Knicks look legit good; Donald off the hook; Plus ... position player pitching alert!

Nerlens Noel and the Knicks might be ... good?
Nerlens Noel and the Knicks might be ... good?
Image: Getty Images

The first time I saw Nerlens Noel was in his college debut, a 72-69 Kentucky win over Maryland in Brooklyn on November 9, 2012. Noel had only four points in that game, but nine rebounds, three blocks, and two steals. And before he accumulated most of those stats, he made an impression on me.

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Noel wound up getting drafted No. 6 overall after his freshman year, but he missed what should have been his rookie season due to knee surgery. He played for the 76ers, Mavericks, and Thunder before joining the Knicks this year. And in New York, Noel has found his home, valued not only by fans who appreciate defensive excellence, but by a coach in Tom Thibodeau who emphasizes it.

Noel made his 27th start of the season on Friday night, more than his total for the last three years combined, and he did what he does: six points on 1-for-1 shooting, with 10 rebounds and three blocks before fouling out after playing 31 minutes.

And one of those blocks, on Dorian Finney-Smith in the fourth quarter, was maybe the best rejection in the NBA all season.

Julius Randle scored 44 points and the Knicks beat the Mavericks, 117-109, for their fifth straight win — New York’s longest winning streak since 2014. At 30-27, the Knicks sit sixth in the East, only half a game out of fourth, and are closer in the standings to the third-place Bucks than they are to the Raptors-Bulls-Wizards morass in the battle for 10th place and the final spot in the play-in tournament.

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We’re still talking about the Knicks, so all chicken-counting caveats apply, but they went into Dallas in an ESPN game, led by as many as 12 points, and never let the Mavericks get closer than four after Randle’s three-pointer at the end of the third quarter. Randle has become the superstar the Knicks always wanted to sign in free agency but have always missed on, but a huge part of what’s happened is that with Thibodeau leading them and players like Noel, Taj Gibson, Alec Burks, and Reggie Bullock, a franchise that has spent decades in the NBA wilderness has finally rediscovered its soul.


That whole thing about Aaron Donald allegedly beating up a guy at a Pittsburgh club? Yeah, he didn’t do that — he was actually trying to break up the fight that left De’Vincent Spriggs with a concussion and multiple broken bones.

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“I certainly extend an apology to Aaron for any problems this may have caused him,” Spriggs’ attorney, Todd Hollis, told WPXI. “Aaron has certainly been through enough so we want to put this to rest.”

They certainly do want to put it to rest, because falsely accusing someone is a bad thing to do, and a thing for which someone could be held liable. Whoopsie-doozles.

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The Twins got their butts handed to them in Anaheim, so they let Willians Astudillo go to the mound, and the catcher dazzled in a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 inning, including showing off his 46 mile-per-hour eephus pitch.

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It’s like they always say, when you throw the off-speed at 46, the fastball at 72 looks like Mach-2.

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In much less enjoyable news, the Twins are the latest team dealing with a COVID-19 case.