New York Notes: Claxton, Kemba, Noel, Thibs

The return of springy young Nets big man Nicolas Claxton to action could help improve the uneven play of All-Star shooting guard James Harden, says Mark W. Sanchez of the New York Post. Claxton, much like Harden’s former Rockets running mate Clint Capela, can serve as a prime rim-rolling recipient of Harden lobs. Claxton has appeared in just six Brooklyn games for the 2021/22 season due to a non-COVID-19 illness.

“It would be great to get Nic going again, getting him fully functioning again,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said of Claxton’s return. “We saw him Friday night and obviously it looked like he hadn’t played in a while, was fouling and just a little out of rhythm. And that’s normal for a guy who has had that much of a layoff, lost a bunch of weight, is trying to get himself back in shape. By the end of the year, we would love Nic to be a great add to what we do on both ends of the floor.”

On Tuesday night, in a 102-99 defeat of the Mavericks, Claxton suited up for nearly 21 minutes off the bench. The 6’11” big man logged six points and nine boards in just his second game back from his illness.

There’s more out of the Big Apple:

  • The Knicks would likely consult Kemba Walker were they to seriously consider trading the veteran point guard, per Ian Begley of Walker, a former four-time All-Star with the Hornets and Celtics, has been demoted from starter to DNP-CD, and has not suited up for New York at all since November 26. The 31-year-old is averaging career lows of 11.7 PPG, 3.1 APG and 2.6 RPG.
  • Knicks center Nerlens Noel returned to New York’s starting lineup, replacing Mitchell Robinson in the role, ahead of Tuesday night’s 121-109 victory over the 8-15 Spurs, per Steve Popper of Newsday. Noel took and made just one field goal, but also chipped in eight rebounds, three dimes, one steal and a block in the win. Robinson, meanwhile, enjoyed a terrific night with the second unit, notching 11 points and 14 boards. The Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak with the victory and returned to .500 on the season with a 12-12 record. Robinson conceded that, as a result of an offseason surgery and subsequent weight gain, he has struggled with his conditioning, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News“I’m getting tired real quick,” Robinson said before Tuesday’s game. “I run for about six or seven minutes, and then boom — I’m gassed. So it’s something I need to work on real bad … I wish I could jump right back into it and be who I was before the injury.”
  • Much like his former boss Jeff Van Gundy in the 1998/99 NBA season, current Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau may have to figure out major rotational changes to improve the up-and-down Knicks this year, per Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post. Among those adjustments, Vaccaro suggests potentially exploring more run for emerging second-year power forward Obi Toppin and rookie shooting guard Quentin Grimes, and possibly reducing the role of defensive sieve Evan Fournier, whom New York added on a four-year, $78MM contract via a sign-and-trade with the Celtics this past summer.
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