Knicks fall to Spurs as Rose enters COVID-19 protocols

A last-minute shelving of Derrick Rose and a last-second three by Patty Mills in the first half doomed the New York Knicks in San Antonio.

The Knicks went back to .500 after a lethargic 119-93 loss at the hands of the Spurs Tuesday night in their penultimate game before the All-Star break.

Late scratch

Already without their starting point guard Elfrid Payton (sore hamstring), Mitchell Robinson (broken hand), and Taj Gibson (ankle injury), the Knicks were hit with another setback.

Rose entered the league’s health and safety protocols just an hour before tip-off that threw the Knicks off their rhythm.

With Rose and Payton out, fourth-stringer Frank Ntilikina, who has only played seven games before facing the Spurs, made his first start of the season.

Ntilikina did an admirable job finishing with 13 points in 25 minutes but failed to register a single assist.

Out of rhythm

The Knicks’ starting unit got buried at the start of the first and third quarters, which hastened their downfall.

Reggie Bullock only had three attempts after averaging eight in their last three wins with Rose at the helm. Nerlens Noel was brilliant on defense but could not handle the ball on offense.

Julius Randle and RJ Barrett had an additional burden of playmaking on top of shotmaking. It didn’t work as they failed to keep up with the Spurs’ more cohesive lineup.

Immanuel Quickley, Kevin Knox, and Obi Toppin knocked down a three-pointer each that brought the Knicks within two, 25-23, in the opening period.

‘You get what you deserve’

It was a tight game from there until the Spurs caught the Knicks’ defense napping right before the halftime buzzer. Mills drilled a well-executed corner three-pointer that gave San Antonio a four-point halftime lead and the momentum.

The Spurs got it going in the third quarter, with Mills hitting three of the Spurs’ seven triples that broke the game wide open. San Antonio outscored New York, 37-21, in that pivotal quarter. The Knicks never knew what hit them.

“Obviously, we didn’t play our best. When you’re on the road, you have to play well for 48 minutes. We didn’t do that. [We] didn’t close out the second quarter well. We didn’t start the third (quarter) well,” Tom Thibodeau said after the rout. “You get what you deserve.”

The Knicks deserved to lose the game as they let the Spurs shot 48.3 percent from the field and 18-of-32 from the outside. They were thoroughly outplayed, with the Spurs issuing 31 assists against the Knicks’ 18.

Reality check

Their top-two defense was nowhere to be found as they looked more tired than the Spurs, who were coming off an overtime loss to Brooklyn last Monday night.

The loss should serve as a reality check for the Knicks, who will face more tough teams like the Spurs after the All-Star break. They will play 26 of their 35 games against playoff-caliber teams in the second half of the season.

The Knicks didn’t specify if Rose tested positive for COVID-19 or he was only under contact tracing. But either way, the Knicks will have to play out their last game in the first half without him.

Ntilikina over Quickley

Ntilikina will likely remain as the starter in their rematch against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday.

“I was just trying to keep the second unit together as much as I could. And the size of their point guard also factored in as they have a very good offensive rebounding guard,” said Thibodeau explaining his decision to start Ntilikina.

The 6-foot-4 Dejounte Murray scattered 17 points, six rebounds, six assists, and three steals, while Kentucky product Trey Lyles, who started for LaMarcus Aldridge (stomach ailment), had a season-high 18 points with four triples for the Spurs.

Immanuel Quickley paced the Knicks with 26 points, his fifth 25-plus scoring in the season, which leads all rookies. He hit six three-pointers and added four rebounds and four assists off the bench.

Both Randle and Barrett sat out the entire fourth quarter. Randle wound up with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists, while Barrett scored 15 on another efficient night, going 5-for-9 from the field.

The loss snapped the Knicks’ three-game winning streak and shoved them down to the sixth spot in the East, just half-game ahead of the Miami Heat.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Liberty’s Han Xu speaks out against anti-Asian racism

Han, a New York Liberty fan favorite and native of Hebei, spoke out against attacks against Asian-Americans.

Han Xu of the New York Liberty took to Instagram to address anti-Asian racism in the wake of the ongoing health crisis.

A native of the province of Heibei, Han posted a prior statement from the Liberty that condemned an influx of attacks on Asian-Americans in New York City. Hundreds appeared in Lower Manhattan on Saturday to protest for justice when a 36-year-old Asian man was stabbed in Foley’s Square. A 23-year-old man turned himself into the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office three hours later.

“It is frightening and upsetting to see the rising hate crimes and attacks against the Asian American community and in particular in New York, a community I love,” Han wrote in her accompanying caption. “We all need to show solidarity for those being targeted and take action to stop this horrific violence. Please be kind to one another.”

The Liberty released their statement on February 19, which included contact information to both activist groups and law enforcement agencies to report and csuch xenophobic crimes.

While hate crimes and discriminatory behavior against Asian Americans have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, sadly, they are not new,” the Liberty statement reads. “Regardless of the cause of these heinous acts, the New York Liberty organization stands vehemently against racism, xenophobia, hatred, and violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. We will not ignore this issue and will continue to use our platform in the fight for justice and equality for all people.”

Han’s statement comes in the wake of statements from former Knicks and Nets guard Jeremy Lin, an NBA veteran of Chinese descent. Lin, currently competing with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the NBA G League, recently reported that he has faced racist taunts on the court, with unnamed opponents referring to him as “coronavirus”. The NBA is investigating the situation.

Han, 21, joined the Liberty as the 14th overall pick of the 2019 draft. She and Shao Ting were the first Chinese-born players to partake in WNBA regular season action since Chen Nan in 2009. Han was also the second Chinese-born pick in draft history and the first since Zheng Haixia of Los Angeles in 1997.

In her first season, Han put up averages of 7.9 minutes and 3.0 points. She became a fan favorite during her rookie campaign, drawing loud cheers when she entered games at Westchester County Center. Han’s propensity to shoot from three-point range drew the loudest applause, as she sank

Han notably came up big during the Liberty’s first unofficial game at Barclays Center, scoring 19 points in a come-from-behind victory in an exhibition against the Chinese national team. She did not partake in the WNBA’s bubble in Bradenton but has remained active through local league and national team endeavors. Notably, she appeared alongside Ting and New York teammate Rebecca Allen on the all-tournament team at the end of the 2019 Asia Cup in Bangalore, where Han took part in a silver medal effort, China’s best finish since 2015.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

MetLife Stadium set to welcome back limited fans on March 1

Governor Phil Murphy announced on Monday that fans will be welcomed back to football games and concerts at MetLife Stadium starting March 1.

With the NFL’s free agency period set to get underway soon, the New York Jets and New York Giants may have earned some big pickups before the players start to move.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced on Monday that relaxed COVID-19 restrictions will allow MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford to welcome in fans at 15 percent of its capacity starting March 1. With a listed capacity of 82,500, this would bring in 12,375 fans to the stadium.

Murphy made the announcement on WFAN’s “Moose and Maggie” program, also announcing that indoor venues could welcome fans at a 10 percent capacity, which would open Newark’s Prudential Center to just 2,000 fans of the New Jersey Devils and Seton Hall Pirates men’s basketball team.

Though social distancing and face coverings would still be required, pre-admission COVID screenings would not, in contrast to a similar order from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to reopen his state’s venues.

The Giants and Jets released a joint statement with the stadium to acknowledge Murphy’s comments…

As the months go on, we are hopeful that the data will continue to be positive and the number of people allowed into MetLife Stadium will steadily increase. The health and safety of our fans, players, staff, and those in our communities remain our top priority and we will continue to follow the guidance of Governor Murphy and state health officials.”

“We missed seeing our loyal fans at stadium events this past year and are excited to welcome them back in 2021.”

MetLife Stadium’s next scheduled event is slated for August 5, a Guns N’ Roses concert rescheduled from last July. Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Ball is set to visit two weeks later, as is Kenny Chesney and his Chillaxification Tour two nights later.

The last sporting event held at the stadium came last February when the New York Guardians hosted the Los Angeles Wildcats for an XFL tilt. NFL schedules for 2021 have yet to be released, but the Jets’ home slate will feature a visit from the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Giants fans will no doubt await the Philadelphia Eagles’ annual visit after their Week 17 passiveness played a role in costing Big Blue a playoff spot.

As for the indoor venues, the first Devils game that would welcome fans would be a March 2 visit from the New York Islanders. Seton Hall has only one March home game on its schedule and that March 3 matchup against Connecticut would mark the team’s Senior Day festivities. Meanwhile, in Piscataway, Rutgers women’s basketball has a March home game schedule for March 5 or 6 against Ohio State, but the school has shown no signs of deviating from current Big Ten policies that allow a maximum of four family members to attend games in person.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Asia Durr tells her COVID story on HBO’s Real Sports

The New York Liberty’s first-round choice from the 2019 draft spoke about her bout with COVID-19 and her experience as a “long hauler”.

New York Liberty guard Asia Durr appeared on Tuesday night’s season premiere of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel to discuss her bout with the novel coronavirus, one that has carried on far beyond her recovery. Durr, the second overall pick of the 2019 WNBA Draft, opted out of the Liberty’s 2020 efforts in the Bradenton bubble due to her diagnosis.

Speaking with Real Sports correspondent Mary Carillo, Durr was showcased as one of several athletes who are still feeling the aftershocks of their battle with COVID-19. Such patients experience damage caused by the disease for months after their diagnosis. Symptoms of long-haulers include fatigue and shortness of breath, and spiked heart rate. According to Baltimore-based pulmonologist Dr. Emily P. Brigham, MD, who is also interviewed in Carillo’s piece, the condition is more present in women, including athletes.

Carillo presents Durr’s story as a “cautionary tale” in the story of long-haulers. Speaking through a video conference, Durr admits that a good day consists of going to the store or cleaning her home, a stark contrast to the heavy workload demanded from a professional athlete. Other days, she can’t get out of bed, an experience she compares to “get(ting) hit by a bus”.

“My life has completely changed since June 8,” Durr told Carillo, referring to the date of her initial diagnosis. “I was back-and-forth, seeing doctors, hospitals…I couldn’t breathe, I was spitting up blood…lung pain that was so severe, it felt like somebody took a long knife and was just stabbing you in your lungs each second. I woke up, 2:00 in the morning, vomiting, going back-and-forth to the bathroom. I couldn’t keep anything down.”

Durr confirmed to Carillo that she had lost 32 pounds as a result of her ordeal. The question of if she’ll ever play basketball again “has definitely crossed (her) mind plenty of times”.

Other affected athletes interviewed came from the collegiate level, including Concordia University runner Natalie Hakala and University of St. Thomas (MN) hockey player Nicole Knudson.

Following her appearance, Durr took to Twitter to thank well-wishers for their support and to encourage them to take the ongoing health crisis seriously.

“My hope is that in sharing my struggle, it will help others,” Durr said on her account, @A_Hooper25. “PLEASE take COVID seriously folks. It’s very real. Wear a mask! Protect each other. Young people, athletes, you too. We are not invincible.

She also assured Liberty fans that she was doing everything in her power to be ready for the 2021 season.

I am working every day to be back for this WNBA season!” Durr wrote. “My progress is slow and incremental, but I’m striving to gain momentum. Thankful for (the Liberty) for their patience & resources. This entire struggle has been a powerful reminder of all my blessings too.”

Durr’s full appearance on the monthly newsmagazine program can be viewed in its entirety on HBO Max (subscription required).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: TE Tyler Kroft tests positive for COVID-19

The reserve tight end will be held out of the Buffalo Bills’ regular season finale against Miami on Sunday afternoon.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Saturday that tight end Tyler Kroft has tested positive for COVID-19 and will be held out of Sunday’s Week 17 showdown against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Buffalo has not announced any close contact absentees, but the situation is subject to change. They did call up four players from their practice squad, including tight end Nate Becker.

Kroft, a 28-year-old Rutgers alum, returned to the lineup last Monday night during the Bills’ 38-9 victory in New England, having not played since November 8 due to a prior placement of the reserve/COVID-19 list after he was in close contact with cornerback Josh Norman. His last four absences were due to coaches’ decisions, with the Bills opting to use Dawson Knox, Lee Smith, and Reggie Gilliam. Kroft returned to the New England visit after Gilliam was ruled out with a knee/hamstring issue. During his two years in Buffalo, Kroft has been a bit of a red zone target, earning four touchdowns, including three this season. Of Kroft’s dozen receptions in 2020, only three have not become first downs.

Due to the NFL’s mandated ten-day isolation period for those who test positive Kroft will not be able to partake in Buffalo’s Wild Card playoff game next weekend.

With the Kroft moves, Buffalo also elevated the following from their practice squad…

TE Nate Becker

Becker has spent the past two seasons on the Bills’ practice squad after going undrafted out of Miami University at Ohio. He has yet to partake in an NFL game.

CB Dane Jackson

Jackson, a seventh-round pick back in April, has been on and off Buffalo’s active roster all season. He notably came up big during the Bills’ October victory over the Jets, earning his first career interception at the end of the first half that led to a field goal in an 18-10 win.

DE Mike Love

Don’t break out the Beach Boys tunes, though Love certainly knows about some tropical tunes after spending his college days at South Florida. He has been on and off the Bills’ practice squad over the past three years, partaking in a trio of games during the 2018 season.

RB Antonio Williams

Williams is elevated to the active roster, having spent most of this season on the Bills’ practice squad after joining as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills to welcome 6,772 fans for Wild Card playoff game

With approval from the New York State government, the Buffalo Bills will play in front of their hometown fans for the first time this season.

As of Wednesday, Bills Mafia is back in business.

The Buffalo Bills announced that they will welcome 6,772 fans to Bills Stadium for the team’s upcoming appearance in the AFC Wild Card playoffs on January 9 or 10. It will be the first professional sporting event staged in New York State with fans in attendance since the Buffalo Sabres’ March 9 tilt against Washington at KeyBank Center.

In the wake of the ongoing health crisis, Bills Mafia, one of the NFL’s most passionate fanbases, has been forced to view the Bills’ historic season from the outside. Buffalo (12-3) currently holds the second seed on the AFC playoff bracket and won its first division title in 25 years. Now, a limited number of fans will play witness to the first playoff game at Bills Stadium since the 1996 Wild Card round.

“We know that the fans have been waiting 25 years to be able to attend a playoff game and we are so excited to be able to allow the limited amount of fans that we can,” Bills co-owner Kim Pegula said in a statement on the team website. “I want to just say that we are so hopeful that there will be many more games that all fans can attend.”

Bills fans recently showed their love and appreciation after one of the biggest wins in franchise history, greeting the team at Buffalo Niagara International Airport following their AFC East-clinching victory in Denver.

The plan to invite fans was made in conjunction with the New York State government, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo. According to Ryan Dunleavy and Bernadette Hogan of the New York Post, the invitation for fans is “the first step in a first-in-the-nation pilot program launched by New York aimed at “re-opening businesses safely” during COVID-19”. The Post has also reported that Cuomo himself plans to attend the game.

According to the Bills’ website, 6,200 tickets (the rest going to the NFL and its representatives) will be available to season ticket holders, notified on a seniority basis. Attendees will be required to undergo a rapid test for COVID-19 (at a cost of $63) and contact tracing will follow after the game. Fans are also required to wear face coverings and social distance during their time in the stadium. Cash transactions and tailgating are prohibited. Should the Bills advance to the AFC Divisional playoff round and fans are again permitted, those who attended the Wild Card game cannot make the return trip.

“We want to just encourage everyone out there, all our fans that we just need to do our part,” Kim Pegula said. “Wear your mask, being compliant to CDC guidelines, social distancing. We all know what needs to be done, we just all need to do our part to get it done so that we can have everyone back in our stadium soon.”

Buffalo will host their final home game of the season behind closed doors on Sunday afternoon against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

BREAKING: New York Jets RB La’Mical Perine tests positive for COVID-19

New York Jets

The rookie rusher is the Jets’ first player to have a confirmed positive test. Contact tracing is underway.

Per multiple sources, New York Jets running back La’Mical Perine has tested positive for COVID-19 and will be placed on the reserve list. SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano has stated that contact tracing is underway and Gase isn’t sure how many in the organization will be affected. Perine has yet to comment and will be held out of Sunday’s season finale against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Perine’s first season ends with 232 yards on 64 carries, two of which went for touchdowns (tying for the team lead in rushing scores). His best output was a 40-yard showing against Buffalo in October, which featured his first career NFL score. He was chosen in the fourth round (120th overall) out of Florida in the fourth round of April’s draft.

[UPDATE: 1:50 p.m. ET]: Per notes from the Jets, head coach Adam Gase (who announced that Perine had tested positive earlier on Wednesday) mentioned that players have mostly been away from the facility due to health regulations, but that contact tracing is underway. Gase also confirmed that Ty Johnson and Josh Adam will be the top running backs for their season finale.

“I don’t think those two guys would be affected by this,” Gase said of Johnson and Adams. “The majority of the guys, I mean the only guys that have been in the building are any guys that have really been injured or doing any kind of rehab and stuff like that.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills RB T.J. Yeldon tests positive for COVID-19

The Buffalo Bills reserve rusher has not played since October. They are still scheduled to battle New England on Monday.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Sunday that running back T.J. Yeldon has tested positive for COVID-19. The veteran will not travel or partake in the Bills’ Monday night showdown in New England (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

Yeldon, 27, is in the midst of his second season with the Bills and has played sparingly behind Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss. His last regular season action came on October 13 during Week 5 action in Tennessee. The Alabama alum earned 52 yards on seven carries and a 22-yard touchdown reception in Buffalo’s 42-16 loss. It was Yeldon’s first score of any kind since October 2018, when he was a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has also dealt with a back injury this season.

Over two seasons in Orchard Park, Yeldon has earned 133 yards on the ground, his best output being the aforementioned get-together with the Titans.

Further Buffalo concerns could lie with who had close contact with Yeldon, namely his fellow rushers Singletary, Moss, and Taiwan Jones. No announcements or reports of contact tracing have emerged as of press time. It’s unlikely that the Monday night game would be rescheduled, especially with both Week 17 and the playoffs swiftly approaching.

As they prepare for their final road game of the regular season, Buffalo (11-3) has seen their scheduled affected by the ongoing health crisis on several occasions. The aforementioned visit to Nashville was staged on a Tuesday night (the NFL’s first such game since 2010), forcing their regularly schedule Thursday night contest against Kansas City to be moved to a Monday.

Though the Bills no longer have a chance at the top seed in the AFC (that opportunity erased by Kansas City’s Sunday win over Atlanta), they’re engaged in a battle with Pittsbrugh, Tennessee, and Indianapolis for the second seed. Such a seeding would allow them to potentially host a divisional playoff game and avoid the defending champion Chiefs until the AFC title game.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Week 16 opponent arrival delayed by contact tracing

New York Giants, Cleveland Browns

The contending Cleveland Browns are set to take on the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon for the latter’s 2020 home finale.

The Cleveland Browns have announced that a player has tested positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing is being conducted, delaying the team’s departure for New Jersey, where they’re set to battle the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon.

Cleveland has closed its team facility in Berea and is continuing its preparation for the Jets virtually. The Browns (10-4) will be making their second straight visit to MetLife Stadium, previously topping the New York Giants in a flexed Sunday night showdown.

“Earlier today, the Cleveland Browns were informed that a player’s test results have come back positive for COVID-19,” the Browns declared in a team statement. “Our facility is closed and our flight to New Jersey has been delayed while contact tracing is being conducted. The team is holding meetings remotely as we continue to consult with the NFL and medical experts on the appropriate next steps as the health and safety of our players, coaches, staff and the entire community remains our highest priority.”

The Browns have dealt with their share of COVID-related issues. Offensive lineman Jedrick Wills Jr. and practice squad receiver Ryan Switzer were each placed on the reserve list due to close contact with a positive individual outside the organization. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com has said that Wills, the 10th overall pick of April’s draft, has not tested positive and has been expected to be activated prior to Sunday’s game.

Additionally, star defender Myles Garrett has felt the virus’ lingering aftereffects after testing positive earlier this season. According to ClevelandBrowns.com, Garrett said that he continues to suffer from shortness of breath, remarking “deep big breaths are tough right now” last weekend’s win.

As of yet, there are no changes to the Week 16 schedule. The Browns are likely playoff-bound and destined to partake in the opening weekend of the playoffs on the weekend of January 9-10. Their regular season finale against Pittsburgh could potentially be flexed into the Sunday night spot on January 3, especially if the AFC North division title is on the line.

[UPDATE: 7:00 p.m. ET]: The Browns announced that they had placed four receivers (Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and KhaDarel Hodge) and two linebackers (B.J. Goodson, Jacob Phillips) on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. In their place, they have elevated receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley and Derrick Willies from their practice squad, as well as linebacker Montrel Meander.

The transaction has not been well-received by Landry.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

MLB: Players aiming for a 162-game season; planning to show up to spring training on time

Here we go again! The 2020 campaign was unusual every way you look at it. It only had 60 regular-season games, the playoffs were expanded, the designated hitter was used in both leagues and, most importantly, MLB teams had to deal with coronavirus and all of its consequences.

But over the spring and part of the summer, there was an ugly dispute between MLB and the players’ association on several sensitive subjects, most notably compensation and revenue share. Sadly, since COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, the two parties still need to come up with solutions to play the 2021 season, and they are already having differences.

On Tuesday, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that several anonymous club executives expressed a desire to delay the 2021 season until sometime in May. That way, players and staffers would have the opportunity to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The measure could also result in a safer environment for fans and, with luck and proper planning, maybe welcoming them in stadiums at some point.

MLB and MLB PA want different things… again

However, according to Evan Drellich of The Athletic, the MLB Players Association is “planning for a 162-game season and plan to show up to spring training on time.” Of course, why would they want to play anything less than 162 games and risk further pay cuts after they already lost so much money in 2020?

Drellich is reporting that if it means forfeiting any salary, the players have no interest in MLB’s latest idea (more like a desire than a formal request) to start in May.

Bruce Meyer, the MLB PA’s senior director of collective bargaining and legal, said to Drellich: “To be clear, and as we’ve made clear to the league, players are planning on showing up for spring training on time for a full 162-game season as set forth in the collective bargaining agreement and the league’s previously issued schedule.”

It’s still early and a compromise could be reached at some point. But it’s very worrisome that the two sides are already having such different stances.