Defense on the plank tonight

Blazers come into town/Knicks minus Noah again

The New York Knicks (6-7, 3rd Atlantic Division) 10 point win over the Atlanta Hawks (9-4, 1st Southeast Division) Sunday night without the services of Joakim Noah.  They will really be severely tested tonight against the Portland Trailblazers (8-7, 2nd Northwest Division) duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

knicks-1“Not only Lillard, but that whole team,” Knicks guard Derrick Rose said. “They’re playing well. We know what Damian can do. McCollum is playing great, he’s becoming an All-Star-type player, and it’s a challenge. That’s what this league is about, challenges every night. It’s going to be different matchups and it’s about how you approach it.”

“I talked to him [Noah] this morning. He’s still feeling not so great. So we’ll see [Tuesday] morning if he’s any better,” coach Jeff Hornacek said Monday.

Great seats and affordable tickets for tonight’s game are still available so be sure to grab yours today and help cheer on your New York Knicks~!

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Felton Hopes for Fresh Start With Knicks

Felton sat courtside Thursday during the Knicks’ summer league game against the Toronto Raptors. It was his first appearance in his second stint with the Knicks, and it came around the same time that , whom the Knicks allowed to leave for the Rockets in favor of Felton, was finishing his introductory news conference in Houston.

When the game was over, Felton spoke as if he had prepared a statement himself — for the fans in Portland and New York, and for members of the news media.

“I’ve been listening to all those people talk about what happened in Portland last year,” he said. “I’m just ready to shut up a lot of people.”

Felton has wanted to return to the Knicks ever since he was traded to the Denver Nuggets in the deal that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York. But he did not expect these circumstances: to be following Linsanity and returning after the worst season of his career.

Felton and Lin, at least for this season and maybe longer, will be linked. When the Knicks agreed to acquire Felton in a sign-and-trade deal with Portland last weekend, the team told him that he — not Lin — would be the starting point guard.

“I think I’m better than any point guard,” Felton said.

The decision frustrated many Knicks fans who have questioned if Felton could be the same player he was two years ago as the Knicks’ starting point guard. Portland fans were upset with Felton after he showed up last season overweight once the N.B.A. lockout ended. He also struggled under the Trail Blazers’ former coach Nate McMillan, who was fired in March.

“I won’t make any excuses,” Felton said. “I wasn’t in shape.”

At the Cox Pavilion on Thursday, Felton appeared to have lost a good portion of the weight he gained in Portland. Felton would not say how many pounds he shed, but when asked if it was more than 20, he smiled.

“A whole lot,” Felton said. “I’ll leave it at that. I’m ready to play.”

Felton said he had been more motivated than usual this off-season to return to the player who averaged 17.1 points and 9 assists in 54 games with the Knicks in 2010-11.

Felton and Lin have this in common: they have played their best in the up-tempo offense of the former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.

Now, Felton will lead the offense for Coach Mike Woodson, who said just a week ago that Lin would be his starting point guard. Felton said he and Woodson had had good talks, and Felton feels he will be comfortable running Woodson’s system.

Amar’e Stoudemire was one reason Felton had the best season of his career in 2010-11. Stoudemire, who averaged 25.3 points a game that season, sat next to Felton during the second half of the summer league game.

“We developed great chemistry last time,” Stoudemire said. “We did something special the first year I was in New York. Now we have to make sure we continue that.”

Felton emphasized that besides losing weight he had spent much of his off-season training on becoming a better defensive player. His first task in training camp is to make sure his teammates are ready to play defense.

Stoudemire said he was excited to play with Felton again.

“With Raymond, expect him to be a bulldog,” Stoudemire said. “He’s going to play hard and not back down. That’s what we need.”

Felton felt he needed to be back in New York. He also knows he needs to change the conversation about him.

“The fans were great when I was there,” he said. “Hopefully, I get that same love. I’m ready to prove to them I’m the same Raymond Felton from two years ago.”

Knicks Get Boost in Effort to Retain Lin With Bird Rights

The Knicks can now exceed the salary cap to re-sign Lin and Novak — for up to $5.3 million each — while maintaining maximum flexibility to pursue outside free agents.

Without the Bird rights, the Knicks would have been forced to use their midlevel exception to sign Lin and would almost certainly have lost Novak to free agency. Now they can retain both players and save the midlevel slot for another player.

The settlement is a victory for the players union, which has asserted all along that players who are claimed off waivers — as Lin and Novak were in December — should retain their Bird rights, just as a traded player does. The opposed that interpretation, but an arbitrator, Kenneth Dam, sided with the union in a ruling issued on June 22.

The N.B.A. initially appealed the ruling. But with free agency set to open Sunday at 12:01 a.m., the league opted to negotiate a settlement, rather than prolong the dispute and risk confusion. Without a resolution, the Knicks would have gone into free agency without knowing what they could offer their players, or which exceptions were available.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that the current players, as well as future players, will be able to benefit from this rule,” said Ron Klempner, the union’s deputy general counsel. “It was very important that we resolve the appeal by July 1.”

The Knicks declined to comment on the settlement. The N.B.A. issued a statement that described the settlement’s parameters, but it declined to comment further.

Bird rights allow teams to re-sign their players without respect to the salary cap. A player who spends at least two straight seasons with a team earns early Bird rights, making him eligible for a salary up to the league average (about $5.3 million). A player who stays for three seasons earns full Bird rights, making him eligible for the maximum salary.

Under the settlement, a player who is claimed off waivers will get the same early Bird rights as a player who is traded. However, in a compromise by the union, a waived player can retain full Bird rights only if he is claimed through the new amnesty procedure. In all other cases, a waived player will be eligible only for early Bird rights.

The rule applies only to players who are claimed through the waiver process. Once a player clears waivers and becomes a free agent, he loses all Bird rights. The union’s stance has been that a player who changes teams via a waiver claim is analogous to a traded player because in both cases the player did not choose his destination.

The settlement applies to J. J. Hickson of the Portland Trail Blazers and Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers, who were also claimed on waivers last season. Both were granted full Bird rights, although the benefit could be meaningless under the circumstances.

The Blazers are under the cap and therefore do not need Bird rights to re-sign Hickson. Even without Bird rights, Billups is eligible for a 20 percent raise on his previous salary ($14 million), but at age 35 he is more likely to take a major pay cut.

So the clear-cut winner Friday was the Knicks, who now have a much better chance to keep their roster intact and to add a significant player. They are facing other cap-related challenges, however.

Under the new labor deal, a team can only use the full midlevel exception, worth $5 million, if it caps its payroll at $74 million ($4 million over the luxury-tax threshold). Any team that expects to exceed $74 million is limited to the mini midlevel exception, worth $3.09 million.

The Knicks already have $61.7 million in committed salaries for next season, before re-signing Lin, Novak, J. R. Smith, Landry Fields or Jared Jeffries. If Lin earns his full $5.3 million and Smith re-signs for $2.8 million, his maximum raise, the payroll will exceed $69 million — before adding another player — leaving the Knicks ineligible to use the $5 million exception.

Even if the Knicks traded Toney Douglas ($2.1 million) or other minor players to a team with cap room, it is highly unlikely they could re-sign their top players and still use the $5 million slot without exceeding $74 million.

Glen Grunwald, the Knicks’ general manager, acknowledged the quandary Thursday night, saying: “Whatever happens with our own free agents, it’s likely that we’ll be a taxpayer this coming year. So that’s why we would be operating under the three million number.”

Negotiations between teams and players can begin at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, although deals cannot be consummated or announced until July 11, after the N.B.A.’s annual moratorium. The league will use that 10-day period to finish the accounting on the 2011-12 season and to calculate the salary cap and luxury tax for next season.