Oh, the ups and downs of the long NBA season. The Knicks, very recently, looked like an up-and-coming team, coherent on offense and much improved on defense. How quickly things fall apart. A four game win streak was immediately followed by a three game losing streak, and the Knicks’ offense sure looked impotent in those most recent three losses.
I’ve been on record recently as a Miami Heat believer. It pains me to admit that, given my long standing hatred of Pat Riley and his stupid beachfront franchise. The Heat’s defense can be stifling at times and the Knicks showed their inability to hang with them for more than a half at a time. Hassan Whiteside is an absolute beast. The two losses we’ve been handed at the hands of the Heat are painful, but not quite as bad as the emotional aftermath would seem. The Heat are second to the Spurs in the NBA in terms of defensive efficiency. They can make you look bad.
The Rockets, on the other hand, have been very bad. They are near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency and in the bottom half in offensive efficiency. Dwight Howard has been on and off the court throughout the young season, which probably skews those numbers unfavorably, but the eye test would also suggest that Houston looks like a mess in all aspects of the game. Harden is typically disinterested in the defensive part of the game. Ty Lawson has been poor. The team, in general, looks like a bunch of individuals trying to figure out the game on an individual basis. There’s no cohesion, as Clyde likes to say.
Anytime you go up against a team with James Harden, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, and Terrence Jones you feel as though the deck is stacked against you. There are other names that jump out on any given night, and it’s hard to believe that the Rockets are as bad as they’ve been so far. On any given night, you expect that they’ll figure something out and go on a 10-game winning streak. The key for the Knicks is to exploit the Rockets’ lack of cohesion on the defensive end and limit the Harden express train to the free throw line. He’s going to stick out his arms and jerk his head back on every possession and you have to be smart about how aggressively you reach in on him. Porzingis ran a clinic on defusing James Harden’s wild forays to the rim in the clubs’ first meeting of the season.
Everyone has theories about why the Knicks offense disappears for long stretches. The bench has lost its early season luster and everybody seems to have gone cold at once. That’s going to happen. It’s also likely to happen against a team like Miami, as I mentioned above. The key is not to panic. I’d like to see the Knicks get Afflalo more involved via ball movement. He’s good at posting up and he’s good at flashing to the lane, off the ball. I’d like to see him triangulate with Melo and Kristaps some and get a few easy looks as team’s try to compensate for the double threat known as Melzingis.
I’m not sure what we’re going to learn about the Knicks from this game. I think it’s far more likely we’ll learn something about the Rockets, and whether they’re just a bad mix of players or a very good team working through some early season growing pains. For our sakes, I hope they’re a bad mix of players who wilt at the sight of our New York Knickerbockers. Let’s go Knicks!!!