Knicks: 3 main takeaways in disheartening loss to Indiana Pacers

rj barrett, knicks

The New York Knicks dropped their second consecutive game against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night by a score of 111–98. The Knicks trailed for the majority of the contest, closing out the final minutes with plenty of missed shots and poor defensive stands.

However, it was their three-point percentage that stood out in the loss, hitting just 21.7%. Kemba Walker, who entered the game with the highest three-point percentage in the NBA, missed all five attempts. Julius Randle also contributed two misses on two shots.

With the team struggling due to chemistry issues, lackluster defense, and clear fatigue, they will look to bounce back against the Milwaukee Bucks, a dominant opponent, on Friday night.

Three main takeaways for the Knicks in tough loss to Pacers:

1.) The defense has fallen off a cliff

The Knicks’ defense has had a tough start to the season after being one of the most dominant units in the NBA last year. Going into Wednesday’s loss, the Knicks ranked 22nd and defensive rating, 25th in steals, and 7th in blocks. They have been woefully awful on transition scoring, and that didn’t change against Indiana, who featured Myles Turner as their sharpshooting big man.

If the Knicks don’t turn this defensive issue around, they will be in a difficult spot. Their offense is inconsistent without elite three-point shooting. They cannot allow themselves to fall into the category of living and dying by the three-point shot.

2.) Myles Turner feasted on the kick-back 3s

It seems as if the Pacers ran a similar play the entire game, driving the middle of the defense and kicking the ball back out to Myles Turner, who scored 25 points, shooting 70% from three-point range. He connected on seven attempts, posting 13 rebounds and three blocks. Turner put on a show for a team that was intrigued by his services this past off-season, going as far as to inquire about a potential trade opportunity.

We spoke about the idea of the Knicks trading for Turner at this deadline, who is having a dominant season on both sides of the ball. Their inability to stop scoring big men has been apparent this year, and the Knicks allowed Turner to walk all over them without any resilience.

3.) RJ Barrett continues offensive dominance

Third-year guard RJ Barrett entered the game averaging a career-high 18.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and shooting 43% from range. Alas, he continued his offensive master class, adding 23 points and three assists. However, his defense was spotty throughout, which put his team in a bad spot with a lack of communication and overall hustle.

Barrett made it a goal of his to focus on playing premier-level defense, but that hasn’t been the case the past few games, rather focusing on offensive production. While he’s been good on that end, if the team as a whole can’t play a balanced game, the Knicks will continue to lose.

New York Giants trio misses practice due to COVID protocol

New York Giants, Saquon Barkley

The New York Giants haven’t caught a break this season, and fortune isn’t going any easier on them right now. The latest problem for the team is COVID-19, which has already ruled running backs coach Burton Burns out for the next game. However, it doesn’t look like this is an isolated matter.

The Giants had three players listed as not practicing due to the league’s COVID protocol according to their latest injury report: Saquon Barkley, Matt Skura, and Xavier McKinney. This could potentially rule out all three players for Sunday, as the protocol requires two negative tests within a 24-hour span and no symptoms for a player to return.

Barkley is in the protocol after a positive test. However, there is some margin of error in these tests and there is a chance that the running back could return soon if the subsequent tests show that the original result was a false positive.

Still, there’s no guarantee the Giants would have Barkley active on Sunday even if this situation hadn’t happened. Barkley is still dealing with an existing ankle injury situation. He hasn’t played since the Dallas game in week 5, and the staff seem in no mood to rush him back.

The more important player listed here might be Xavier McKinney. He’s played in the vast majority of the team’s defensive snaps this year, and the safety position is thinner than before thanks to Jabrill Peppers’ season ending injury.

These three players were only one part of a larger group that didn’t participate in practice on Wednesday. Lorenzo Carter, Nate Ebner, Kenny Golladay, Dante Pettis, and Sterling Shepard also sat out.

New York Giants: Graham Gano having excellent season despite team struggles

New York Giants, Graham Gano

The 2-6 New York Giants are in the middle of another greatly disappointing season. The Giants have struggled to win games despite being within reach in many of their contests. The majority of the Giants’ roster is struggling, however, there are some bright spots. Graham Gano has been one of the biggest bright spots for the Giants in 2021 despite the team’s struggles.

Graham Gano stats and highlights

Since joining the Giants in 2020, Graham Gano has been one of the best and most consistent members of the team. Last season, Gano bounced back after missing the entirety of the 2019 season. His first season with the Giants saw Gano put 31 kicks through the upright on 31 attempts. Since entering the NFL in 2009, Graham has been one of the best kickers in the league. The veteran is holding strong and maintaining his status among the best.

This season, Graham Gano has made 88.9% of his field-goal attempts (16/18). His longest field goal of 55-yards has already tied his longest made kick from 2020. Gano has gone a perfect 10/10 on extra points, too. Gano has been kicking from deep more frequently this season, too.

In 2020, Gano made 5 of 6 field goals from 50+ yards out in 16 games. In 8 games this season, Gano is 5 of 6 on field goals of 50+ yards. Graham has been money from deep despite being called to kick from long-range more often than last year.

Graham Gano has also improved on kickoffs this season. 57.1% of Graham’s kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks this year, compared to 41.1% of his kickoffs from 2020.

The New York Giants might be one of the worst teams in the NFL, but they do have one of the league’s best kickers. Graham Gano has been a major bright spot on this team that has struggled to put together winning games. As a 34-year-old veteran in this league, Graham Gano’s window of opportunity to win serious games could be closing soon. But if the Giants can quickly propel their team into a winning situation, they will march into field goal situations comfortably with Graham Gano as their special teams captain.

Rangers sign prospect Matt Rempe to an entry-level contract

The New York Rangers agreed to terms with Matt Rempe on a three-year, entry-level contract.

General manager and president Chris Drury announced today that the New York Rangers have agreed to terms with Matt Rempe to a three-year entry-level contract.

Rempe was selected by the Rangers in the sixth round (165th overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft.

Rempe, 19, has scored four goals in 10 games this season for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League (WHL). His four goals are tied for the third-most on the team. In three seasons with the T-Birds, Rempe has played in 65 games and has 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points.

He set WHL career-highs in 2019-20 when he registered 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points in 47 games. In 2019-20, he was named the “Most Improved Player” on the Thunderbirds.

The Thunderbirds general manager, Bil La Forge, spoke highly of Rempe in a statement from the Seattle Thunderbirds website,

We are very excited for Matt and his family. Matt is an example of a player that was not selected in the WHL Prospects Draft, continued to persevere and play his way onto the NHL radar. The best part about Matt is that he knows the work he began with us at 15, with the Spruce Grove Saints at 16 and in Seattle since, is just the beginning. He has a very bright future going forward. I would also like to congratulate our coaches and the skill development of our skills coach, Steven Goertzen, on their work with Matthew. The Rangers have locked up a very good player and an even better person!”

A Calgary, Alberta native, Rempe has skated in 45 games with Spruce Grove, tallying four goals and eight assists for 12 points.

 

Knicks backup center Nerlens Noel will make season debut against Pacers

nerlens noel, knicks

Nerlens Noel is set to make his season debut when the New York Knicks try to bounce back against the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night in Indianapolis.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau made the announcement barely two hours before tip-off, according to multiple reports.

Noel, penciled to be Mitchell Robinson’s backup, has missed the first seven games due to knee soreness and a hamstring issue. He also missed practice on Tuesday due to personal reasons, according to Thibodeau.

Taj Gibson will also be available after tweaking his ankle during their Monday night loss to the Toronto Raptors.

It will mark the first time that the Knicks will have their full lineup available.

Noel served as the backbone of the Knicks’ top-four defense when Robinson went down with two serious injuries last season. He averaged 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and a league-third best 2.2 blocks.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Derrick Rose gives Julius Randle a piece of advice to counter double teams

knicks, julius randle

Despite the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, teams are still loading up on New York Knicks‘ All-Star Julius Randle.

They are testing his patience and maturity to determine whether he’s ready to lead a team with talent around him.

Randle has embraced being the Knicks’ central figure on offense. According to Cleaning The Glass, Randle leads the Knicks with a 28.9 usage rate in the 87th percentile. It’s just a slight drop to his 30.4 usage rate last season, which was in the 98th percentile.

Through seven games this season, Randle is tied for fifth with Giannis Antetokoumnpo in isolation points with 5.4 per game behind Spencer Dinwiddie (5.5), Kevin Durant (8.0), James Harden (8.3), and surprise leader Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (9.4). Randle is seventh in isolation possessions with 5.1 per game, and he’s shooting 46.2 percent, which is in the 64.6 percentile, per NBA advanced stats.

Last season, Randle averaged 5.0 isolation points on 5.5 possessions per game.

Old habits die hard. Randle is still struggling to give up isolation plays despite the Knicks adding more talent to ease his burden.

For the first time in his career, Randle is the No.1 option in a playoff-contending team. This is new to him, like it was last season when he led a so-so Knicks team to a surprising playoff run. He’s learning on the fly.

Derrick Rose had been there, done that.

Content as the sixth man of a deep New York Knicks team, Rose is happy to pass on some wisdom to Randle.

“Just play his game,” Rose said after Wednesday’s shootaround in Indianapolis before they take on the Pacers. “I feel like if he just goes out there and plays his game everything is going to be good. We know that we’ve got more scoring on the team. He’s got to find ways to get lost. Right now they’re double-teaming from different spots on the court.”

In their recent loss to the Toronto Raptors, their downfall started with two consecutive Randle isolation plays that went awry after the Knicks built a 15-point lead. He followed that up with another two isolation plays where he got doubled, which led to turnovers and easy points for the Raptors.

“That’s why we’ve got Kemba and Evan on the floor with him so that when you’ve got that type of person on that side of the ball, offensively, it’s easy to just get lost,’ Rose said. “Being that No. 1 option you want that opportunity to get lost in the offense.”

It’s unsolicited advice that Randle should take because Rose is talking from his experience as the youngest MVP in the league, who led a young Chicago Bulls team to their best stretch in the post-Michael Jordan era.

“I played where I had to do everything, bring the ball up, set up the offense, score the ball, and if it was up to me, I wouldn’t want to do all that. But I was kind of forced to do it, so I had to figure it out,” Rose said. “Ju (Randle), he’s a great guy, and he’s all about figuring things out. So it’s about just letting him learn and letting him adjust, playing with three new starters.”

Randle’s ability to adapt to this new situation will tell how far this reloaded Knicks team can go.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

 

Report: Yankees preparing for exciting and aggressive free agency

brian cashman, yankees

With the World Series coming to an end, the New York Yankees are gearing up for a vital winter where they can solve multiple problems on the roster. Unfortunately, after the Gleyber Torres experiment at shortstop failed, they will have to be active in the market to find a supplement and solution for the future.

While the team is optimistic that prospect Anthony Volpe will take a big step forward and make his way to the MLB in the next two seasons, they aren’t going to sit back and wait. With Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story all available this off-season, expect general manager Brian Cashman to be aggressive, as one former GM expects activity from the Yankees.

ESPN’s Jim Bowden expects the Yankees to be aggressive in free agency:

After a year of limiting their spending, the expectation is that the Yankees will land a shortstop, and that will likely be either Seager or Correa — perhaps with the intention of eventually shifting that player to another spot. New York’s top prospect, shortstop Anthony Volpe, is expected to graduate to the big leagues sometime in the next two seasons. There is a lot of sentiment that Seager will need to move to another spot sooner rather than later over the course of a long-term deal.

If the Yankees land either Correa or Seager, they will be in a much better position moving forward post-Torres. Both are far and away better defensive players and offer consistent offensive capabilities but vary in different categories. Correa is a big weapon capable of hitting for power and contact, while Seager features a lefty bat that could be beneficial in Yankee Stadium with the short right porch.

With Seager, it is entirely possible he moves to third base at some point, which would make way for Volpe at shortstop. However, expect the Yankees to continue their storied history of spending to acquire star players, which is essential at this point given the lack of elite prospect development.

Kemba Walker on Knicks’ poor transition defense: ‘It’s fixable’

knicks, kemba walker

After a poor start to the season, new Knicks point guard Kemba Walker has started to pick up things offensively and is leading the league in three-point accuracy with a 56.8 percent clip, a career-high if he could maintain it.

The addition of Walker and Evan Fournier has catapulted the Knicks’ offense near the top of the league due, in large part, to their ability to hit the three-point shot and make plays off the dribble. Through seven games, the Knicks have the no. 2 offense, producing 115.9 per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning The Glass. That number excludes garbage time and possessions at the end of quarters that are highly likely to end up in a heave.

Walker’s backup Derrick Rose is tied for seventh in three-point accuracy with 50 percent, while three more Knicks players in their regular rotation are shooting above 42 percent from the outside. The Knicks lead the league in three-pointers made with 16.6 per game, up from 11.8 (21st) from last season.

But their supercharged offense came at the expense of Thibodeau’s trademark defense.

When their shots fall, they are a joy to watch. But when they’re not falling, so is their energy on defense. They played with fire in close wins and got burned in a couple of games against lesser opponents— a young, rebuilding Orlando Magic team and an undermanned Toronto Raptors team— both at home.

The common theme was poor transition defense.

Their once-vaunted defense suddenly became vulnerable and penetrable. The Knicks are allowing 109.5 points per 100 possessions, which currently ranks 20th in the league, per the filtered stats of Cleaning The Glass. But when you compare it to last season, it’s not worrisome as their fourth-ranked defense then allowed 108.4 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning The Glass.

What’s concerning is their lack of bounce and energy in getting back to defense after missed shots and turnovers.

The Knicks are allowing 15.1 fastbreak points per game, ranked 25th in the league. Last season, they had the second-best transition defense, allowing only 10.5 per game. In their previous two games, they have allowed 23.5 fastbreak points to the Raptors and Pelicans.

Their poor transition defense is the main culprit behind their lousy habit of squandering big leads.

Thibodeau points out the league’s penchant for shooting 3’s as a big reason why teams can make up ground quickly.

“You let your guard down and you give up three 3s in transition in a minute, that’s 10 points. It can go quickly. So no lead is safe,” Thibodeau explained Tuesday.

 

They were always on their guard last season, perhaps aware they don’t have the talent to outshoot their opponents.

It’s still too early to pass the judgment. The Knicks have added new offensive weapons and are missing one vital piece of their defense in Nerlens Noel. Thibodeau said the starting unit is still learning to play with each other.

Walker agrees.

“I think we can be better in our transition defense,” Kemba Walker said.

This Knicks team has the talent. Last year’s Cinderella team didn’t have so much. But they made up for it with a lot of effort, which this current Knicks team lacks.

“I thought we’ve had some really good defensive games over the last couple of games,” Walker said. “[Monday] night, not so much. “But that’s on us. It’s fixable.”

And they have to start fixing that against an Indiana Pacers team that had just snapped out of a four-game losing streak with a 131-118 victory over San Antonio Spurs.

The Pacers used a balanced scoring attack to get out of the funk. And they will have a boost against the Knicks as they are expected to welcome back Malcolm Brogdon.

The Walker-Brogdon will be an exciting matchup from the point of attack. Brogdon’s teams have the upper hand, winning six of their 11 head-to-head matchups. They split their last two meetings over the last two years, with the last one in February going Walker’s way. Walker led Boston to a 118-112 win with a game-high 32 points on 10 of 19 shooting, three rebounds, and six assists. Brogdon struggled for 12 points on 5 -f 17 shooting while handing out six assists in the loss.

The Pacers’ starting five of Brogdon, Chris Duarte, Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner will be a handful.

The Knicks have the talent and depth to counter that. But they need to match it with effort.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Rangers loan Vitali Kravtsov to The KHL

New York Rangers GM and President Chris Drury announced on Wednesday afternoon the club has loaned Vitali Kravtsov to Traktor of the KHL.

Disgruntled New York Rangers forward Vitali Kravtsov has been loaned to Traktor of the KHL.

“After discussions with Vitali and his representation, we decided a loan to Traktor was in the best interests of both him and the organization,” said Drury. “We think very highly of Vitali and the Rangers development staff will continue to work with him to reach our mutual goal of him someday being a New York Ranger.”

Kravtsov refused to report to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack after he didn’t make the team’s lineup out of training camp.  Instead, he left for Russia and was willing to wait for a trade away from New York.

The 21-year-old appeared in 20 games for the Blueshirts last season scoring two goals with four points.

The Rangers will be able to recall Kravtsov, should they decide to, once the current KHL season has concluded.

Kravtsov made issued a statement via the Rangers PR department which read,

“I want to thank the Rangers for working with me, and appreciate the open and honest conversations we have had during this process,” said Kravtsov. “While this has been a challenging time for me personally, I believe having the opportunity to return to Traktor and work on my game is the best thing for me right now. My main focus is getting better every day to continue towards my goal of playing hockey for the New York Rangers.”

Kravtsov was selected by the Rangers in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft.

What’s next for Dan Hooker after UFC 267?

Last Saturday at UFC 267, Dan Hooker (21-11) fought for the second time in just over a month when he took on Islam Makhachev (21-1). Hooker was trying to pick up his second straight win which would’ve had him right back in the title picture at lightweight.

For Hooker, the key at UFC 267 was going to be avoiding the takedown. If he couldn’t stay on his feet, it was going to be a steep road to victory. Unfortunately, he didn’t do himself a favor in the opening exchanges of the fight.

Hooker needed to strike from distance, which is what he started doing. However, he through a leg kick that was immediately caught and chained into a takedown for Makhachev. Once the fight touched the mat, it was virtually over.

Makhachev went right through the guard of Hooker and secured a dominant position. Once there, Makhachev locked in a kimura and forced Hooker to verbally tap at UFC 267 giving Hooker his third loss in his last four fights.

What’s next after UFC 267?

Last summer, Dan Hooker headlined a UFC Fight Night against Dustin Poirier. Had he won that fight, he would’ve likely been in line for a title shot. He started that fight extremely well and won the early rounds against Poirier.

However, Poirier came on really strong and won a decision. Then, Hooker was knocked out by Michael Chandler back in January. He bounced back against Nasrat Haqparast before stumbling against Islam Makhachev.

The thing that’s clear to me is that Hooker is one of the best lightweights in the UFC. However, at the same time, he’s not at the top of the division. After watching him take on some of the best, Hooker is more in the mid-tier to lower half of the top ten.

Still incredibly good and talented, but a step behind the elites of the UFC. So after this latest loss, what’s next for The Hangman? I still want to see the battle between Hooker and Tony Ferguson (25-6). This is a tremendous fight on paper and I truly believe it’s the right fight for both men. Time will tell if the UFC likes this one as well.