Scotto: Time to Panic for Knicks?

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JR SmithComing into this season, I had the New York Knicks taking a step backward in my Sheridan Hoops preview column. But not this far back.

New York is tied for the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference with a 3-8 mark and J.R. Smith, arguably the team’s second best player, is in crisis mode.

“They say it’s too early to panic,” Smith said after Wednesday’s hard-fought overtime loss to Indiana, the team’s sixth straight home setback. “Me personally, I panic. I don’t like this. I don’t want to play 3-8 basketball. I don’t want to play 50-50 basketball. If we’re going to be a championship caliber team and call ourselves that, we’ve got to play like that. We can’t be any other way.”

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Sprung: Pacers Strive on Strong Defense and Intensity – UPDATE

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David WestThe first thing you notice watching the undefeated Indiana Pacers is their intensity.

More than the other seven teams this writer has seen in person this season, Indiana plays hard and aggressive basketball for 48 minutes. Indiana remained unbeaten at 8-0 after Monday’s 95-79 home win over Memphis.

“We are just trying to play our style of basketball,” Pacers forward David West said after Indiana’s hard-fought 96-91 win over the Nets on Saturday in Brooklyn.

That tough, tenacious style includes going hard on every possession and playing the league’s best defense. Indiana has allowed just 84.5 points per game this season, the best mark in the NBA by 6.5 points.

The following chart shows the many ways that the Pacers have the NBA’s best defense:

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Sprung: Pacers strive on strong defense and intensity

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David WestThe first thing you notice watching the undefeated Indiana Pacers is their intensity.

More than the other seven teams this writer has seen in person this season, Indiana plays hard and aggressive basketball for 48 minutes. The Pacers did that again Saturday night – its fourth game in five nights- and came away with a hard-fought 96-91 win over the Nets at Barclays Center to go to 7-0 on the season.

“We are just trying to play our style of basketball,” Pacers forward David West said.

That style includes going hard on every possession and playing the league’s best defense. Indiana has allowed just 85.3 points per game this season, the best mark in the NBA by more than seven points.

The following chart shows the many ways that the Pacers have the NBA’s best defense:

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SH Blog: Nuggets lose JaVale McGee; Pierce and Garnett still don’t talk to Ray Allen

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Andrea BargnaniToday the Knicks got destroyed by the Spurs. The Spurs are still great, and the Knicks are missing Tyson Chandler, but this can’t say good things about the Knicks’ ability to stay near the top of the East.

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Bernucca: No extensions will be best thing for Bledsoe, Vasquez

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Ryan McDonough GM SunsWhen the deadline for contract extensions came and went Thursday night, point guards Eric Bledsoe and Greivis Vasquez didn’t get paid.

But don’t shed any tears for them. Because when the summer rolls around, they will get their money. And it might be GMs Ryan McDonough of Phoenix and Pete D’Alessandro of Sacramento who are crying.

As reluctant as McDonough and D’Alessandro may have been to pony up for point guards with plenty to prove, they should have done so. Both GMs are relatively young, so they may not remember this commercial from the early 1980s that came with good advice.

You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.

Both GMs chose to potentially pay their players later, and it may cost them millions, given the numbers Bledsoe and Vasquez have a chance to put up this season as they enter a fallow free agent market.

Yes, there’s plenty of big names headed to free agency next summer – Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph, just to name a few.

Notice anything about the guys on that list?

None are point guards.

Here are the best veteran free agent point guards on the market next summer: Mario Chalmers, Devin Harris, Ramon Sessions, Kirk Hinrich, Rodney Stuckey, Steve Blake, Beno Udrih, Luke Ridnour and Kyle Lowry. In addition, Jameer Nelson could be available if Orlando (or another team) buys out his $2 million guarantee for 2014-15. All capable players – with a combined two All-Star berths among them.

Bledsoe turns just 24 next summer and Vasquez will be 27. Even as restricted free agents with shorter resumes, they immediately go to the top of that list.

The Suns snared Bledsoe in the summer, when the Clippers realized they wouldn’t be able to pay him and decided Phoenix Suns vs Maccabi Haifato get something for him now rather than later. Apparently, Clippers GM Gary Sacks has seen the commercial. McDonough smartly saw him as an ideal piece to his rebuilding project in the Valley, a young player with a high ceiling.

But Bledsoe had never been a starter, and McDonough was understandably apprehensive about giving him starter’s money. The GM also had the more established Goran Dragic’s three remaining years as an insurance policy, so he decided not to pull the trigger on a deal that probably would have cost him anywhere from $32 million to $40 million over four years.

Less than 24 hours later, Bledsoe began his salary drive by scoring Phoenix’s final 14 points vs. Utah, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the final second.

The Kings also acquired Vasquez in the summer as part of the sign-and-trade deal that sent Tyreke Evans to New Orleans. Last season – his first as a starter – Vasquez averaged 13.9 points and 9.0 assists. The only point guard with better numbers in both categories was a guy named Chris Paul.

But D’Alessandro had to drop $62 million to extend DeMarcus Cousins, whom new owner Vivek Ranadive anointed as a cornerstone. He also had an insurance policy in point guard Isaiah Thomas and chose not to extend Vasquez, probably at around $10 million per year.

Both GMs can match any offer Bledsoe and Vasquez get from other teams next summer. And there are going to be offers, because plenty of teams need point guards.

Like Toronto, which can let Lowry walk and put some of its young assets in a sign-and-trade.

Or Milwaukee, where Brandon Knight is not the long-term guy. The Bucks can get down to about $48 million if they don’t make a qualifying offer to the immortal Ekpe Udoh.

Or Orlando, which can get to about $34 million by buying out Nelson, declining some options and deciding if they are serious about making Victor Oladipo a point guard.

Want better landing spots? How about Miami, where Norris Cole is the only player on the books right now. The Heat could let Chris Bosh walk and target Bledsoe.

Or New York, where Raymond Felton really isn’t the answer. The Knicks don’t have any room, but that has never Steve Nashstopped them before.

Or Los Angeles, where Steve Nash could be moved into a backup mentor role in the last year of his deal while giving the reins to Vasquez or Bledsoe.

If Bledsoe gets a big offer next summer, McDonough can easily match because he could have as much as $25 million in cap room. But D’Alessandro can only get his payroll down to about $57 million – and that doesn’t factor in Thomas, who will be unrestricted.

In the NBA’s new financial age, teams are more reluctant to commit to long-term deals of any value because of the punitive repeater tax – which is exactly why McDonough should have signed Bledsoe and D’Alessandro should have signed Vasquez.

It’s hard to imagine either player costing less next summer.

TRIVIA: Who is the only active NBA player with championship rings from different teams? Answer below.

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