Lin, Knicks are surging up the NBA standings

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Lin, Knicks are surging up the NBA standings

From Comcast SportsNet

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- As Amare Stoudemire walked into the New York locker room with a towel over his shoulders, the coaching staff followed. When the door closed, one jubilant voice inside screamed: "How Bout Those Knicks!" How about em, indeed. Fueled by a dose of Linsanity and a timely coaching change, the Knicks are making a furious charge toward a division title. Knocking off a 76ers team in full swoon was the latest step. Stoudemire had 21 points and nine rebounds to lead the Knicks to their fifth straight victory, 82-79 over fading Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Jeremy Lin scored 16 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and Carmelo Anthony had 10 to help the Knicks pull within three games of the Atlantic Division leaders and clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker. "It's been our goal," Anthony said. "That's never changed." The game ended with thousands of New York fans chanting, "Let's go Knicks!" They had reason to celebrate after Stoudemire hit a pair of big buckets down the stretch to clinch the win. The Knicks scored fewer than 83 points in a win for the first time since Nov. 14, 2005, vs. Utah (73-62). Linsanity has turned into Winsanity as the Knicks are unbeaten since Mike D'Antoni stepped down exactly a week earlier. "I was sweating a little bit tonight," interim coach Mike Woodson said. "But I learned that my team is not going to buckle, and I honestly believe that they believe they can win any game that they play now." Elton Brand had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers. Jrue Holiday scored 16. This could be a crushing week for the Sixers with Boston set to visit on Friday. The Celtics are only a game back for the division lead and an automatic top-four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. "You've got to look at the division right now. Have to," Brand said. "We have to step up, win some games, and find a way to get some separation from New York and Boston." Each team was backed by a Hollywood heavyweight supporter: Co-owner Will Smith rooted on the Sixers and Spike Lee sat adjacent to the Knicks bench. Smith and Lee exchanged some laughs, and Smith pointed to his black 76ers cap when he was shown on the big screen in front of 20,470 fans. The Sixers shook off a miserable start and a double-digit hole to make a run at the Knicks in the fourth. Lou Williams, perhaps the NBA's best sixth man, nailed a 3-pointer that tied the game at 63-all. Stoudemire, though, returned the favor with a monster dunk and a loud roar that was gleefully met with cheers by all the Knicks fans. Stoudemire hit a pull-up jumper next time down and the Knicks led by four. Lin followed with a runner and Lee, wearing a No. 17 jersey, leapt from his seat and applauded as the Knicks ran his way for a timeout. Lin delivered from the free throw line, sinking two for an eight-point lead, then feeding Anthony for a 16-footer that gave the Knicks the breathing room they needed. Lin was 10 for 10 from the line. The Sixers kept coming, and nearly turned the game around in the final 2 minutes. Trailing by three, Brand blocked Lin's shot that led to a fast-break attempt for Andre Iguodala. Iguodala missed the layup, and the empty possession would finish off the Sixers. For good measure, Iguodala shot an airball in the final minute. "We have to do a better job of being a better unit," Iguodala said. Meanwhile, the orange and blue took over, and chanted for the Knicks, completing a double-dose of defeat for Philadelphia. The Sixers never led and trailed by as many as 12 points when they finally found a groove in the third. Thaddeus Young's dunk pulled them within two and Iguodala buried a 3-pointer from the corner -- only his third basket -- for a 49-48 lead. Philadelphia was invaded by a fleet of Knicks fans that gave this one a postseason feel -- for Madison Square Garden. But the Sixers fans came alive along with their team and went wild when, after the Sixers blew the lead, Williams nailed a 3 to pull them to 59-58 to end the quarter. Only 10 days earlier, the Sixers handed the Knicks their fifth straight loss, 106-94. Stoudemire sat alongside Anthony for the entire fourth quarter. Both were needed this time around, especially with Lin having a miserable first three quarters. He missed 10 of his first 11 shots and had only two assists -- one on a long pass to a streaking Anthony for a thunderous dunk. Lin wasn't the only scorer who couldn't buy a bucket. Iguodala, who averages 12.2 points, didn't score his first field goal until there was 45 seconds left in the first half. He scored 13 points. Of course, Linsanity is so 15 minutes ago now that Tebowmania headlines New York. "I'm just excited for him and to see what he does," Lin said after the Jets acquired Tim Tebow. "We'll see what happens next year. But I'm excited, obviously, that he's going to be in New York." The Sixers missed their first 14 shots -- Spencer Hawes even fired an airball on the 10th attempt -- and committed five turnovers in the first quarter. "Never seen anything like that before. 0-14?" Brand said. The only part more amazing than their futility from the court was that they only trailed by eight points. The Knicks did their part at the end. "We're building, we're getting better, we're feeling more confident," Lin said. "We're creating a team identity." Notes: Knicks G Baron Davis returned after sitting out two games with a strained right hamstring. "I want to make myself available," he said. ... Knicks F Jared Jeffries left in the fourth quarter with a sore right knee. ... Flyers Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds sat courtside. Hartnell tossed shirts into the crowd. ... The Sixers are 6-12 after a 20-9 start.

Curran: Texans perfectly positioned to slow down Brady and the Patriots

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Curran: Texans perfectly positioned to slow down Brady and the Patriots

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes in 14 of the 273 games he started and finished. The Patriots are 6-8 in those games. Among the 14 are three games against Rex Ryan’s Jets, including two in 2013 and the second game of the season in 2009. There’s also the 2015 AFC Championship against Denver, the playoff win over the Texans last year, and the season-opening loss to the Chiefs this year.

The common denominator in those six games? Outstanding defenses with coordinators and personnel that new Brady well and -- in all but the win over the Texans last January -- a dearth of wide receivers.

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Every year there’s a search for the BLUEPRINT!!! for slowing down the Patriots offense and making Brady look mortal. Google “blueprint for beating the Patriots” and you get 370,000 results. Many of those say the 2007 Giants crafted it first. Few of those mention praying for dropped interceptions and helmet catches in the final two minutes.

The most sure way to slow down the Patriots offense is to have really good defensive players who can bring pressure and (this is the key) hoping the Patriots are banged up at wideout and can’t do their usual damage in the middle of the field.

That’s your blueprint. And it’s in place this week. This isn’t saying the Patriots will lose to Houston, who I’ll wager won’t produce more than 10 offensive points. But I’ll also bet you straight up that Brady completes fewer than half of his passes against Houston.

No Edelman, Gronk with a groin, Danny Amendola coming back from concussion and Brandin Cooks still getting adjusted will leave the Texans knowing their key to success is jamming the middle and making Brady work outside.  

The Texans were fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt last season (5.83), second in passing yards allowed per game (201), first in first downs allowed per game (17) and second in completion percentage against (58.68).

Brady knows what’s coming. He talked about it earlier this week on WEEI with Kirk and Callahan, saying, “They were the No. 1-ranked defense in the league last year. I don’t think I completed many passes in that game, either. I think I was below 50 percent. They just did a good job of putting pressure and when you put pressure, the ball has to come out quick and they had a lot of guys in coverage, too. It was just tough to get rid of it quick. The one positive we took out of that game was we made a lot of big plays. Some teams are going to decide to take away some shorter throws, and they give up longer plays. I think we had seven plays over 20 yards in that game. We moved the ball pretty well. It just didn’t look super rhythmic."

The Texans were able to get pressure and drop a lot of guys in coverage because they have exceptional talent up front.

Brady broke down the Texans’ front on Wednesday, starting with J.J. Watt, saying, “Earlier in his career you used to kind of get a bead on where he’d be, [which] could help you out a little bit. But now they move him so much he’s going to really face every guy that you have up front. [He’ll] be on both sides, be inside, be outside. They run a lot of games. They’ve got a lot of scheme stuff that they use to try to get their guys free in the front, but all of those guys are exceptional athletes. J.J. is an incredible player. He’s been Defensive Player of the Year (three times). He’s got speed, quickness, power, he’s got all the moves, got all the counters. He’s just a tough guy to block.

“Then you pair him with Whitney Mercilus, who’s one of the most underrated players, I think, in the league in terms of rushing the passer to everything that he does to help that team. I know practicing against that guy how good he is. And then with Jadeveon [Clowney], he’s one of the most athletic guys in the league. He does some things that other people can’t do. He’s just size, speed, explosiveness. So all those guys on the same field at one time is a big problem for any offense. You don’t want to be holding the ball too long because you know that they’re going to get home at some point and I think that means we’ve got to really stay on track. We can’t have many negative plays. We’ve just got to play a really consistent kind of football for the entire game.”

The Texans are in a little bit of trouble at corner this week. One starter, Kevin Johnson, is down with an MCL and Johnathan Joseph will be playing with a shoulder injury that forced him from last week’s game against the Bengals.  

The Patriots made it look easy last week against the Saints, which caused people who’d been pointing out Brady was BORN IN 1977!!!! stare at their shoelaces for a few days. But they’re just resting because they’ll be back Sunday evening and into Monday with the same “old” song, ignoring the facts of the case.

The facts are that Brady -- with a full complement in the playoffs last year and the Texans missing J.J. Watt -- had his hands full to the tune of a 47.37 completion percentage, the lowest completion percentage in 34 career playoff games. Without Edelman in this season's opener (and losing Amendola midway through), he completed 44.44 percent of his passes -- fourth-worst among games he started and finished.

The key in this one could be Cooks. As Brady pointed out, the Texans yielded some chunk plays. Cooks, who’s got speed to spare on the outside, will likely be looking at press coverage that -- if he can be beat it -- will give him a chance to run under some Brady duck-and-chucks. And there will be some of those.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien -- whose defense is run by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel -- isn’t looking at the KC game as a blueprint. He’s looking instead at the 27 points scored and the points left on the field by New England.

“When I look at their offense, obviously they didn’t win the game, but there were several things that they did in the game that were very good,” said O’Brien. “They’re a very dangerous team on offense. They play fast. They play with great efficiency. They have a different game plan every week, different personnel that they’re using and so, it’s difficult. You don’t really know what to expect. The combination of Tom and Josh [McDaniels], the brains behind that offense, it’s hard. It’s hard to deal with that and we’re just going to have to see what it is when the game starts and do the best we can to keep up with what they’re trying to do and go from there.”

The Patriots offense knows generally what’s coming from Houston and vice versa. The Patriots won’t be “rhythmic” and there will be balls skipping in the general vicinity of where Brady hoped a receiver would be when he let it go with Watt or Mercilus bearing down on him. Bet on it.

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