The dark cloud hanging over Knicks’ strong start

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For the first time in a long while, some good energy is emanating from the arena above Penn Station. The Knicks had a fantastic February, in which they went 9-5 SU and 10-3-1 ATS and finished second in defense (106.7) and fourth in net rating (+4.8). They need just five more wins to clinch the Over on their season win total.

Something dark is looming over the Knicks, however, and it could derail their wonderful season. The difficult times may have begun with Tuesday night’s 119-93 loss in San Antonio.

Entering Tuesday, the Knicks’ defense ranked 27th in frequency of wide-open shots allowed (25.2 percent), but opponents were shooting just 37.4 percent on those attempts. They rated 28th in frequency of wide-open opponent 3-point attempts, but first in opponent 3-point shooting on those wide-open looks at 33.1 percent. Those shots will eventually begin to fall — the Spurs made 18 of 42 (42.9 percent) of their 3-point attempts — and once they do, the Knicks could fall as well.

Then you consider their second-half schedule — with the Bucks, Nets and 76ers among the first six games — and you start to see the Knicks’ path toward regression.

The 18-18 Knicks are a fun story, but keep an eye out for some spots to play against this team once we return from the All-Star break.

James Harden
NBAE via Getty Images

Harden Hardware

Hello, do you have a moment to talk about the best player in basketball right now, James Harden?

I have begun the campaign for Harden as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, and I am not ashamed. The Beard is fresh off a Player of the Month Award for February, and it just so happens to be his first full month with the Nets. Harden took the Nets by the scruff and led them to a 9-4 record in February while averaging 25.6 points on 49.1 percent shooting, and doing most of that without Kevin Durant on the floor.

We can quibble about Harden’s time in Houston at the beginning of the year, when he averaged 24.8 points and 10.4 assists with three performances of 30+ points. But there is no denying his growing resume for MVP as he thrives in Brooklyn.

Clippers’ Crunch-Time Woes

With 37 seconds left and the Clippers trailing 101-100 on Sunday, Paul George had the ball at the top of the key with the Bucks’ Khris Middleton defending him. Marcus Morris came from the right wing to screen Middleton, which gave George enough space to fire a 3-point shot that hit the front iron.

On the ensuing possession, the Bucks ran a Giannis Antetokounmpo screen for Jrue Holiday, which led to Holiday running free in the lane. After the Greek Freak found Holiday, the Clippers were forced to rotate, leading to the ball swinging around the arc until it found its way back to Giannis. He had a longer runway than the one at the end of “Fast & Furious 6,” and it led to a thunderous dunk that helped solidify a massive 105-100 win for Milwaukee.

Those final minutes were a microcosm of what plagues the Clippers this season — poor execution at the ends of tight games. I have been adamant that the Clippers need to add a true north-south point guard with legitimate passing prowess before the deadline or in the buyout market, and the end of Sunday’s game showed us why.

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