Celtics edge Knicks 96-93 to win Game 2

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce (R) drives to the basket around New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony during the second quarter of Game 2 of their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series in Boston, Massachusetts April 19, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Carmelo Anthony posted 42 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, but Amare Stoudemire left the game with back spasms, and the gritty Celtics were able to take Game 2. Rajon Rondo had 30 points and Paul Pierce added 20 in the win.

I wonder if Knicks fans are getting disenchanted with the team’s two superstars. First, Carmelo mails in a 1-for-11 second half in Game 1 and now Amare leaves Game 2 after only 17 minutes of playing time because his back is acting up. Sure, Carmelo dropped 42, but the Knicks still lost, so does it really matter?

In other news, the Magic won a must-win Game 2 to even the series with the Hawks at 1-1. The Mavs beat the Blazers to take a 2-0 lead in the West.

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The NBA’s Top 10 Franchise Players

Miami Heat forward LeBron James (R) is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (L) in the first quarter during their NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, January 30 2011. REUTERS/Bill Waugh (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

When I originally debuted this list almost two years ago, I took some (surprisingly angry) flack for not settling on a 10th player and for ranking a few guys too high.

The idea for the list sprung from a conversation that I regularly have with a buddy when we are tipping back a few adult beverages: If you could have one current NBA player to build your franchise around, with the goal of winning a NBA title in the next five years – who would it be?

Here’s who I had almost two years ago:

10. Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker (A reader named “all” was very upset that I couldn’t pick a #10 guy. He’s probably still upset about it.)
9. Derrick Rose
8. Brandon Roy
7. Deron Williams
6. Chris Paul
5. Kevin Durant
4. Dwight Howard
3. Kobe Bryant
2. Dwyane Wade
1. LeBron James

I took some heat for including Rose, but obviously he has panned out very well and is likely to win the league MVP this season. Roy’s knees have killed his stock. The other seven picks look pretty solid.

So let’s take another stab at this. Remember, we’re trying to win a title in the next five years, so youth and health is paramount.

Honorable Mention: Carmelo Anthony (defense), Amare Stoudemire (defense, age, knees), Pau Gasol (age), Tyreke Evans (regressing) Tim Duncan (age), Dirk Nowitzki (age), Paul Pierce (age), Rajon Rondo (moody, in a funk since Kendrick Perkins trade) and Kevin Garnett (age).

NOT QUITE WORTH MAX MONEY…YET

12. John Wall (20 years-old)
All right, I’m projecting a little bit here, but it worked with Derrick Rose and I think Wall has a chance to be in the same league. Check out his month-by-month stats over the course of his rookie season:

Month G Min FG % REB AST STL TO PTS
October 2 39.0 0.417 3.0 9.0 1.5 3.0 21.0
November 8 38.1 0.430 3.8 9.1 3.1 4.1 17.3
December 9 34.4 0.383 4.2 7.6 1.0 3.3 13.7
January 16 38.4 0.388 4.2 10.5 1.5 3.9 13.9
February 12 36.3 0.421 4.9 7.9 1.2 3.5 16.5
March 11 41.4 0.411 6.0 7.3 2.0 4.4 19.1

So he burst into the league with a good October and November, but struggled a bit over the next two months as teams had a chance to game plan for him. Then in February and March, he’s able to counter that and get back to his early-season numbers. Great sign.

He’s an outstanding playmaker (9.1+ assists in 2-of-5 months) and is lightning quick. His rookie numbers are very similar to Rose’s, only he’s averaging 2.4 more assists per game. He’d likely be the Rookie of the Year if Blake Griffin hadn’t blown out his knee last season. In three or four years he might be vying for best point guard in the league honors.

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Knicks upset Heat in Miami

New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony directs his team on defense in the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks in Carmelo Anthony’s first game ever as a Knick at Madison Square Garden in New York City on February 23, 2011. UPI/John Angelillo

Maybe these new-look Knicks will make some noise in the playoffs after all. Two days after losing to the worst team in the league, the Knicks went down to Miami and beat the Heat in their own building, 91-86.

LeBron James (27 points) missed an open three with a few ticks left that would have tied the game. Chauncey Billups (16 points) was big down the stretch, with five points, two steals and one would-be assist in the last 2:36. Carmelo posted 29 points and nine rebounds in just his third game with the Knicks.

Maybe the most surprising thing about the Knicks is the job they did on the defensive end of the court. After giving up 34 points in the first quarter, they only allowed 52 points over the final three quarters, and the Heat average 102.2 points per game. Miami shot just 43% from the field and turned the ball over 18 times. Amare Stoudemire (16 points, 10 rebounds) made a key block on LeBron James’ driving layup attempt with 0:07 remaining as the Knicks were hanging on to a one-point lead.

The loss to the Cavs should obviously temper the Knicks’ enthusiasm over this win. Still, to beat the Heat in Miami in Carmelo’s third game? That’s impressive.

Slideshow of Carmelo’s debut at MSG

Here are a few pictures from Carmelo Anthony’s debut last night at Madison Square Garden.

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New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony steps out on the court for warm ups before the game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Carmelo Anthony's first game ever as a Knick at Madison Square Garden in New York City on February 23, 2011. UPI/John Angelillo
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Carmelo’s debut with Knicks is solid, if unspectacular

Fans react as New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony is introduce before the game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Carmelo Anthony’s first game ever as a Knick at Madison Square Garden in New York City on February 23, 2011. UPI/John Angelillo

In his first game as a Knick, Carmelo Anthony posted 27 points (on 10-of-25 shooting), 10 rebounds and one assist in a 114-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday Night at Madison Square Garden.

Considering they had about a day to get used to each other, the fact that the Knicks won the game at all is probably enough. But it was surprising that Carmelo felt it necessary to hoist 25 shots in his first game as a Knick when Amare Stoudemire only saw 13 attempts (he is averaging 19.3 attempts on the season). Stoudemire’s attempts and attitude is something to watch going forward — Carmelo is not known for his ability to set up his teammates. It should be noted that Anthony helped to put the game away with some very efficient play in the fourth quarter.

Chauncey Billups was more giving in his debut, dishing out eight assists to go along with 21 points (12-for-12 from the FT line) and six rebounds. Toney Douglas (10-of-12 from the field, 23 points) was the difference in the game. He absolutely torched Keyon Dooling, who has a reputation for being a pretty good defender.

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