusschere) each made the NBA All-Defensive First-Team. The 1972-73 Knicks had five players that were eventually named among the NBA’s “50 Greatest Players.” In contrast, Ewing never played alongside a teammate that made more than one All-Star team! Think about that for a second. Patrick Ewing is quite possibly the most underappreciated superstar in the history of New York sports, and the greatest Knick that ever lived.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards Aiming For Consistency

Spencer Davies has a one-on-one talk with Otto Porter about the Wizards’ up-and-down season and why they’ve been clicking over the last few weeks.

Spencer Davies

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When a team loses an All-Star point guard after dropping four out of five games while other teams continue to improve and climb up the standings, it’s usually a sign that things are headed south.

But the Washington Wizards have debunked that thanks to a commitment from literally every man on the roster to step up. Since John Wall went down with injury, they’ve won eight out of their last 10 games and are a half game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the number three seed in the Eastern Conference.

Why that is, is simple—there’s a balance.

“Everybody eats” is the mantra that Wall’s backcourt partner Bradley Beal came up with when the tide started to turn and the D.C. family has been living by it for weeks now.

The setback has definitely forced them to alter their style of play, but it hasn’t been a bad thing so far, according to Wizards head coach Scott Brooks.

“It’s definitely a challenge missing one of the best guards, one of the best players in the league,” Brooks said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “We’ve had to change definitely the way we play a little bit. We couldn’t expect our point guards to play like John. His speed you just don’t come by often.

“We have to play a little different. I think guys have stepped up defensively. We’ve played well. We definitely had some favorable games go our way with the scheduling, but the challenge is ahead of us now. We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up, but we just have to still keep playing and focus on each game.”

Otto Porter has been somebody who’s really kicked it into gear at a higher level and looks like himself again after a tough start to the New Year. Since January 30th, he’s averaging 18.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and over a steal per game. On nearly 14 attempts per game during the stretch, he’s shot above 52 percent from the field.

When asked how Washington can best fill the void of Wall while he’s on the sidelines, he said it’s not possible to. Rather than focusing on that specific facet, it’s a responsibility of the group collectively to keep trending in the right direction.

“You don’t,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “I mean you just have to, next man up. You really can’t. X-Factor is everybody steppin’ up. With the guys that we have, it’s very simple. Just go out there and play for each other.

“Getting out in transition. Getting stops. Creating points. Threes. The ball going from side to side. That’s how we play. We goin’ through adversity, so we took the challenge.”

Mind you, this is a Wizards team that was once reportedly divided in the locker room. There were rumblings of disdain among certain players. Tweets, Instagram posts, and on-air interviews fueled the fire even more as the losses continued to pile up.

However, we all know the solution to any sort of rough patch is winning games. As soon as the victories started to come, the noise started to quiet down more and more.

“That’s with any sport for real,” Porter told Basketball Insiders after inquiring whether the negativity was overblown.

“I mean you gon’ have your ups and downs. You gon’ have that. But we’re gonna stick together no matter the wins or the losses. We’re gonna stick together. We’re not gonna let anything break us apart. That’s just how we feel.”

The All-Star break came at a good time for Porter, who admitted to Basketball Insiders that he was playing through with nagging injuries in the first half of the season and getting a week to see family and recuperate “was what I needed.”

In the meantime, he kept in contact with Beal, who was experiencing his first All-Star weekend in four years, except this time around he was selected by Team LeBron as a part of the big game.

“All-Star, he said he was mad busy,” Porter told Basketball Insiders of Beal’s hectic three days in Los Angeles. “That sucks ‘cause you know you really wanna—I mean All-Star is cool, but the guys all busy during All-Star. Seeing people, events, stuff like that, so you don’t really get a break. He enjoyed it though.”

Porter raved over the season Beal has had and what it’s meant to Washington. There hasn’t been a change in mentality at all, but the improvements are evident.

“He’s always been motivated,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “Each year he’s adding bits and pieces to his game every year that make him a threat and it shows this year.”

Another teammate of Porter’s that has taken on the challenge is Kelly Oubre. This month hasn’t been kind to him so far as a shooter, but taking the season as a whole, the third year forward is hitting a career-high 36.9 percent of his threes and averaging close to 12 points per game.

Not only that, but Oubre is always locked in defensively with an in-your-face method of guarding his opponents. It’s a physical style that constantly bothers opponents and most of the time, it works.

“He’s been improving,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “He’s been putting in a lot of work. I’ve seen him put in so much work this offseason on his shot improving his mechanics and it’s paying off.

“Aggressive defensively, getting his hands on a lot of balls, deflections, steals. That’s what we want from him every game.”

Brooks has rewarded Oubre and Porter’s efforts by giving them a ton of playing time, something that he doesn’t see changing anytime soon considering the job they’ve done with the extra load.

“They’re gonna have to keep playing a lot of major minutes and keep getting better along the way,” Brooks said. “Otto’s really steady, solid. He’s started to make some shots again.

“And Kelly, he hasn’t shot the ball well in February, but we need him to break out of that and start shooting the ball better. With Kelly to me, it’s always how he’s locked in and focused on the defensive end.”

In order for the Wizards to continue scaling the ranks in the East it’s going to come down to consistency, a hurdle that they’ve tried to clear in past years and have a goal of leaping this season.

“We have to,” Brooks said. “Firstly, just takes that consistent effort to win games. This is not an easy league. Nobody feels sorry for you. Nobody gives you wins. You’ve got to go out there and earn it.

“I like the spirit of our team. We’re willing to accept the challenges. We know it’s not gonna be easy, but I like how we’re playing.”

Porter’s personal goal is to make it through 82 games healthy, but he agrees with his head coach about Washington’s top priority as a team.

“Right now yeah, it’s consistency,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “And just sticking to what we do, sticking to our character. We know what type of players we are. We know how to play the right way and play Wizards basketball, so that’s what we’re gonna focus on.”

So far, so good.

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NBA Daily: Tank Tracker 2018

Basketball Insiders looks at the NBA’s race to the bottom as teams jockey for lottery position.

Buddy Grizzard

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With the NBA All-Star game behind and the home stretch of the regular season ahead, this is the time of year when contenders contend and pretenders stop pretending. It’s time for the NBA’s annual race to the bottom with a crowded field featuring four teams from each conference with better odds of getting help through the draft than making a playoff run.

Although Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for public statements detrimental to the NBA for saying the Mavericks should tank, the assumption here is always that players play to win. Every year the NBA Draft brings 30 new first round picks with guaranteed contracts into the league (minus any players that opt to play overseas). That’s 30 NBA jobs that will be taken away from veterans and given to rookies, not counting second-round picks and undrafted free agents who will take still more jobs. Rank-and-file players are playing for their place in the league, not to help their team get in position to draft a potential replacement.

Here we’ll look at teams that are clearly out of the playoff race and factors that could impact draft position as the final stretch of the season unfolds. Below is a tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski from September showing odds to land a top-three pick. This is the final season under the old lottery system (odds in parenthesis) before the new system takes effect next season.

Starting next year, the four worst teams will have nearly-identical odds to land a top-three pick. Since this is the last year in which teams dramatically increase odds of landing a top-three pick the more they lose, the race for lottery position could be as fun to watch as the race for playoff position. With a deep talent pool for the upcoming NBA Draft, the plot gets even thicker.

The Playoff Contenders

Before we look at teams that are clearly not contending for a playoff spot, we’ll mention teams that are out of playoff position but fighting to get in. In the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons acquired Blake Griffin before the trade deadline and are only 1.5 games behind the Miami HEAT for the eighth playoff seed. If Detroit can get point guard Reggie Jackson back healthy — a big if — then the Pistons could get into the playoffs and constitute a scary match-up in the first round.

Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post tweeted Wednesday that Jackson has been cleared for light running and shooting as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.

Also in the East, although the Charlotte Hornets appear headed nowhere, it’s a veteran-heavy squad that will do all it can to claw its way to a playoff spot. With point guard Kemba Walker making a second All-Star appearance and veterans Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum uninterested in building through the draft this late in their careers, expect Charlotte to do everything in its power to close the five-game gap with the HEAT.

In the West, although the Clippers moved on from Griffin, the team remains just one game behind the eighth-seed Pelicans with a 7-3 record in its last 10 games. The Clippers are another veteran-laden squad with too much pride to play for lottery balls. However, the Clippers’ hopes of being a playoff spoiler are complicated by the league’s hottest team, the Jazz. Utah owns a league-best 11-game win streak and sits a half game behind the Clippers.

Honorable mention goes to the Lakers, which sit a dismal eight games behind the Pelicans in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers have almost no chance to make the playoffs but won’t be participating in this season’s tank-a-thon since either the 76ers or Celtics will own its first-round draft pick. L.A. traded two future firsts for Steve Nash in 2012 but has yet to convey the final pick due to protections in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The pick will go to Philly if it’s first overall or lower than fifth, but will otherwise convey to the Celtics. The 76ers used the pick with added protections to move up last year and draft Markelle Fultz with the first overall pick.

Additionally, the Nets do not make the list since the Cavaliers own their unprotected first round pick from the Kyrie Irving trade with the Celtics. The Nets aren’t tanking, they just lack the talent to compete and currently hold the league’s fifth-worst record.

New York Knicks, 24-36

The Knicks are the last entrant into the NBA’s annual race to the bottom owing to Kristaps Porzingis’ season-ending ACL injury. Prior to the injury, the Knicks were doing everything in the team’s power to start the post-Carmelo Anthony era with a playoff appearance. With Porzingis now sidelined for an extended period, the goal shifts to improving the talent around him.

Chicago Bulls, 20-38

The Bulls recently announced that Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba will replace veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in the starting lineup. Both received a DNP-CD in Thursday’s one-point loss to the 76ers. This is a team in naked tank mode, but it has the most games remaining against other teams on this list. Chicago has its tanking work cut out for it, but the recent lineup decisions show that the Bulls are serious about getting the job done.

Memphis Grizzlies, 18-38

While the Bulls are shameless in pursuit of lottery balls, you can’t blame the Grizzlies for the horrendous injury luck that put the team in this position. It’s a lost season for Memphis, and help in the lottery could be difficult to find since only the Bulls and Magic have more games remaining against teams on this list.

Orlando Magic, 18-40

The Magic have the second-worst record in the East but are matched by the Kings and Mavericks. Counting the Grizzlies, this makes six teams with only 18 wins. This is the heart of the tanking field, and the Magic fully committed when it traded starting point guard Elfrid Payton, a former lottery pick, for a future second-round pick. Orlando has a six-game stretch against teams in playoff contention that should help, but it also has a large number of games remaining against lottery contenders.

Sacramento Kings, 18-40

The Kings did well to get out of the $19 million owed to George Hill next season in a pre-deadline trade with the Cavaliers. Losing the team’s starting point guard also has the benefit of more minutes to develop De’Aaron Fox while upping the odds of adding a quality piece next to him in the draft. Unfortunately, the Kings had a recent stretch of four wins in ten games.

Dallas Mavericks, 18-40

No caveats or disclaimers are needed here since Cuban has gone public with his desire to lose as many games as possible. Aiding Cuban’s cause is that the Mavs are tied with the Hawks and Suns for fewest remaining games against teams on this list.

Atlanta Hawks, 18-41

Equal to the Suns for the league’s worst record, the Hawks come out of the All-Star break in pole position for the Tank 500. However, the team is 4-6 in the last 10 games and lost a ton of close games this year. The Hawks are literally better than the record suggests, and join the Magic and Kings by insisting on shooting themselves in the foot with late-season wins that could poison the lottery well.

As NBA.com’s K.L. Chouinard noted, the Hawks have a net rating of +9.1 in minutes Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon share. Only John Collins and Isaiah Taylor have out-performed this combo among two-man units that have shared at least 200 minutes.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wisely opted to limit the pair to 227 minutes together this season, but the Hawks seem like a team in danger of tumbling out of position for a top-three pick despite how well-positioned the team is currently.

Phoenix Suns, 18-41

When it comes to the gold standard in tanking, nobody tops the Suns. The team shares a league-worst record with the Hawks, has a tough remaining schedule and is showing how it’s done with a 1-9 record in its last 10 games. With the team’s litany of poor draft selections and disastrous trades and free agency decisions, the lottery is the only place Phoenix can turn to for improvement. The prediction here is that nobody out-tanks the Suns the rest of the way.

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NBA

Second Half NBA Story lines

With the All-Star break in the rearview, here are the key storylines to keep an eye on for the home stretch of the season.

Dennis Chambers

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The long winter has ended.

Ok, not really. But the break after All-Star weekend has finally come to a halt, and the second half of the NBA season is ready to get underway.

Each team has around 25 games remaining on the schedule. February is in its last week, and March and April will truly define how the May schedule aligns. The first leg of this season provided more than enough entertainment, combating the narrative that the regular season is a bit of a bore nowadays.

Because of some unexpected turns through the 50-plus games already played, this final stretch that will bring the regular season to a close should be more than entertaining for the fans that think the NBA season is just a six-month placeholder for the inevitable.

So, as we get ready to bounce back into action Thursday night, let’s focus on what needs to be monitored down the homestretch.

Houston Rockets can make the Finals

When the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant, a narrative swept across the league that everyone not in the Bay area should just wave the white flag. Game over.

After dropping just one game through the entire postseason last year, completely decimating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals, the assumptions were proved correct.

But things may be different this year.

The Houston Rockets are trying to end the Warriors’ Durant-Era dynasty before it starts. After trading for Chris Paul in the offseason, the Rockets are in a legitimate position to pose a threat to Golden State.

At the moment, the Rockets have the best offense in the NBA. But, not just for this season, for every season. Their efficiency is revolutionary and unprecedented. Their defense is improved, too. Ranking 18th in defensive rating last season, Houston is eighth this season, and proving to be competent enough on that end to get a few stops of their own against the Warriors. In fact, Houston has won two of the three meetings between the two Western Conference powerhouses so far this season.

For all of the damage Houston put on the league pre-All-Star break, and even leaping Golden State in the standings, the oddsmakers are taking notice.

Take a look at how drastically the Rockets’ odds at contending for a title have changed from the summer to present day. According to this odds tracker on Sports Betting Dime, Houston has almost entered the same realm as Golden State in the bettors’ mind.

Postseason basketball is a different beast, and Durant and Steph Curry are as formidable a tandem as any (not to mention their supporting cast), but the growing pile of statistics that says Houston has more than a puncher’s chance is becoming hard to ignore.

These last 25 or so games will be telling as to if the Rockets are truly a team that can go shot-for-shot with the mighty Warriors.

LeBron’s new teammates

The trade deadline in Cleveland was basically a mass upheaval of the roster the Cavaliers had struggled with for the first four months of the season.

Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose and Channing Frye were all shipped from The Land in hopes to bring LeBron James new players that could help him back to his eighth straight Finals appearance.

So far, so good.

The return that brought George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., into wine and gold gave the Cavaliers a much-needed boost heading into the All-Star break. Since the trade, Cleveland has won three straight games, the last two including a blowout victory against the Boston Celtics, and a road win in Oklahoma City.

But, before the roster turnovers, the Cavaliers were one of the league’s worst defensive units. Their lack of consistent effort on a nightly basis was beginning to spread doubt in the basketball minds across the league that the team would be equipped enough to beat the Celtics or Toronto Raptors in the postseason.

Coming out of the break, the Cavaliers will take on another playoff contender in the Washington Wizards. Another strong showing from the new-look Cavs could further the belief that the team is now in a better position to make their way to a fourth straight Finals.

As the regular season comes to its final stages, close eyes will be kept on Hood, Hill, Nance and Clarkson. They’re the key to any real postseason success Cleveland hopes to have. We know LeBron will be there at the end, at this point, and it’s worth watching to see if it teammates can join him.

Tight Playoff Races

For all the talk that surrounds the lack of disparity and entertainment around the league, the playoff races in both conferences appear to be coming down to the wire.

In the West, the 10th-seed Utah Jazz is just two and a half games behind the 5th-seed Oklahoma City Thunder. In between the two clubs, Denver, Portland, New Orleans and the L.A. Clippers are all clawing for spots in the postseason.

Over their last 10 games, every team besides the Thunder is at least .500. The Jazz have won 11 straight games, the Clippers are 7-3 and surging, Denver is hoping to return Paul Millsap to their lineup soon, the Trail Blazers have the luxury of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and while the Pelicans have lost DeMarcus Cousins, their three straight wins suggest they’re learning to live without Boogie.

That’s six teams fighting fiercely for four playoff spots. Each is deserving and well-equipped enough to make it to the postseason happen.

The West isn’t the only conference with a wild bunch at the bottom of the playoff standings. The Eastern Conference contenders also find themselves in the midst of a playoff battle post-All-Star break.

Just outside of the playoff picture at the moment, the Detroit Pistons, with new star Blake Griffin, are just four and a half games behind the 5th-seeded Indiana Pacers. Philadelphia, Miami and Milwaukee are all also vying for their spot in the playoffs.

At the moment, the Miami HEAT seems to be on the verge of being the odd man out, losing two straight before the break and seven of their last 10 games. As the Pistons begin to find new life with Griffin, they could bump Miami right out of the picture if their slide continues as games pick back up.

With a limited number of games remaining, each of these teams in both conferences cannot afford to fall into a rut. Coming down to the final weeks of the season, watching the playoff carousel develop will be entertaining and worthwhile.

In the blink of an eye, the 2017-18 regular season is almost over. Be sure to keep an eye on these unfolding storylines as the league charges towards playoff basketball.

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