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Knicks thump Pistons to head into All-Star break over .500

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The Knicks whipped the Pistons, 114-104, on Thursday night to enter the All-Star break on an 8-3 spree and with a winning record at 19-18.

With chants of “Let’s Go Knicks’’ from the 2,000 strong on hand at the Garden, they clobbered the Eastern Conference-worst Pistons for the second time in four days, making sure to take advantage on what has been a soft schedule recently.

In fact, of their last eight victories, seven have come against clubs well below .500 (Washington, Houston, Atlanta, Minnesota, Sacramento and Detroit).

But after seven years of being the league’s laughingstocks, the Knicks will take it. Whether they can keep it up when play resumes is another story.

The Knicks will open the season’s second half with a four-game road trip that will test their mettle — at Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Philadelphia — and won’t play the Garden again until March 18 against Orlando. They are 11-7 at home.

The giddy Garden even chanted “We Want Pinson” Thursday night, calling for 12th man Theo Pinson.

RJ Barrett goes up for a layup during the Knicks' 114-104 over the Pistons.
RJ Barrett goes up for a layup during the Knicks’ 114-104 over the Pistons.
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The Knicks still didn’t have ex-Piston Derrick Rose (COVID-19 protocols) but that didn’t matter against the pitiful Pistons (10-27). All five Knicks starters had hit double figures by the end of the third quarter.

Julius Randle closed his brilliant season’s first half with 27 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. He’ll be in Atlanta on All-Star Sunday for his first appearance.

“We’re growing as a team, growing as a unit,’’ Randle said. “We got to go into the break and stay ready because the second half will be a beast.’’

Randle’s sidekick, RJ Barrett, may get there one day. He soared into the All-Star break with a 21-point, five-assist evening in which he shot 9 of 13.

Point guard Elfrid Payton was not only back in action after missing four straight games with a hamstring strain but started. He picked up six quick points, not showing rust with his ability to penetrate, setting the tone and finishing with 20 points in 35 minutes.

The Knicks closed the first half with panache. They went on an 18-4 run to go up by 15 points before a driving layup by Detroit’s Dennis Smith Jr. in the final seconds made the score 59-46 at halftime.

The run was sparked by Barrett, who fed center Nerlens Noel (12 points, 11 rebounds) for an alley-oop stuff. Barrett then drove hard for a tomahawk jam. One possession later, Barrett snatched a long offensive rebound and dribbled in for a layup.

Barrett scored 10 points by halftime, and Randle, selected to Team Durant in the All-Star Game earlier in the evening, racked up a double-double by halftime (18 and 10).

Meanwhile, Frank Ntilikina, who started at point guard the prior contest in San Antonio, continued his 3-point genius. After hitting 3 of 3 against the Spurs, he came off the bench in the first quarter and hit three straight in four minutes to make him 6 for his last 6.

Noel, their starting center with Mitchell Robinson injured, gave the Knicks a defensive spark in the first quarter with a monster block on a driving Sekou Doumbouya. The Pistons were rocky from the 3-point line, going 5 of 20 in the first half.

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Bulls’ Zach LaVine called cops on ‘obsessed’ fan at his home

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Zach LaVine had an unwanted visitor.

The Chicago Bulls star had to call the police after an “allegedly obsessed” woman showed up to his Chicago home and refused to leave on Thursday night, according to TMZ. 

The woman reportedly traveled from out of state, demanding to speak with the first-time All-Star, who was home at the time.

Police took her a local hospital for mental evaluation, and she has not been formally arrested or charged with a crime.

LaVine, 25, wrapped up first-half action with the Bulls on Wednesday and was drafted to Kevin Durant’s All-Star side for Sunday’s festivities in Atlanta.

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Blake Griffin a free agent after Pistons buyout

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Blake Griffin will be free to sign with the Nets or another interested NBA team after agreeing to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons.

The six-time All-Star forward “has interest from most of the NBA’s top playoff contenders and is expected to make a decision on his next team after conversations with prospective teams,” ESPN reported.

The Nets, Lakers, Heat, Warriors and Clippers – his former team — are among those that have expressed interest, according to the New York Times. ESPN.com added that the Blazers are interested

The 31-year-old Griffin hasn’t played since Feb. 12 while the Pistons attempted to trade him before the March 25 deadline, but they found no takers due to the remainder of his $36.6 million salary for this season and the $39 million he’s owed for 2021-22.

Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
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Griffin is averaging a career-low 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 games this season. He was dealt by the Clippers to Detroit in 2018, during the first season of a five-year extension worth $171 million.



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Broncos send a pretty strong warning to Drew Lock

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Drew Lock is no lock to remain the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021.

General manager George Paton and coach Vic Fangio both said Thursday that the team expects to bring in competition for Lock, possibly with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

“Obviously we’re always looking to bring in players at all positions that can raise the level of competition, and the quarterback is no different in that regard,” Fangio said, according to the team’s website.

“Until we get or until Drew proves to be the next great quarterback, like the ones that the Denver franchise has been used to in years past or certain teams around the league … are used to, we’re going to always try and bring in competition. But I have confidence that Drew can continue to improve.”

Lock made 13 starts in 2020 and tied with Carson Wentz for the league lead with 15 interceptions. He finished 32nd in the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 75.4 passer rating, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Wentz and Sam Darnold.

Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
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“Very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on,” Paton said Thursday. “But I’ve spoken with Drew, I see him every day. He’s here early. He’s working. He really wants to be great. And we’re always going to try to bring in competition at every position, and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew’s on.”

Lock, the Broncos’ second-round pick in 2019 out of Missouri, had started five games as a rookie, winning four of them. Denver went 4-9 with him as the starter last season.

“I’m confident that Drew’s going to continue to improve,” Fangio said. “Drew’s had a great offseason up to this point. There’s not a lot you can do, but he’s working hard on his own, coming over here and getting workouts, and I know he’s doing a lot at home by himself, watching video by himself. He’s got a good setup over there. And he’s doing anything and everything he can to improve, even in February and now in March.”

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