The recent history of the New York Knicks is littered with abysmal play, a never-ending coaching carousel and a general lack of excitement for a fanbase starved for a winner.

But all that can be forgotten now that Madison Square Garden is rocking again in support of a team on the rise with a chance to make noise in the NBA playoffs.

After ending a seven-year playoff drought in a surprising first season under head coach Tom Thibodeau in 2020-21, New York is eager for more and might have enough to warrant the newfound optimism surrounding the franchise.

While the Knicks' first postseason appearance since 2012-13 was a short one – a first-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks – it signalled a rebirth for a franchise that had a league-worst .330 winning percentage (184-374) during a run of seven consecutive seasons without playoffs from 2013-14 to 2019-20.

A 41-31 record last season was New York's best since they went 54-28 in 2012-13 and those 41 wins surpassed their total from the two previous campaigns combined (38-110). Maybe that record can be at least partly attributed to a fluky, COVID-19 riddled campaign where the Knicks caught opponents by surprise, but a 25-11 home record and a 25-17 mark against the Eastern Conference shouldn't be overlooked.

Thibodeau was clearly the main catalyst for the reversal, bringing his trademark defence to a team that ranked 17th in opponent scoring (106.1) the previous seven seasons before his arrival. In Thibodeau's first term at the helm, the Knicks led the NBA in that category (104.7) as well as opponent field goal percentage (44.0) and opponent three-point percentage (33.7). He was named NBA Coach of the Year for the second time (Chicago Bulls, 2011).

Besides the obvious difference in the on-court product, Thibodeau brought instant credibility to a franchise that employed six different coaches since the 2012-13 playoff appearance. His .587 career winning percentage (400-282) ranks seventh among active coaches (minimum 100 games).

While team defence and the superb play of Julius Randle carried the Knicks last season, an offensive injection was needed to take the next step.

Bringing in the starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier has made the Knicks a more dangerous perimeter shooting team after Atlanta exposed New York's glaring lack of scoring depth in the playoffs.

In the five-game loss to the Hawks, the Knicks failed to break 100 points in the final three games and shot just 39.8 percent from the field overall. That wasn't a surprise considering New York ranked 26th last season in scoring (107.0), 21st in field-goal percentage (45.6) and 21st in field goals made (847).

Walker is a four-time All-Star who has been one of the NBA's most consistent point producers over the past decade. The Charlotte Hornets' all-time leading scorer, Walker averaged at least 20 points in five straight seasons from 2015-16 to 2019-20 before slipping to 19.3 last season with Boston.

Fournier was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Celtics after spending the bulk of his career with the Orlando Magic. He has shot at least 40 percent from three-point range in three separate seasons, including knocking down 41.3 percent last season with Orlando and Boston.

Fournier is averaging 13.8 points this season while connecting on 36.1 percent from downtown, starting all 12 games in the backcourt with Walker.

The three-point shot has become a much bigger part of the Knicks' arsenal compared to last season. After taking 30 three-point attempts per game last season, the Knicks have put up 38 threes per contest so far in 2021-22. That plus-eight increase is by far the biggest of any team this year with the Minnesota Timberwolves (6.8) coming next.

The volume of three-pointers has led to an offense that is averaging 110.8 points through 12 games this season, which is the seventh highest in the league. The last time New York averaged more than 110 points per game for a full season was the Patrick Ewing-led 1988-89 team (116.7).

Randle remains the leader and focal point for New York, emerging last season as an All-Star for the first time and winning the NBAs Most Improved Player award in a runaway. Randle set career highs last season in scoring (24.1), rebounding (10.2) and assists (6.0) and while his scoring has dipped to 21.9 this term, that is to be expected with more offensive options on the roster.

Still, Randle is one of five players this season leading their teams in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game, along with Luka Doncic, Paul George, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Randle could become the first player in franchise history to lead the Knicks in points, rebounds and assists in two different seasons.

In just his third season with the Knicks, he already has 15 games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. Only Ewing (148) and Carmelo Anthony (29) have more such games for the franchise since Ewing joined New York in 1985.

Randle's value to the Knicks was on display in last Friday's stunning comeback win at defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Randle outplayed two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo in the second half and finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds as New York overcame a 21-point deficit for a 113-98 win.

That marked the first time in franchise history that the Knicks overcame a 20-point deficit to record a double-digit victory since the NBA began tracking play-by-play in boxscores during the 1997-98 season.

Another key to that win was the stellar play of veteran guard Derrick Rose, who matched a season high with 23 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and zero turnovers. He finished with a plus-31 for one of the best marks in the league this season and not far behind his league best-tying plus-34, accomplished in a 121-96 victory over Orlando on October 22.

Rose has played the role of super substitute this season, averaging 13.3 points while shooting 48.9 percent (22 for 45) on three-pointers while amassing a plus-95 rating that is tied for ninth in the NBA.

The Knicks nearly did it to Milwaukee again on Wednesday, erasing a 24-point deficit before falling short in a 112-100 loss. Walker and Fournier combined for just four points, but Rose and Immanuel Quickley totalled 40 off the bench to spark the comeback.

Bench scoring has been another key to New York's early season rise on offense. The Knicks rank sixth in the NBA in scoring from reserves (39.6), with Rose, Alec Burks and Obi Toppin the main contributors.

Quickley has come alive recently, looking more like the player he was last season. The second-year guard has averaged 12.3 points on 48.5 shooting in his past four games after scoring 5.3 in his first eight contests.

Getting the best version of Quickley would help ease the pressure on Walker and Rose and would go a long way toward keeping the veteran duo fresh for the second half of the season.

RJ Barrett has been limited to 30 points in his last three games after he reeled off five consecutive games of at least 20 points, matching the longest streak of his young career. During that stretch, the 21-year-old averaged 25 points on 51.7 percent shooting (45 for 87) and 5.8 rebounds while knocking down half his three-point attempts (16 for 32).

Barrett's continued evolution as a scorer and complement to Randle's power game will be key for the Knicks and the early returns are promising. After shooting 49.1 and 51.1 percent at the rim in his first two seasons, Barrett has raised that number to 57.6 this season as he learns how to finish at the hoop and maximise his considerable physical tools.

As necessary as the improved offense was, it has come at a cost on the opposite end.

New York ranks 22nd in scoring defence (109.6) and that doesn't sit well with Thibodeau, judging by his recent postgame comments. That needs to be cleaned up if the Knicks are to compete against the best teams in the east for the long run.

The Eastern Conference appears to be much improved this season, with top contenders Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Miami leading the way. Cleveland, Chicago and Washington seem to have made huge strides and the Knicks are also in that mix of potential playoff teams.

Only the most diehard Knicks fan would dare dream of a championship this season but it's not a joke anymore to suggest that just maybe there could be one on the horizon.

Nine-time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis did not hold back in his criticism of the United States' performance in the men's 4x100 metres relay at Tokyo 2020.

Team USA have not won the event in 21 years and though they entered Thursday's heat as one of the favourites, they failed to qualify for the final.

It is the first time Team USA have failed to reach the Olympic final since 2008, though they have hardly had much fortune in the event since their success in Sydney.

Indeed, they have only once made it to the finish line cleanly, without any mistakes, when they claimed silver at London 2012. That medal, however, was conceded in the wake of Tyson Gay's doping ban.

This time around, a team including three of the fastest men in the world over 100m in 2021, fared little better.

Trayvon Bromell, Fred Kerley, Ronnie Baker and Cravon Gillespie finished sixth in the heat with a time of 38.10 seconds.

"We just didn't get the job done today," Kerley said. "That's all."

Sprinting great Lewis, who won two golds in the 4x100m relay, hit out at what he labelled a "clown show".

"The USA team did everything wrong in the men’s relay," Lewis wrote on Twitter. "The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than the AAU kids I saw."

He then expanded on his criticism in an interview with USA Today.

"This was a football coach taking a team to the Super Bowl and losing 99-0 because they were completely ill-prepared," Lewis said.

"It's unacceptable. It's so disheartening to see this because it’s people's lives. We're just playing games with people's lives. That's why I’m so upset. It's totally avoidable.

"America is sitting there rooting for the United States and then they have this clown show. I can't take it anymore. It's just unacceptable. It is not hard to do the relay."

HISTORY MADE BY SPAIN

Sport climbing and karate were two of the sports introduced for the Tokyo Games, and the first medals in each were won by Spanish athletes.

At the age of 39 years and 323 days, Sandra Sanchez became Spain's oldest Olympic champion as she triumphed in the women's kata, breaking the record set by Joan Llaneras in the velodrome in 2008.

Sanchez also became the first Spanish woman to clinch gold in martial arts since judoka Isabel Fernandez did so in 2000.

Her triumph was followed up by golds for France's Steven da Costa and Bulgaria's Ivet Goranova in the men's and women's kumite respectively.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to Sanchez, 18-year-old Alberto Gines Lopez became the youngest male Spanish athlete to strike gold at the Games as he pipped Nathaniel Coleman and Jakob Schubert in the sport climbing men's combined final.

"I think it will help the sport to grow, and for it to get more support. We need good installations in order to help the sport, and I think this will bring more support to the sport," the teenager said, before revealing his plans of celebration: "I'm going to break my diet. And then call my family and friends."

FOURNIER PREPPED FOR 'THE MOST COMPLICATED MATCH'

Team USA and France will meet in the final of the men's basketball competition, as the two favourites go head-to-head for gold.

Luka Doncic's shooting was off as Slovenia fell to an agonising 90-89 defeat to France, who beat the USA in the pool stage.

The European Champions, who also defeated the USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, now face a rematch against a side that has scored over 90 points in the last four games.

Evan Fournier, whose 23 points was second behind only team-mate Nando de Colo, knows what is in store.

"It represents a real step towards a dream, and the dream is to win the Olympics against the United States," said Fournier, who has just swapped the Boston Celtics for the New York Knicks.

"We have to rest and not let our minds wander, and prepare as much as possible, because there's a team waiting for us. They've prepared for us for two years, apparently, and because we beat them in the pool it will be worse, so it will be the most complicated match of the competition for us without any doubt."

SHOOT-OUT GLORY FOR BELGIUM

Beaten finalists in 2016, Belgium claimed their first hockey gold, and only their second in an Olympic team sport, after their men beat Australia 3-2 in a shoot-out.

Goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch was the hero in dramatic circumstances.

He made two saves before then denying Jacob Whetton, only for Belgium's celebrations to be cut short by a referral. However, Vanasch stood firm for a second time.

The shoot-out drama followed a 1-1 draw, with Tom Wickham having cancelled out Florent van Aubel's opener.

"What a feeling. You become Olympic champion, but twice [because of the referral] It's unusual," Vanasch said. "We had to calm down and go again. We knew that.

"I'm like a musician, it's a rehearsal and then you come to the concert and it comes naturally. That's how I come on the pitch. I'm composed, but also I trust myself, I trust my reflexes."

Australia have now won seven men's hockey medals across the last eight Games, while Belgium won their first gold in a team event since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, when their men's football team triumphed.

Luka Doncic explained an uncharacteristic poor shooting performance was the reason for his assist-heavy approach in Slovenia's Olympic semi-final defeat to France, despite appearing to sustain a wrist injury in the fourth quarter.

Slovenia – featuring at their first Games – agonisingly went down 90-89 to France following Nicolas Batum's block in the final three seconds of the game.

The European champions ran Les Bleus close even as Doncic attempted only two shots in the fourth quarter.

The Dallas Mavericks superstar looked to have taken a knock when he collided with a court-side screen early in the fourth but did not indicate any issue as he discussed his late preference for passes.

"My shots weren't falling today, so I was trying to find open team-mates," Doncic said.

Asked specifically about the final play when Batum blocked Klemen Prepelic's lay-up from a Doncic pass, he added: "I think Batum was helping so I had to pass.

"I think [Prepelic] was open and it was a great drive, but Batum had an amazing block. I think it was a good choice.

"Not always you can make a smart choice but I trust them, they trust me and I thought that was a good choice."

Doncic shot five-for-18 from the field and two-for-nine from three-point range but still tallied 16 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists.

He became only the third player in Olympic history to record a triple-double, following in the footsteps of Alexander Belov and LeBron James.

But having been beaten for the first time in Slovenia colours, falling to 17-1 after success at EuroBasket 2017 and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas, Doncic was not interested in individual achievements.

"We lost the game so I don't care about my performance," he said.

Doncic leads the Games in points (121) and assists (50) but has also drawn the most fouls (39) and played the most minutes (160) in a gruelling campaign.

Opponent Evan Fournier felt the point forward, who led the NBA in usage rate last season (36 per cent), tired under close scrutiny from the French defenders.

"It was the objective to target him all through the match, several of us in relay," New York Knicks signing Fournier said.

"Tim [Luwawu-Cabarrot] did an excellent job, Nico did an excellent job, and I think, as strong as he is, in a 40-minute match you still get tired physically.

"He wasn't taking three-point shots and I think if he'd been fresher he would have done."

Doncic said of the attention: "I'm used to every defense now."

Batum embraced the 22-year-old at the end of the game, with the duo facing off in yet another crunch contest after a seven-game playoff series between the Mavs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Doncic was on the losing side on that occasion, too, but averaged 35.7 points per game, and he said of the post-game exchange with Batum: "It was a good message. He's a class act. He told me he hates playing against me, in a good way."

"It's time to start looking like Team USA." That was the approach after a shock opening Olympics loss, Damian Lillard said, and the Games favourites delivered on Wednesday.

France had upset the United States in their first game, following up a 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup quarter-final triumph against the same opponents.

It was a defeat that will ensure doubts remain about Team USA's title aspirations for some time, but they at least got back to winning ways against modest opponents in Iran.

Lillard led the way in Wednesday's stand-out game, scoring 21 points in a dominant 120-66 success.

"I think after our loss to France we had two days between games and everybody just wanted to get back out there and get right," the Portland Trail Blazers guard said. "After that loss, we came together."

Lillard added of the Iran game: "I think we came out with a lot more urgency. Our energy was higher, we played at a faster pace. We were more aggressive, and we played like ourselves.

"We didn't come out here and think that it was just going to happen; we made it happen, and that's the way that we've got to play if we want to be successful in these Olympics."

'WE DON'T NEED HEROES'

Lillard's game-high tally – consisting entirely of seven three-pointers – was still significantly down on the 28.8 he averaged in the 2020-21 NBA regular season.

But that is exactly what coach Gregg Popovich wants from his team, knowing Devin Booker (16 points on Wednesday, 25.6 in the NBA), Jayson Tatum (14, 26.4), Zach LaVine (13, 27.4), Kevin Durant (10, 26.9) and Khris Middleton (10, 20.4) cannot all be the main men.

"Each of these guys scores 20 or 25 or 30 for their teams, and their teams depend on that every night," Popovich said. "We can't play like that, and so we don't.

"They appreciate each other and they know what their team-mates can do. They understand that good basketball is sharing the basketball.

"Everybody's, in a sense, kind of a role player now. We don't need heroes."

FRANCE TAKE TOP SPOT

Les Bleus built on their victory over Team USA and will now top Pool A ahead of the American side thanks to a 97-77 defeat of the Czech Republic.

France trailed 28-22 through the first quarter but turned the game around with a dominant second, settled 29-12 in their favour.

As against the United States, Evan Fournier topped the scoring charts, weighing in with 21 points on 62 per cent shooting.

BOOMERS BIGS WIN BATTLE

Australia also have two wins from two after edging Italy 86-83 on Wednesday, led by the frontcourt contributions of Jock Landale and Aron Baynes.

Landale led the Boomers with 18 points, but the pair crucially also finished with seven rebounds and a block apiece. Between them, they accounted for nine of the team's 16 vital offensive rebounds – Nick Kay added another four from the bench.

"Our bigs were huge today," said Utah Jazz wing Joe Ingles. "The rebounds, tip-outs – they got us a ton of extra possessions."

Elsewhere in Pool B, Nigeria's pre-tournament optimism might have given way after a second straight defeat that gives them a mountain to climb.

D'Tigers beat Team USA and Argentina in exhibitions but lost to Australia and then, on Wednesday, Germany – a 99-92 reverse despite 33 points from Jordan Nwora, fresh from playing a fringe role in the Milwaukee Bucks' run to the NBA title, including one minute and three points in the Finals.

Perhaps the biggest development at the NBA's trade deadline on Thursday saw a big player staying put as Kyle Lowry remained with the Toronto Raptors.

Veteran point guard Lowry, on an expiring contract, was seen as a potentially key pick-up for either the Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Lakers or the Miami Heat as they chase the title.

But the Raptors did not get a deal that appealed to them and will allow their greatest ever player to reach free agency.

There were significant moves elsewhere, though, as teams seized the last opportunity to agree trades.
 

ONE OUT IN TORONTO

Toronto, playing the season in Tampa, may have held on to Lowry, but they do not appear in contention this year at 18-26 and did deal Norman Powell.

The Portland Trail Blazers brought in the wing, one of the league's best three-point shooters in 2020-21, as Gary Trent Jr and Rodney Hood moved in the opposite direction.

Rather than one of the Raptors' shooters, the Heat will rely on Victor Oladipo, recruited from the Houston Rockets, over the coming months.

Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a draft swap was enough to do a deal with the Rockets.

Nemanja Bjelica also went to Miami from the Sacramento Kings for Maurice Harkless and Chris Silva.

And the Heat are said to be favourites for LaMarcus Aldridge after he was bought out by the San Antonio Spurs. Andre Drummond, another potential buyout, was not traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

THREE GO IN ORLANDO

As Toronto resisted the urge to take whatever they could get, the Orlando Magic did the opposite and cashed in.

All-Star Nikola Vucevic was a surprising early exit on Thursday as he went to the Chicago Bulls, along with Al-Farouq Aminu, in return for Otto Porter Jr, Wendell Carter Jr and two first-round picks.

Chicago added Daniel Theis from the Boston Celtics, but Lonzo Ball stayed put at the New Orleans Pelicans, while it was far from Orlando's only outgoing.

Evan Fournier headed to the Celtics, and the Denver Nuggets won the race for Aaron Gordon. His signing, along with Gary Clark, cost the Nuggets a first-round pick as well as Gary Harris and RJ Hampton.

Denver also added JaVale McGee in a deal with the Cavs.

RONDO RETURNS TO LA

Rajon Rondo, a team-mate of McGee's on the title-winning Lakers last season, has moved back to LA to join the Los Angeles Clippers.

Rondo played a big role in the playoffs for the Lakers and his signing cost the Clippers three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, sent to the Atlanta Hawks.

Western Conference rivals the Dallas Mavericks got two shooters from the Pelicans in the form of JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli, parting with James Johnson, Wes Iwundu and a second-round pick.

The Sixers landed George Hill in a three-team trade involving the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New York Knicks, while the Charlotte Hornets brought in Brad Wanamaker.

Two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic is being traded from the Orlando Magic to the Chicago Bulls in Thursday's first big deal ahead of the deadline.

The Magic were expected to be involved in developments prior to the trade deadline – at 15:00 ET (19:00 GMT) – as numerous teams reportedly show an interest in Aaron Gordon.

But star five Vucevic will be the first to depart as Orlando appear to acknowledge they are now focusing on a rebuild, with Evan Fournier following to the Boston Celtics.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said the Magic were sending Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu to Chicago for Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and first-round picks in 2021 and 2023.

The Celtics sent two second-round selections for Fournier, the report said.

Orlando are 14th in the East with a 15-26 record while the Bulls occupy 10th, the final play-in spot, at 19-24.

Vucevic was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2011 draft but was traded to the Magic after his first season in the NBA, having scored just 5.5 points per game in only 15.9 minutes.

The center has since turned into a reliable performer in the league, though, averaging 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds across his career.

Vucevic was selected for the All-Star Game in 2019, when he passed 20 points per game for the first time over a season (20.8), and again this year.

The 30-year-old leads Orlando with 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds, starting all 44 of their games.

He ranks 17th in the league for scoring, but none of the players above him in that list can match the Montenegrin for boards.

With wing Fournier also departing, having chipped in with 19.7 points, the Magic are losing their two leading scorers.

Forward Aminu had also been starting for the team, averaging 5.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 21.6 minutes in 2020-21.

Meanwhile, former Washington Wizards forward Porter leaves Chicago having played the same number of minutes per game this year, contributing 9.9 points and 5.5 boards.

Third-year center Carter had 25 starts in 32 appearances for the Bulls this season and was the team's leading rebounder (7.8) and fifth-highest scorer (10.9).

Chicago may not yet be done, with ESPN's report adding details of their continued interest in the New Orleans Pelicans' Lonzo Ball.

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