Houston Rockets 123 – New York Knicks 125 – Game Recap

Sometimes you have to look up at every chance you get to have faith that the future will be better, because it just has to be. Sometimes you feel like the only sane person in the room, keeping your cool while everyone else goes insane at the first hint of trouble or, on the other hand, tries to pass everyting off as if it was bad fake news.

Today I went for a walk because I had to go fetch a traffic pass in downtown Bologna and getting there by foot is the quickest way to go. The streets were almost desert. A few cars were passing by, and I encountered just five people on a 35 minutes walk. I fetched the traffic pass and went to eat something. I love sushi, and you know it. I felt a little craving for some sweet uramaki, but as luck would have it every single sushi (to be honest: asian fusion, as in “Japanese-like restaurant owned by all sorts of Asian people”) restaurant was closed. Then again, it was cold, so I didn’t mind eating something warmer, and as I found a Chinese restaurant open I went straight for the door.

I entered the place, and, well… I was the only customer. A joint that probably on its best days feeds a hundred people was completely empty. I sat at the table, I ordered my spring rolls, my spicy chicken and shrimps, and vegetables as side dish, and ate well intent at checking my social media feeds. The food was goodish but honestly nothing remarkable. I wouldn’t recommend to eat there, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to avoid it. It was the Arron Afflalo of the Chinese restaurants: a perfectly serviceable place that just doesn’t move the tiniest needle in your overall life. I still left the poor waiter a generous tip. I felt sorry for him and his wasted day at work.

This, guys, is life in March 2020 in the so-called yellow zone in Italy. Coronavirus has hit hard, much harder than I ever thought it could. It’s not about numbers per se: while a little more than 2,250 cases (79 deaths) are nothing to scoff at, the vast majority of infected people is feeling well, sometimes even being totally asymptomatic. Bologna and its suburbs amount to around one million people, and there are three registered cases as of now. But it’s not the virus that has hit that hard. It’s the sheer fear. Cinemas and theaters are closed by government decree. Citizens are advised to stay at home if they can.

February 21st was the day when the first Italian patient was discovered. By February 23rd the supermarkets were assaulted by people that felt like they needed to stock up food for a month in a nuclear vault. I’m not kidding you when I say that entire shelves were emptied in 20 minutes (but not penne lisce. Don’t ask real Italians to eat pasta that’s not striped. Penne rigate, tortiglioni, conchiglie rigate is the way. Otherwise the sauce won’t stick).

As I was saying at the beginning, I kept my cool through it all. But hope is a flickery thing, isn’it? So while I’m not worried about my own health, I can’t say the same for my parents (who both are 65+, and it looks like this virus goes hard at old people, especially if they suffer from other serious illnesses) but most of all for the whole economy. We’re at day 10, and I think we’re pretty much fucked for the 2020. Foreign tourists won’t come here in Italy as they were used to, and Italy has an estimated GDP of 150 billion dollars in tourism alone, which amounts to 7.5-8% of the whole national shebang. Italian products might be looked with mistrust for the next months. We’re probably due for a small but heavy recession. And our economy wasn’t that good to begin with, so…

In short: I fucking needed this win. I love sports. They are one of the few things that, when all goes well, give you a boost for no discernible reason. And you just take that boost and don’t look back.

***

The game was very entertaining: our Knicks were busy exchanging blows with the Rockets from the get-go, with RJ Barrett building up on his good performance against Chicago, ending the first quarter with 14 points and a couple gorgeous feeds to his fellow Bockers (in particular a pass to Mitch who was left entirely alone under the rim. It was eerily reminiscent of those night when I used to play in my room with a Nerf hoop and fantasized about being 6’8″ and dunking at will in the NBA. Mitch’s bucket was that easy). All the Knicks were pretty solid, but the reserves were the real protagonists, especially in the second quarter when a scorching hot Wayne Ellington went on to hit 4 threes in a row and a Bobby Portis bucket put the Knicks up by 21 (!) with 5:26 to go. It was clear that it wasn’t destined to last, but it was really fun. RJ ended the half with 19 points. Randle wasn’t that good but rebounded well.

The Rockets are a weird, uncompromising yo-yo team. They can fall back by 15 or be up 30 and they’ll play the same way, so given that threes have a inherent high variance you can never be safe enough playing them. In fact, the lead would be cut to ten at the end of the first half, thanks to strong play from Covington and Danuel House. Westbrook and Harden were fine but a bit dormient. You could feel a rolling boulder comeback from the Rockets, all but certain that the Knicks would end being destroyed by the most brilliantly annoying team in the League.

But that wasn’t the case!

In fact, the Knicks went up by 17 again with 5:38 to go in the third behind good all-around effort and savvy play (it didn’t hurt that sometimes Houston slept off entire defensive possessions). But the two headed backcourt Houston beast awoke, with Harden hitting his first three of the night with 2:08 to go in the third and a second one right at the end of the quarter, ending the stanza at 101-91.

The fourth quarter looked like a playoff game. The crowd was in it, and the Knicks were too (except for Elfrid Payton, who sometimes can’t be brought to give a damn on defense and was rightfully subbed off for Ntilikina, who looked like an NBA player last night, even on offense and for RJ Barrett, who looked gassed until the last possession vindicated his bad second half play). 101-95 gave way to 103-101, which in turn gave way to 111-106 (on a Frank pull-up!), which gave way to 118-109, which ended up seeing the Knicks just up 122-121 with 28 seconds to go. Here, RJ went onto his baptism by fire. He took the ball, chose to iso his way and bullyball-ed his way to a bank layup. From there, a Randle free throw and a great Frank defensive possession on Westbrook ensured the win.

I pumped my fist.

***

You can’t really argue with the last two wins. Mitch (17.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, a criminal 24.5 MPG), RJ (23 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4 APG, 18-28 FG, 6-12 3P, 30.5 MPG), Frank (7.5 PPG, 4 APG, 6-12 FG, 22MPG) and Knox (9 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3-5 3P, 19 MPG) were all a big part of them.

This is what hope looks like. This is what I want from now on (but I need more minutes for Mitch! Who cares about Taj’s veteran leadership. We’re 21 games from another trip to the lottery. Stop this madness). This is something I can look at with eager eyes. This is why we follow the team.

Fuck you Covid19.

An honest assessment of the second part 2019/20 Knicks season – Or how I learned to stop worrying and ignore the void

Hi fellow Knickerbloggers, it’s your friendly neighborhood Farfa.

You might think I’ve given up entirely on this Knicks season. In fact, I pretty much think the same. The recap exercise has quickly become pointless once we hit the deadline and still play the “wrong” guys. Who cares what happens during the long stints where our lineup doesn’t feature at least three potential future pieces (and no, I’m not counting Randle among them)? Is there a goal in trying to describe the impact of Harkless on our rotation (by the way, it’s pretty close to zero).

I wouldn’t say I’m a great writer, especially in a foreign language. But I also think I’m not that bad. Here’s the thing, though: if you want to write something compelling, the subject has to elicit something in you, whatever that is: amusement, love, passion, disgust, hate, ridiculousness, really whatever. There are thousands of ways to imbue a single fact with all sorts of flavors; you just have to identify the right flavor, and bam! Narrative.

The sad truth, though, is that the 2020 Knicks don’t provide anything. You can be the best at seasoning food, but nobody will eat just the sauce if there’s no meat at all.

So here I am, wondering what to make of the many games I’ve seen in the last two weeks (because, seriously, I’m Pavlov’s dog when it comes to Knicks. As long as there is a Knicks game, you can take it for granted that I’m watching it. Even if it makes me curse at the screen. And yeah, these games don’t even make me curse. The rotations do, but the games leave me just meh). Do I go on another rant about the fact that it makes no sense not to start Mitch? Or to take him off the court as soon as he gets to two fouls because I don’t know, maybe Miller’s mistaking basketball fouls for baseball strikes? Do I go on writing furiously about the latest Randle high handle-caused turnover? Would you like it? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t. Even the truest argument gets thrown out as empty words after you’ve repeated it too much (see: Thunberg, Greta).

I can promise you this: there will be at least another recap from now to the end of the season. But there needs to be something at stake. Take last night’s game, for example: did anyone care about what happened on the court? How can someone care when Wayne Ellington gets thrown into the fray before a kinda hot in the previous two games Allonzo Trier does? Trier is as much a free agent as Wayne is entering the 2020/21 season, but his path in the League should be a little different. He should still be on the rise, or at the very least he plateaus for the next two years. Zo’s not that young, but he’s still hungry and will not demand a huge salary. Plus, I think he’s a RFA. For chrissakes, just play him 20 minutes on a night when Frank and DSJ aren’t available in the second half!

Miller’s first 20 games were kind of encouraging. Now he’s just as perplexing as Fiz was, at least in terms of rotations and playcalling. He’s more solid, but just as perplexing. The team isn’t disjointed, but he looks incapable of understanding which players will help him win games (because I think that’s his only goal right now, lame duck as he is after the Stoute special).  But you know that already.

In short, what I’m saying is that I’m here. I’m following the games. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to write something that doesn’t look like a chewed out 2019 post (but that doesn’t mean I won’t write something else entirely, maybe detailing a few draft prospects – by the way, read this piece from Tjarks on The Ringer, it’s nothing special but it’s quite good at telling everyone what the Knicks have done wrong in the last three years – without even talking about the Knicks!).

Bless your souls.

Washington Wizards 114 – New York Knicks 96 – Game Recap (sort of)

Nine years ago I was a contestant at the Italian version of “Who wants to be a millionaire?”. I’ll tell you how it all went down.

I applied for consideration as kind of a joke between me and my girlfriend from that time. I got a call three days after applying: fifteen rapid fire questions about a vast array of subjects, ranging from extra easy to quite hard. I think I nailed 13 of them. “We’ll keep in touch, don’t worry”. And they did. After a week, they booked me a train to Milan to go and take their written test. It was something resembling a mid-term exam: 70 minutes to get 20 multiple answer questions and 12 open-ended ones about everything between “Who wrote *semi-obscure Italian song* and why?” to “Who won Serie A in 1985?”. I passed the test and the very same day there was a meeting with the show authors. Another batch of questions, a bit of small talk, and after 30 more minutes another step was taken towards tv stardom and unimaginable riches. But it wasn’t over! The last challenge before becoming a contestant was to endure a two hour and a half (not kidding) telephone conversation where they asked everything about anything until I was almost physically exerted to the point of dehydration – mind you, it wasn’t stressful; it was physically straining. You weren’t even allowed a bathroom break during the phone call.

Anyway, all went well and I got selected. For a month, nothing happened. Then there came a day when they called me and said “hey, are you free next Wednesday?”. Of course I wasn’t – I already had a vexing job, but whatever, chances like that aren’t a dime a dozen, so I made myself free. I went to Milan again to take part in the actual show, but nothing. The first day I didn’t get called to the main stage. This went on for another three days during the subsequent two weeks (once they even paid for accomodation since they needed for me to sleep in Milan as to already be there in the early morning – but again, nothing). Then, finally, on a fateful June 13th in 2011 I got my chance. I knew I would have: the most they can keep you waiting is five days, and I reached the limit right there. So I just had to “play” that day. And I did.

I won’t bore you with the actual questions, just let it be known that along the way there was this one: “Mordillo the dog eats only on odd days. How many times does he eat in March? (14, 15, 16, 17)”. Authors recommend you left and right to take your time in answering because seeing a contestant thinking out loud makes half the show. I’m good at talking sweet nothings, but I honestly didn’t see the point in treading water on such a stupid question, so I literally answered “Ok it’s 16, it’s good, let’s move on to the next question” before the host even had a chance to say anything. It has to be one of the top-10 most smug moments on national tv to this day.

Anyway, I got to the 10k question with the “phone a friend” lifeline still in hand. At the time, it was the 9th out of 15 questions to get to the top.

The question was this one: “During his adventures, which one of the following characters gets to step onto the island of the Busy Bees? (Pippi Longstocking; Alice; Pinocchio; Winnie the Pooh)”. Now, I didn’t know the answer for sure. Keep in mind that (at least in Italy) 30% of what you win in TV shows immediately gets paid in taxes, so I would have won “just” 7k if I answered correctly using the last lifeline (when you’re out of lifelines you’re already cooked – so that would have been my last step for sure). So I thought: will 7k change my life? No. Did I came here after all that (the selection process, the wait, the weariness) just to win 7k? Also, don’t bees make honey? And aren’t bears totally in love with honey? And isn’t Winnie the Pooh a bear?

I basically went for broke because at that time it looked like the only right thing to do: there was too much “work” done before that, I had no business going back home with a small sum. I had to keep my last lifeline at least for the 20k question. So I went in.

Needless to say, I lost. The correct answer (and using the last lifeline would have been extremely useful: it’s literally the first result when you Google “Busy bees”) was Pinocchio. So I went home with nothing apart from the aforementioned smug moment which will probably outlive me. Oh, I also snuck in a kinda dirty joke that pretty much nobody got. Yeah, I’m a riot.

But you know what? I never regretted it. Part of that is geography and family luck: my socioeconomic milieu is such that 7k really don’t change your life, so I could afford to lose them without blinking. But part of that is the nature of the game. You’re on national TV. If you’re lucky (and good) you probably get to participate three times in your life to such games. You can’t squander the chance just to take home small prizes. I feel like I had to shoot for the moon. I still do. I never regretted the choice.

After watching the last few games, and all in all the last few Knicks seasons, I’m pretty confident that Perry (and to a minor extent Miller) would have gone the last lifeline route. There’s value in self-restraint, and I appreciate it. But this doesn’t look like it. It looks like barely respectable mediocrity. Is this what we should get after 17 losing seasons in the last 20?

Case in point, another game in this terrible season.

Our Knicks fought decently in the first half, going into halftime up by four (while both teams were bricking everything in sight). The effort was uneven, and the minutes were even more than that. To compound the below-average minutes allocation, puzzlingly Miller chose to go with DSJ as the backup PG without getting Frank in as a secondary PG as well. DSJ went on to turn over the ball 4 times in 4 minutes. It was one the most pathetic outings at PG I can remember. Anyway, DSJ wasn’t able to do much damage because he played just six minutes total. I mean, he sucked so much that he actually forced Miller’s hand not to play him anymore during the second half. Even more discomforting, in the second half the wheels totally came off and the Knicks went at first down six, then down 15, and then down 20. They didn’t even try to retaliate: they were content sucking, as if it was their natural state of being. And maybe it just is.

When you lose by 20 at home to a bad team, you’d hope that your guys at least showed something in terms of promise and development, right?

TOTALLY WRONG.

RJ Barrett: 29 minutes, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 0 (!) assists, 5/16 from the field. At least he hit all six of his free throws, but it was a total stinker by the shooting impaired rookie. Here at least I have no gripes, he played a lot.

DSJ: retching

Frank Ntilikina: 12 minutes, 0 (!) points, 1 (!) rebound, 3 assists, 1 steal. When Frank posts line like this one, I can’t help but feel like he’s basically a styrofoam placeholder out there who just happens to move laterally well and in sync with his man. Badly discouraging.

Kevin Knox: 10 minutes, 2 points, literally nothing else. If Frank’s a styrofoam placeholder, Kevin’s a cardboard one.

Mitchell Robinson: 18 minutes (foul trouble but honestly who the hell cares, leave him in and go from there, I’m sick of this foul management bullshit in a lost season), 11 points, 8 boards, 1 block. Also, -9 +/-. Mitch is very good in a vacuum, but a truly good coach has to find a way to make his impact felt on the game, night in and night out. Right now it looks like Miller is trying to get to the grocery store with a Lamborghini. Sometimes you’ll have three free miles on main street and everything will look awesome, but as soon as you have to swerve right you’re tempted to ditch the Lambo for a steady Prius. No, Mike! You have to play Mitch! Don’t be such a (respectable) wuss! Show us you have balls!

Sorry. I know. I always say the same things. But that’s the only thing that should matter now. I like winning. I like competing. But there’s no point in that. So there’s no point in watching these games with an open mind or some sort of hope.

As JK47 said, this season is salvageable to a fan only if you watch the team as farcical. Everything else will end up pulling a Cthulhu on your mind.

So stay strong, enjoy the All-Star rest, and be ready to sport a sad smile everytime this team steps on the court from now to April. And hope for the draft.

Orlando Magic 103 – New York Knicks 105 – Quick Recap

How fitting that we got a brand new KB look for this new Knicks course, devoid of Mills and Mooks and full of picks and Roses!

What’s that? It’s not really a new course? Are you saying that because in the end the team is the same minus a certain SF/PF? Or maybe because we got to win the third game in a row? Or maybe because the young players still don’t play that much? Well, you’re right.

Now, winning every now and then is physiological and winning at home always feels good, but watch this:

– Elfrid Payton, starter: 34 minutes – 1+1 years
– Frank Ntilikina, starter: 14 minutes – 2 years + RFA (plausibly)
– Reggie Bullock, starter: 3o minutes – 1+1 years
– Julius Randle, starter: 30 minutes – 2+1 years
– Taj Gibson, starter: 30 minutes – 1+1 years

– RJ Barrett, bench: 18 minutes – rookie!
– Mitch Robinson, bench: 19 minutes – 3 years + RFA (plausibly)
– Dennis Smith Jr, bench: 15 minutes – 2 years + RFA (plausibly)
– Kevin Knox, bench: 17 minutes – 3 years + RFA (plausibly)
– Bobby Portis, bench: 19 minutes – 1+1, buyout candidate
– Wayne Ellington, bench: 19 minutes – 1+1, buyout candidate

Is this what you want to see in a cellar-dwelling team? Because I don’t. I know, it seems trite at this point, but you can’t really stress enough the fact that if you’re losing and have pretty much no hope for this season, you shouldn’t waste time hunting for wins on the heels of guys who very, very likely won’t be here next year. Randle, I have no qualms with – especially if he plays like last night and “wobbly handle” doesn’t rhyme with his surname. Spot minutes for other guys who don’t actively hurt the team, I have no qualms with (15 minutes for Taj and Bullock can’t be bad, maybe even 10 for Ellington if Dotson and Trier can’t dress and RJ has to be eased back into the rotation). Payton on 28 mpg is okay, he’s the best PG we have and it would hurt not to have someone orchestrating things. From there, go with young and unproven guys and never look back.

Mike Miller is without a doubt someone who understands the basic areas of basketball, and that’s a vast improvement over a few guys we had in the last years and probably over some other guys employed around the league (Luke Walton comes to mind). The problem is that he’s been given 3000 random Lego pieces and he’s (likely) been told “show us you can do something with this!”. While Fizdale would probably have just stacked 25 4×2 studs without matching colors and called it a day saying “I built a futuristic lightsaber, don’t you see? Bzzzz bzzzz, *hand over mouth* Luke, eat what you kill”, Miller seems content building small red houses with flat roofs instead of trying to understand if there are a few pieces that might help build the UCS Millennium Falcon. Mike, we get it: you can do something with what you’re given. But what you’re doing is pointless. Nobody wants to post a pic on himself with 50 identical 3″ x 3″ Lego houses on the ‘gram.

Anyway, the game was pretty entertaining, what with all the stealing (Payton notched 8, a personal career high and just one short of the Knicks record) and three point bombing (Ellington came alive for a brief stint, hitting three triples in a row to cut the Magic lead). And a bit of dunking too, courtesy of Mitch and Randle.

On the positive side, Barrett looked goodish, even if he keeps shooting very very inconsistently: the form isn’t bad, but he never gets off the same shot type twice in a row. Payton looked good again, hitting 7 of 13, thieving 8 balls, dishing 9 assists and generally looking spirited while leading the charge. Randle looked relieved without Mook, but that might just be because the Magic aren’t really suited to defend burly, crafty types – and he blocked two shots in the same quarter! That’s rare. Taj did a very good job – even if that shouldn’t hamper Mitch’s playing time.

On the negative one, Knox was simply awful, missing all of his 5 shots and being totally terrible on defense (Terrence Ross looked like he had bought a Disneyland fastpass to the rim everytime Kevin was on him); Frank didn’t play enough even if he didn’t suck that much; Mitch didn’t play enough even if he looked lost at times, fouled a couple times in a stupid way, and got burned on defense by Vucevic (but the very negative point is that Mitch can’t crack 20 minutes and we don’t actually know why; it might be that Miller’s trying to teach him something, but it’s clearly not working); we played Portis.

Only one last thing (this is gonna be brief, as the Muse said time’s running out): Miller has won 12 games in 30 tries. Fiz won 21 in 104. I can’t still wrap my head around Fiz’s sheer incompetence.

Let’s see where this new CAA-branded course will take us (nowhere good is my guess)!

Brooklyn Nets 97 – New York Knicks 110 – Game Rec… who am I kidding

On Sunday, February 8, 1998 my mother’s only brother got killed in a car accident (he was waiting for his turn to enter a roundabout when a drunk driver lost control and slammed violently against his car). He was just 52 years old.

It was the first time that I had to deal with the concept of abrupt death in my personal life. Sure, I had already lost three grandparents – to be fair, I never even met two of them, my mother’s parents – and had seen my fair share of old people succumb to multiple health problems, but I never had to witness what such an event brings into your inner personal nucleus.

Frankly, it was devastating. It wasn’t exactly devastating for me: somehow I always had this attitude towards tragedy where I’m apparently unflappable because in the end I’m a fucking pussy who’s so afraid to feel pain that tries his best (worst?) to feel nothing at all. But when it comes to tragedy for the few people who’re close to me, I don’t know how to deal with it. It’s like I have this switch that clicks inside of me: I can comfort people as well as anyone but then everything inside of me resonate with sadness because I physically see the angst and sorrow of the people I let into my life so sooner or later I burst into tears and become as vulnerable as can be.

While my uncle died around 10:00 PM of February 8th, the news of his death didn’t get to my mom until the next day. On Sunday night we were at my father’s mom place to eat a pizza after the basketball team I played for lost badly in the afternoon (as we always did. We fought, we scrapped, we lost by twenty. I still remember I scored 11 in that game hitting 2/2 from three) and, given that at the time cellphones weren’t a thing, we just got a message left to the answering machine where my uncle’s wife asked to be called the next day.

The day after, the 9th (which coincidentally was also my mom’s 50th birthday) I went to school completely oblivious ot the fact. I discovered what happened just as I came home and I knew it even before anyone said anything. It was self-evident just by looking at my mom. My uncle was the last close relative she had left.

My mom is from Sicily. In the 1950s the Sicilian hinterland was a very poor area, and people were leaving left and right to search for more favorable economic opportunities elsewhere; my mom’s father left his family when she was 3 to find his luck in Argentina. Nobody ever knew anything about him after that. When she was 19, my mom, her brother and her mother left her Sicilian hometown to come to Bologna where an uncle of hers made a not so small fortune selling military spare parts. Sadly my grandmother got sick and by the time my mom was 21 she was gone too. My mom were left to tend to her brother until he finally met his eventual wife a few years later. Still, my uncle was everything that was left of my mom’s roots.

My mother is the portrait of selfless sacrifice. She’s not very attached to her regional roots, and if I have to be honest she doesn’t even self-identify as Sicilian; nevertheless, family roots are an entirely different thing. Her brother’s death was the definitive blow about that: she was left alone. Not in the sense that she didn’t have anyone else: of course she got my father, she got me, she got friends and a job and everything else; but she didn’t have anything that could have worked as a geographic origin compass.

So, looking at my mom, going to comfort her, everything broke inside me. I remember everything very vividly. I remember exactly what I was eating while we were in the very early stage of coping with the tragedy (a surpirisingly tasty maccheroni with ricotta, parmesan and black pepper; even in utter despair, my mom couldn’t bear the idea that me and my father would eat less than perfect food); I remember watching how the neighbour was parking his car in the backyard (badly, and slightly grazing the tree that was in the middle of the parking area); I remember the fact that my mom asked us not to say anything at all, since even a single word would have been too much (and this is one of the things that I have more trouble at doing: I need to rationalize things, and I’m unable to do that if I can’t talk to people).

I also remember that Italia1, a national TV channel, would have broadcasted the 1998 NBA All-Star Game starting at 2 PM. So after we ate in total silence, shedding countless tears, I retreated into my room to… I don’t know. To try to feel better and to get emotionally stronger.

You probably remember how All-Star Games used to be. They never were deeply competitive, but they weren’t also the ridiculously showboaty thing that they are today. You could see that the players were actually giving a damn. It was still basketball, played by the best players in the world.

In the second half of that game, there was something that was immediately able to soothe a bit the numb, deaf grief that was pervading me. A 19 year old Kobe, at his first ASG, went streaking down the right lane, ball in his care, while Dikembe Mutombo was backpedaling, ready to protect the rim. This was peak Mutombo, mind you. Kobe just dribbled the ball behind his back, throwing Deke off just a bit, and went on to score on a weirdly gracious sideways baby-hook.

It was a thing of beauty.

It was something that calmed me a bit. The inherent poetry you find in many aspects of life. The song you listened when you finally got over the fact that your first girlfriend dumped you. The wine you drank after those lab tests came back and were positive. The movie you went to watch and laughed at even if you had been fired from your job just three hours earlier.

I always thought of Kobe everytime I thought about that day. It was the first ray of light after the deepest sadness I had known till then.

***

I wasn’t a Kobe fan for much more. It was just two-four years after that game that teen Kobe made way for arrogant if ubertalented, young brash threepeater Kobe; six years after that game there was the Colorado thing (it’s ok if you want to overlook it today, but it never faded away, and I can’t condone it – I have to say, though, that he handled things as admirably as possible after it got settled out of court); then Kobe went on to fully embrace the MJ myth by essentially marketing himself as a basketball perfectionist psycho maniac, alienating a lot of people in the process. There was the second half of game 7 against the Suns where he took only three shots in evident spite of his teammates (it was the Smush Parker years in Lakerland). There was his second stint as NBA champion, where he was clearly the main man out there for the Lakers but sometimes it looked like the team was playing better when he wasn’t doing too much. There was his career twilight, dictated both by father time in general and an Achilles’ injury in particular. Through it all, I found it hard to root for him. I’m not at ease rooting for guys who aren’t team players, and I’m even more put off by guys who are heralded by mainstream media. I simply loved seeing the 2004 Lakers losing against the team-driven Pistons.

I wasn’t a Kobe fan, but he would always have been the guy who reignited my heart on that fateful day.

***

Oh, we won the game. Mike Miller kept on being a disappointment (even if I keep on saying that’s a disappointment by proxy, ultimately it’s Pills’ fault) and played the vets a lot and the youngsters a lot less. Who cares anyway. This was a tragic day, and the only thing we can do when tragedy strikes is to hold our dears close and don’t let go, like I did with my mom when my heart started beating again after a young man performed a wondrous athletic feat on a stupid basketball court.

Los Angeles Lakers 100 – New York Knicks 92 – Game Recap

Not every 45th game in a 12-32 season is the same. Most of them are useless affairs that deserve to be watched in bits between Jeopardy! reruns and local TV news reportages, win or lose. And then there are the games that bring with them some added gravitas, sometimes because of the opposing team, sometimes because of an opposing player, sometimes both.

Last night game was a clear example of this: the Lakers are to be inherently disliked, and as much as you might acknowledge the self-apparent grandiosity of LeBron it’s hard not to feel contempt for the way he carries himself on the court when he steps onto the MSG hardwood. This time there were also bonus hate points added thanks to that Kuzma punk that made a habit of standing up from the bench in the first quarter to swag-walk along the baseline every time the Lakers looked like they were on the verge of doing something on offense. I, personally, found it very hard not to actively root for the Knicks to win the game, mercs shaming and youth development be damned for once.

In this sense, the game was kinda fun. The Knicks fought quite valiantly, especially in the first half, which ended on a perfect tie at 48 apiece after the teams traded a few blows  (for the Lakers most of the production unsurprisingly came from LeBron and Davis; for the Knicks there was a bit more of a team effort plus the commendable long range efforts of Damyean Dotson and the continuation of the recent hot streak from Taj. The fact that Mook was able to dress for the game bolstered in a good way the rotation). We still got a few minutes of the insane Portis-Randle combo at 4-5, but it looked like we were fine. The Lakers gave the impression to have taken the foot of the pedal a bit after a super pumped up first five minutes, and it was common expectation that once they would have gone for the kill we would have fallen behind by 20 very easily.

The third quarter looked like that at a certain point (it certainly didn’t help that the Knicks were turning the ball like crazy in the period), with the Lakers going to take a double digit lead at 75-65 with 1:09 to play, but the Knicks were able to hang tight and close the quarter with a mini 5-1 run to keep the game at hand. In the fourth, maybe not so coincidentally in simultaneity with Dennis Smith getting back to play after who knows how many games, the Lakers went up by 13 after a mini 6-0 run of their own. From there the Knicks tried to get back into the game but it was too little too late; the last minute was an encore of the recent Fizdalian streak that’s possessing Mike Miller. Let me take you through what happened there: With 1:34 remanining, a Mook three cut the lead to seven at 94-87. James went for the Doncic stepback three from 32 feet, missed badly and Morris got the board. On the other side, with just 59 seconds to play, Dotson got to shoot a semi-contested three that clanked off the rim; the ball was still in our Bockers’ hand because the Lakers couldn’t keep the rebound in play. Alex Caruso foolishly commited a foul before the ball was inbounded, so the Knicks had one shot and the ball. Mook hit the freebie. So far, so good.

Then: the ball got inbounded to the left corner where Julius Randle (rolling eyes emoji galore) proceeded to shot a turnaround three that he had no business making – and true to form he put up an ugly airball. Seriously? Randle shooting a turnaround three on a night when he was struggling badly with his shot (6-16 for the game, 0-4 for three)? Anyway, the ball was still in Knicks’ hand because the Lakers couldn’t cleanly corral the board. The ball got again in Randle’s hands, who went on to turn it over again with his patented “spin into two defenders like an inebriated tango dancer who mistook the queue to go up the Statue of Liberty for an open dancefloor”. The Lakers stormed towards an easy transition basket with 42 seconds to go (not really so easy; Kuzma missed the layup, even though maybe he was fouled, but AD was there for the tip in). The game was over thanks to a double Randle blunder, but at least pride was safe thanks to the all around effort for the night.

A few thoughts:

– We lost by 8. Dennis Smith Jr got back to where he was posting a -9 plus/minus in 4:36. Hmmm. The kid is done in NY. Trade him away for his (and ours) own sake.

– Mitch played pretty well last night (12 boards, 1 block, some spurts of legitimately good defense, not in foul trouble) and still notched just 25 minutes against arguably the second biggest team in the League. I just can’t. Also: last night the “opposing team game planning for Mitch” thing was real on a few possessions, but still – three shots in 25 minutes? Our point guards sucks badly at getting the right players in the right spots.

– About sucking point guards: Frank’s in the middle of a horrible shooting slump (2-for-16 for the last two games, 0-8 this time). He had a very anemic stats line: 2 boards, 1 assist, and nothing else. Still: him and Mitch were the only Knicks with a positive plus/minus. You don’t need to remind me raw, single game plus/minus is a resoundingly bad way to measure a performance, but when it becomes a constant… I don’t know what else to say. Is there some reason why we don’t trot out an Elfrid-Frank-Bullock/Dot-Mook-Mitch lineup out there with RJ out? Apart from Pills’ likely meddling? Frank is posting a +5.1 On/Off rating, third best in the team.

– Dotson looked like he couldn’t miss tonight, but then I took a look at the boxscore and: 17 points on 6-for-14 from the field (but a sound 5-11 from three). Even on hot nights, Dot shoots at best at just a slightly above-average clip. For the season he barely breaks 40% from the field and is at 32.5% from three. He’s a 3-and-D template with no actual evidence of functionality at both, the umpteenth Knicks conundrum.

– Oh and you know our other 3-and-D guy? That BulLOCK guy? He’s shooting 41% from the field and 31% from three. At least we’re consistent.

– I mean, Bobby Portis sucks and all, but he’s the only Knick apart from Morris to shoot at least at league average from three. Talk about roster construction.

– In unrelated news, have you seen that Zion guy? He won’t ever shoot 4-4 from three again, but boy was so Knicksian to draft at 3rd last June.

– In more unrelated news, take a look at this Ringer article about KP. You can feel the writer trying ultra hard to find good things to say about him. Even national media is catching up to what we already knew.

– And now, in incredibly more unrelated news and an unabashed feat of self-promotion, I hereby submit to you the lyric video to one of those three songs I talked about a couple weeks ago. Feel free to skip it entirely, or don’t and tell how cool it is that I’m doing trite 80s-inspired music (but seriously, I’m quite happy about the final result and I’m glad to share it with you).

See you soon!

New York Knicks 106 – Cleveland Cavaliers 86 – Game Recap

“It’s like raaaaaaaiiin on a wedding day
It’s a freeeee riiiide that you just didn’t pay
It’s Dolan’s Raaaaazor with no beard to shave
It’s a 20 point win when no one cares”

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you. Stomach ailments, also. I was thinking about this while watching this awful bore of a blowout trying to keep my breakfast into my bowels (yup, food poisoning – there you go, ptmilo – isn’t this easy to shake off, especially while working a lot and often eating when and where you get the chance). It’s 2020. It means we’re 12 years past the last legitimately good draft pick made by the Knicks, which is Danilo Gallinari. Of course Gallo didn’t really pan out in NY (even if he was starting to blossom before the Melodrama, but that’s an old story, ain’t it?), but it’s hard to argue that from the list of Knicks draftees since 2008 he’s not the mostly accomplished, and by a wide margin.

In 2008 I was a wide eyed, stupid NBA fan with no real team affiliation (I liked the SSOL Suns, mostly because I had a soft spot for the Suns since the Sir Charles days, and followed closely the Raptors because of Bargnani, go figure) and no idea about advanced stats, efficiency and the whole “don’t just look at the box score” thing. To be fair, advanced stats did exist but weren’t all that available; NBA League Pass didn’t exist so in Europe you had to rely to a few select games being shown on pay-per-view channels and NBA.com recaps; player reputations count more than actual player contributions; Bill Simmons was thought of as a good basketball mind.

Why am I telling you this? Well it’s easy: at that time, if a team I was rooting for would have won a game by twenty, any game, I would have been ecstatic and if would have made half of my day (the other half would revolve around the chance that the sexy receptionist or shop clerk du jour would accept my invitation to go drink a glass of wine together – both things didn’t happen very often). As they say, ignorance is bliss, and so is youth. Somehow you’re 24, think you have all your life in front of you and so what’s the matter in trying to correctly weigh basketball results and processes alike? Now, it’s not like being 36 is the end of the world, and neither is being 71 like my mom or 74 like Clyde – wish I could get to 74 in Clyde’s shape – but life bashes on you and at the very least it teaches you the real value of time. Well guess what: a win like this one – for fuck’s sake, a season like this one – is just a complete waste of time.

The game went like this: the two teams kept close to each other for the entire first half, which ended 50-49 for Cleveland just right after Larry Nance Jr. hit a corner three with 00.2 to play in the second quarter (now that’s a definite 2020-like sentence). Then in the third Cleveland decided to suck even more that it already was doing and the Knicks instead followed on their normal brand of suckitude, which opened the gap to 15 at the end of the quarter (79-65 – yeah, the Cavs scored just 14 points on us in that period). From there on, it was just a lazy walk towards an almost meaningless win while playing all the wrong guys – but here’s the catch: pretty much everyone is the wrong guy on this roster! But more on that in a few seconds: let’s focus about the almost that was in the previous sentence. When I say “almost” meaningless is because there’s a chance this win will come and bite us back in the ass in perfect Knicks fashion: with our win the Cavs tied us for the third-worst record in the League. Losing is terrible, but winning is even worse when done against the wrong teams.

As for the Knicks performances:

– The good news is that no Knick played more than 29:59 minutes (Reggie “the fake French pronounciation” Bullock). The bad news is that the young guys played just 83 of the 240 available minutes. Some might correctly point out that the main young minute-soaker was out to an ankle injury, and he wouldn’t be wrong, but: what’s the point in playing Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson 20 minutes each and leave Trier and Iggy, suck as they may, glued to the bench in a game that’s been long decided? Why Mitch can’t break the 30 minutes threshold even when he blocks 4 shots and fouls just once? And most important of all: how is it even possible that Mitch gets only a single shot in 27 minutes of play? This is close to a fireable offense, but we’ve always had our share of bench turmoil this season.

– Needless to say, though, I’m growing more and more disappointed in Mike Miller. I understand his likely motives and I definitely can’t condemn them, so I probably should be disappointed in Pills, but since my Skyrim Pills disappointment bar has long reached 100 I have to focus elsewhere. Miller started pretty well, but then he kinda forgot a lot of the things that worked fine in the first 12 games and reverted to a mixed Fizdale (non) offense, hoping that the vets will bring him to 20 wins while playing unwatchable offense.

– Seriously, you know how Harden gets blamed everywhere for being such a pain in the ass to watch (and that’s even on his efficient nights, not only when he goes 1-for-17 from three like yesterday)? Well, Julius Randle is a weird crossbreed between Harden general tendencies and Z-Bo physical attributes. 19 and 9 – exactly his averages – for the night, but I had to resist the urge to gouge my eyes out every time he started to dribble. I’m literally sick of Randle isos. Also, I’m still waiting for him to perfectly recreate the famous Z-Bo fumble/airball from three combo that happened almost 11 years ago.

– Now that I think about it, it could make for a quick TV format: go around Penn Station and show that lo-res clip and ask people who’s the guy who’s shooting. I think at least 30% would answer “Randle”:

– Kudos to Taj for posting another good game. 10 points, 5 boards, +20 +/-. But why are we playing him? Who needs his mentorship on this team? Mitch? Doesn’t seem like the two of them like each other that much.

– For a moment the real worst case scenario materialized last night: Mook went up to shoot (and score) from three, and Kevin Love got his feet under Mook’s, causing him to apparenly injure himself. Luckily Morris brushed it off, but that’s what might happen when you don’t trade guys at the right time. It’s like waiting for the perfect Black Friday offer only to discover that the TV you always wanted just got sold out at 100$ more than you thought you’d been able to pay (but still with a discount of 220$).

– Another TV format that might work: Marc Berman going around your neighbourhood telling everyone that in the end you never wanted to buy another TV because the one you already have does wonders keeping family issues in check.

– One thing I’m liking a lot: Frank’s drives. They’re still kinda bush league ones, but at the very least he’s really attacking the basket nowadays. Maybe by year 5 he’ll have turned into a decent NBA player. We’ll have paid him 20 million dollars by then and signed him to another multi-year extension, but who cares, he’s still so young!

– You know who’s not really that young anymore? Damyean Dotson. Good game for him (12/5/4, +12 +/-) but maybe we should try to see if someone’s interested in netting him for a second round pick? He’s already 25 and never progressed that much.

– One last thing I started noticing in the Philly game (between dry heaves on my sofa): Miller’s looking like he’s half lost the team. After many a timeout huddle, his outstretched hand wasn’t met by all players, especially Payton. Mitch didn’t look him in the eyes once everytime he got subbed out. It’s possible they’re small, irrelevant things, but I have a very keen eye on those things and… hmmm. Looks like something’s not right.

Let’s get ready to get our asses handed to us by the Bronners on Wednesday, but for those of you who can, enjoy the win!