Kemba Walker silences doubters as Knicks end 15-game skid vs 76ers

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Kemba Walker’s return to New York to play for his hometown Knicks was initially met with mixed reactions.

On the one hand, there was a palpable excitement that the Knicks’ biggest hole would finally be filled by one of the finest New York-bred point guards. But on the other hand, there was also cynical skepticism owing to the past injuries that are fast catching up with him.

Walker’s underwhelming first three games as a Knick only reinforced those doubts. But in an early matchup against one of the Eastern Conference heavyweights, Walker erased them with an All-Star caliber play.

After averaging only 10.3 points in the Knicks’ 2-1 start, the 31-year old Walker, a four-time NBA All-Star, scored a season-high 19 points on five three-pointers and five assists to power the Knicks to cruise to a 112-99 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks improved to 3-1 and snapped a 15-game losing spell to the Sixers since Carmelo Anthony’s final game with the franchise in 2017.

After missing his first three shots, Walker caught fire, leading the Knicks’ huge second-quarter surge. In a two-and-a-half-minute stretch, Walker’s 10 straight points blew up the Knicks’ lead to 20 at halftime after trailing by three at the end of the first stanza.

New York outscored Philadelphia, 39-16, in that pivotal quarter.

Walker picked up from where he left off, adding nine points after the first half. The Knicks enjoyed their largest lead, 83-56, on Walker’s back-to-back three-pointer that rocked the Garden.

“I was waiting for that moment,’’ said Walker of his breakthrough game in front of his family, friends, some college and high school teammates, and coaches. “I was waiting for that moment. It was the kind of moment I dreamed of when I was a young kid wanting to be in the NBA, watching the Knicks play, coming to a Knicks game, and seeing how the crowd goes crazy. That was a great moment for me.’’

After watching Derrick Rose closed out the Knicks’ first three games, Walker finally earned the minutes down the stretch and made sure there was no Sixers comeback, unlike their shocking loss to a young Orlando Magic two nights earlier.

“I wouldn’t say it was a relief but it definitely felt good. It was fun. Hopefully, we can have more moments like that,” said Walker who reiterated he had no qualms sitting on the bench down the stretch.

The Knicks returned to playing fun basketball with crisp ball movement that froze the 76ers’ defense.

Their 24 assists on 41 field goals, including 16 of 37 three-point attempts, were a testament to their unselfish play. They had a sizzling start, sinking 15 of their first 23 attempts from downtown.

Their 70 three-pointers made during their 3-1 start tied the 2020-21 Bucks’ record for most makes through the first 4 games of a season in NBA history, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Julius Randle did not have to do the heavy lifting as Walker led five Knicks players in double figures. All 10 players Tom Thibodeau used in the game scored at least four points.

Randle flirted with a triple-double (16 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists), while Evan Fournier came through with 18 points, four threes, and four assists. Derrick Rose again led the Knicks’ bench with 13 points.

“That’s what I love about our team. We have great depth,” Thibodeau said. “Tonight I thought the way Kemba played helped set the tone. Julius was unbelievable in terms of making plays early. That made us unselfish and we all got into a rhythm and we played hard.”

Even Sixers coach Doc Rivers was in awe of the Knicks’ much-improved offense.

“Clearly they’re a better offensive team because they have more shot makers. They have more playmakers,” Rivers said. “That’s one thing about Kemba and Fournier. They’re not just scorers. They’re playmakers and the more playmakers you can add to a team, the better. We didn’t have any playmakers tonight.”

The Sixers could have used one more playmaker and a defensive stopper in Ben Simmons. But the versatile All-Star is out indefinitely as he claims he is still not mentally ready yet to rejoin the team after an ugly fallout last summer.

‘Where is Ben Simmons?’ chants from a good Tuesday night Garden crowd added salt to the Sixers’ injury.

With one less headache, the Knicks’ defense focused on Sixers’ All-Star center Joel Embiid, who was questionable to play before the game due to knee soreness. A bulkier and much stronger Mitchell Robinson played solid one-on-one defense against Embiid. A perfectly timed occasional help defense from the weak side cut off Embiid’s passing lanes, forcing him to commit five turnovers. Embiid struggled with 14 points on 2-of-7 shooting and six rebounds in 31 minutes.

The Knicks also put the clamps on Seth Curry, who ended up with just four points on 2-of-6 shooting after exploding for 28 two nights ago in Oklahoma City. Tobias Harris led Philadelphia with 23 points.

It was the type of response Thibodeau was expecting from his team following their slip-up against the Magic.

“Long before the ball went up tonight, immediately after the [loss to Orlando], I could tell [we’d have a good game],’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We knew we didn’t play well. We got a real group of serious-minded guys. I could tell that night, the next day and last night, the gym was packed with people working. I knew this would be a good test for us.’’

Indeed.

But the tests keep on coming. On Thursday, they will face Thibodeau’s old team, Chicago Bulls, who are off to their best start since 1996.

Both the Knicks and Bulls’ hot starts have pushed the league to add their early showdown for the Eastern Conference’s top spot to NBA TV’s schedule. It could rekindle their rivalry in the 90s when Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Patrick Ewing’s Knicks were the fiercest playoff rivals in the Eastern Conference.

But following a feel-good win like this, Thibodeau warned his team about slacking off like how they played against the Magic in New York after crushing them in Orlando.

“It doesn’t stop,’’ Thibodeau said. “We can’t feel good about tonight. We go to Chicago to play an undefeated team that’s loaded and playing really well. We’ll have to play our best.’’

On the heels of Walker’s breakthrough game for the Knicks, his matchup against Lonzo Ball will also come with intrigue. Ball was on the Knicks’ radar for their starting point guard role as far as the February trade deadline last season.

Then the Bulls snatched Ball with a fat $85-million, four-year contract in a sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans last summer. On the other hand, Walker fell on the Knicks’ lap on a much cheaper $18-million, two-year deal after his contract buyout with Oklahoma City Thunder.

It will be another opportunity for Walker and the Knicks to shut down the outside noise.

“Those guys are playing really, really well. It’s gonna be a dogfight,” Walker said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Should the Knicks kick the tires on a Ben Simmons trade?

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Why the New York Knicks should stay far away from any Ben Simmons trade talks:

Coming off a disappointing campaign, the Philadelphia 76ers are preparing to make a few changes. One of those changes could involve trading point guard Ben Simmons, who is currently on a massive five-year, $177 million deal. Having signed the extension prior to the 2020–21 season, Simmons is set to earn $33 million next year at 25 years old. The first overall pick in 2016 has struggled considerably in multiple categories with Philadelphia, despite being named an All-Star for three consecutive seasons.

When it comes to Simmons, he lands in the trade candidate boat, as the 76ers would prefer to keep Joel Embiid as the face of the franchise.

There are expected to be plenty of teams interested in Simmons, coming off an embarrassing series against the Atlanta Hawks scoring a high of 18 points in Game 3. As a supposed elite point guard, scoring just 18 is lackluster, as Philadelphia desperately needed him to be more efficient. In fact, he barely shot .400 from the free-throw line throughout the series, an embarrassing mark that has led the 76ers to consider parting ways with the five-year veteran.

The knicks, however, could have interest in Simmons as a trade piece, and coming off a tough postseason, they could get him at a discount.

President Leon Rose would be foolish to part ways with draft capital and/or players in exchange for Simmons, who missed more free throws this year in the playoffs than Steve Nash missed in the playoffs in his entire career. Simmons shot 67 free throws while Nash shot 440, showcasing just how poor he was in the category. He missed 45 of 67 free throws, showcasing an issue he simply has no solution for. He finished the regular season with a .613 percentage from the line, an unacceptable number for a point guard making over $30 million per season.

Despite the trade rumors, the 76ers do seem to have plans that involve helping develop Simmons as a shooter, as he stayed far away from any three-point attempts this past year. He makes his living in the paint, driving to the hoop and finishing from short range.

“I believe, without going into detail with what we’re doing, I believe we know what the right work is, and the right type of work, and the right way to do it,” Rivers said regarding Simmons’ shooting woes. “You can do the work all the time, but if it’s not done in the right way and the right type of work, you may not improve.

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers seems optimistic they can help Simmons improve, but at this point in his career, it is quite clear he’ll never be a prominent three-point shooter and may never break the .800 mark from the line.

Considering the Knicks have $60+ million in funds, trading for Simmons would cut that number in half and force them to part ways with significant capital. For all intents and purposes, the Knicks should stay far away from Simmons and any trade rumors.

Do you think the Knicks should consider Ben Simmons? Comment below! 

Magic Johnson on Knicks: ‘Superstars are gonna want to play here now’

The days are gone that superstars would avoid the New York Knicks like a plague.

That’s how Magic Johnson views the current Knicks situation following a surprising turnaround this season.

Appearing as a guest on Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin radio show, Johnson said the Knicks have become a viable destination.

“Superstars are gonna want to play here now (in New York),” Johnson said.

The former Lakers executive explained how players think and play out a possible scenario.

“I think because they made the run and got to the playoffs. And the city is alive about the Knicks, right? I think guys are now looking at and say, ‘Hey man, if I put myself in that lineup with Julius (Randle), (Immanuel) Quickley, (RJ) Barrett and on, and on. Hey, man, we could do something special.’ Because that’s what guys wanna see,” Johnson said.

“If I put my talent with those guys, can we make a run for the championship? And that guy will talk to another guy and that’s how it’s gonna get started. And Julius Randle, I think guys would want to play with him because he plays hard, he’s a team player. He’s tough and rough,” he added.

Johnson said he’s glad that he had a hand in Randle’s development with the Lakers.

Randle, who left Los Angeles for New Orleans when LeBron James took his talent to Hollywood, finally found a home in New York. His hard work paid off with his first All-Star appearance, a spot in the All-NBA Second Team, and the Most Improved Player award on top of leading the Knicks to the first round of the playoffs.

While the Knicks, under former super-agent turned league executive Leon Rose, have finally found stability, the rest of the league is in a state of flux.

Some of the league’s stars enter the summer with their future in question.

Damian Lillard openly aired his frustrations in Portland following another first-round exit. Washington’s Bradley Beal has one year left in his extension with a new coach coming in. Luka Doncic just lost the executive who handed him the keys to the Mavericks’ franchise. Zion Williamson will be having his third coach in three seasons in New Orleans’ small market. Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers are reeling from a second-round upset, in large part, due to Ben Simmon’s broken jumper.

Seven teams are searching for a new coach. Established superstars fell one by one in the first two rounds, failing to survive the pandemic-condensed season. There’s a new order in the league. There will be a new champion this season.

Then there’s the Summer Olympics in Tokyo which could become another breeding ground for a future super team.

For the first time in decades, the Knicks have more to offer than just money and the bright lights of Broadway. They finally have a culture and a young playoff core to pair with their large cap space of more than $50 million.

Magic Johnson always tweets the obvious as a reaction to what’s happening around the league. This time, he’s manifesting the obvious direction of the Knicks’ franchise.

There’s a perfect storm waiting to happen in New York.

Can the Knicks capitalize?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

 

History suggests Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson is likely done for the season

Ben Simmons missed an entire season. Brook Lopez missed 100 games. Kevin Durant only played 27 games during the 2014-15 season.

History suggests that New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson could be facing an uphill climb in his recovery from his latest injury.

Lopez, Simmons, and Durant were the latest NBA players standing 6-10 and above who successfully recovered from a fractured fifth metatarsal in their foot or most commonly known as Jones fracture, which Robinson suffered last week.

Likely done for the season

On Monday, the Knicks announced that he had a successful surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. The team did not offer any timetable for his recovery.

Dr. Martin O’Malley, HSS’s noted NBA players’ orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery on the three players mentioned above and likely on Robinson, begged off to comment on this story.

But a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist offered a bleak forecast of a Robinson comeback this season.

“If [Knicks] were being cautious, then yes [Robinson is likely done for the season]. Of course, it depends on the severity, but to undergo foot surgery this late in the season is typically season-ending. If he plays, it may be restricted play (minute restriction/load management). However, I don’t know if they’d want to do that with a young, dynamic player,” Dr. Ernest Eusebio told Empire Sports Media. 

Recovery time

The recovery can take an entire year, according to Dr. Eusebio, the founder of the Jersey City-based Wolves Performance & Lifestyle Collective, an all-encompassing high-performance consultancy providing solutions in Professional Sport, Entertainment, & Fortune 500.

“It could very well be 9-12 months until he returns to the court unrestricted, pending success of rehab & player’s ability to return to NBA shape,” he said. “[Knicks] said his surgery was successful, which could mean at best he may be back for the offseason in 4-6 months, but that does not necessarily mean playing time due to the nature of the game,” Dr. Eusebio said. “Full recovery is typically a 6-9 month window.”

Dr. Eusebio, who has worked with NBA, MLB, NFL athletes, and Olympians, is not discounting the possibility of a postseason return for Robinson, giving him a 3-4 month time frame for recovery.

“It would be amazing to see him late in the first round of the playoffs, and it wouldn’t surprise me with [Tom Thibodeau]. But I believe it’s more likely that he plays in the second round if the Knicks make it which will be a huge asset,” he added.

Pau Gasol was another 7-footer who had the same injury when he was 26. He returned in four months in 2006. But Memphis put him in a 25-minute restriction. Former Washington Wizards’ 6-11 forward Andray Blatche also broke his foot in late June of 2010 and was back in early October for the training camp.

What is Jones fracture?

Dr. Eusebio, who earned the “Best in Patient Care” award from the American Health Council in 2018, explained that the regional blood supply in that area isn’t the greatest. That’s why a surgical repair is necessary to return to high levels of performance.

“A fifth metatarsal fracture that requires surgery is more often than not a Jones fracture, which hints that a break may have occurred along the shaft of the bone, proximal to the base,” explained Dr. Ernest Eusebio.

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“This is an unfortunate injury to deal with as an explosive player due to the foot’s vital role in jumping and running. Rehab is usually initiated non-weight bearing, and as pain decreases and bone healing occurs, Mitchell [Robinson] should be progressively loading his foot and sports specific movements accordingly – which can take some time,” Dr. Eusebio added.

The average missed time in the NBA for this type of injury is roughly 39 games, according to sports injury expert and certified athletic trainer Jeff Stotts who operates the website instreetclothes.com, which breaks down typical sports injuries for the fans. But as history suggests, the recovery period is longer for big men.

If there’s one thing going for Robinson, it’s his age. The 7-foot-center just turned 23 Thursday.

Simmons was 20 when he broke his foot. Durant was 26 when he had Jones fracture and was coming off his MVP season. Lopez was the same age as Robinson when he suffered the injury.

Bad timing

The injury’s timing couldn’t come at the worst possible time as the Knicks are in the thick of a playoff hunt, and Robinson is eligible for a contract extension this summer.

Robinson, who has been durable in his first two seasons —only missing a total of 21 games—has already undergone surgery twice this season. The Knicks went 9-6 without him earlier in the season while recovering from a broken hand. They have lost their last two games since he went down with his latest injury, which he suffered in Milwaukee ironically against Lopez.

The Knicks have signed Norvel Pelle to a 10-day contract for their 14th roster spot as insurance if Nerlens Noel or Taj Gibson misses time. They have pivoted from Andre Drummond, who eventually signed with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, because they are still holding out hope on Robinson.

The Knicks front office wants to see more of Robinson, according to Ian Begley of SNY.

Can Robinson return to old form?

While it may take longer to recover, there’s no evidence to suggest that Robinson will not return his old form.

Lopez, Durant, and Simmons all survived and thrived after the injury. Only Rasheed Wallace, who was 38 and at the tail end of his career in 2013 with the Knicks, was forced to retire because of the same type of injury.

A study on NBA players who suffered Jones fracture from 1994 to 2013 has encouraging results for Robinson.

“Four of the 26 (15%) players did not return to play in a subsequent NBA game after the season in which a Jones fracture was sustained. Twenty-four of 26 (92%) athletes were treated with operative fixation, and three players (12%) underwent secondary reoperation. Recurrence of the injury was experienced by five players (19%),” said the study published online in 2015 in the national library of medicine.

Lopez and Durant were the fourth and fifth NBA players who had re-surgery. Durant even had a third surgery. Simmons avoided it after he underwent a bone marrow injection.

Robinson’s value takes a hit

Robinson has a $1.8 million team option, which the Knicks will likely exercise next season to make him a restricted free agent and buy them some more time to evaluate him.

Some teams were interested in trading for Robinson at the trade deadline, according to Begley. Those teams will likely take a wait-and-see approach after this latest setback in the young big man’s career.

Certainly, Robinson’s market value has taken a hit with his latest injury. But that should be further from Robinson’s mind as he needs to focus on his recovery. His performance after this injury will dictate his next contract—whether that will be with the Knicks or another team.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo