November 27th, 2010. That was when the New York Knicks last found themselves below .500.
But unlike their recent, highly publicized skid, that night’s 99-90 home loss to the Hawks was viewed as the easily-excused hiccup between a cluster of 13 wins which had – for a fleeting moment – suggested the dawning of a new and exciting era in Knicks basketball.
Now, a full month into the Carmelo Anthony era, it’s the excuses that seem to be piling up as quickly as the Ls.
Lately, Amare Stoudemire has played the role of post-game oracle in this respect, offering up everything from “lack of experience / chemistry” to the seemingly go-to “not enough energy” as a defeat’s justification du jour.
Tonight, Stoudemire need look no further than his own dismal stat line – 13 points on 6-20 shooting (including 1-3 from the stripe) and a team low +/- of -15 – for clues as to what to tell the legion of mics and cameras about this one.
The Knicks squandered yet another halftime lead and were outscored 32-21 in the final stanza, falling to the Magic for the third time this season 111-99. The loss dropped the Knicks to 34-35, a full 2 games behind Philadelphia and just 3 1/2 ahead of the 8th place Pacers.
Although they were down only 7 with just under 2 minutes remaining, fans were exiting the Garden in droves – as clear a sign as any that “wait until next year” is a mantra falling increasingly on deaf ears.
As in the previous two Magic losses, the Knicks were again unable to effectively contain Dwight Howard, who finished with 33 points and 11 rebounds, including 11-13 from the free throw line. (Some might gawk at that last line, but clearly Patrick Ewing has his young pupil channeling the former’s charity stripe prowess against his long-time employer: In three games against the Knicks this year, Howard has connected on 33 of 43 [77%] of his attempts.)
Despite an outwardly efficient 17 on 12 shots (including 3 threes), Chauncey Billups again struggled to find an offensive rhythm, hoisting up a pair of ill-advised bombs late in the fourth that each resulted in baskets at the other end for the Magic.
Meanwhile, Toney Douglas was once again a catalyst-to-no-avail – and an efficient one at that – banking 17 on 14 shots (including 3-6 from behind the arc) in spelling his elder off the bench.
In doing so, TD continued an impressive March run in which he’s averaging 16.8 points, 7 assists, and 3.4 three pointers per 36, to go along with a TS% of 58%. And while his assist numbers (he had but 1 tonight) may not reflect as much, his ability to probe the paint without coughing up the rock have improved noticeably. In whatever capacity that might be, such play from the young point is doubtless a good sign for the future.
Fresh off the pilot airing of The Andy and Landry Show, everyone’s favorite Stanford grad once again struggled against the Magic, against whom he’s averaged a paltry 3.7 points and 6.3 rebounds with an eFG% of 32%. Whether the result of the feared “rookie wall” or simply a matter of readjusting to new teammates, Fields’ recent struggles have mimicked those of the team as a whole – a testament to just how big a bellwether the precocious neophyte is to the new-look Knicks.
Ironically, the two things that have tended to go part and parcel with the Knicks’ recent string of losses – Melo’s ball-stopping and cheesecloth team defense – were largely absent on this night. Melo had perhaps his most well-rounded game in orange and blue, scoring 24 with a shiny TS% of 71% to go along with 5 rebounds, a season high 9 assists, and 2 steals.
Despite being guarded for much of the night by the very un-glue-like Hedo Turkoglu, Anthony continually found open cutters and weak side open shooters. But with Stoudemire struggling and Billups looking a step slow, Anthony may have chosen the wrong night to try and prove the trade naysayers wrong.
Indeed, at this point you can almost forgive Melo for thinking himself incapable of doing anything right.
To which there is only one real reply: welcome to New York.