I have to say that, tanking interests apart, this team picks very well the games to win. We know we can’t lose all of the games, right? So sometimes you have to win one. Well then, why not winning against the Celtics (done), the Bucks (against whom our dear KP got injured, done), the Nets (I know, it’s a fake rivalry, but done nonetheless) and now the Lakers (just done)?
And sometimes it feels good to win, even if that feeling is something that doesn’t come natural anymore. We’re at this point in the season where you don’t really know what to look for in a game, apart from one of your cost-controlled assets to have a monster game. When that doesn’t happen – and let’s face it, as of now only Knox seems capable to have one of them – you look for the small things. Did Dotson square his feet correctly before hoisting that shot? Did Kornet defend that guy in the post effectively? (No, he did not.) Did Trier fill the lane correctly in transition? (Hah, tricky question. The Iso Bot is running at 100% energy only when he has the ball in his hand.)
I don’t know how many of you have played at least one iteration of “MyCareer” or “MyPlayer” in the NBA2K series. Basically, for those who haven’t, your player gets a grade for how well he has played in any game; the things that contribute to that grade aren’t just pointzzz or box score numbers, but also how well did you box out, how many screens did you set, if you were in optimal position on defensive rotations and so on. Early on, your avatar sucks because, apart from purely aesthetic choices and from your preferred role, you’re given a sad sack of a player with the overall rating of a G-League benchwarmer, so the best course to get high grades (and in turn get more playing time and more currency to improve your attributes) is to behave like a good puppy on the court. I’m quite good at it – and I have to be, because otherwise my 2/11 shooting small forward won’t see any playing time soon. Well, that’s what I look for in these games. because otherwise my mind will self-fry trying to reconcile the many things I should root for: a loss for the tank, a win for the morale, a good game from the youngsters, maybe not a good game from young people we are in position to extend, a good rebounding tally, maybe not a good night for Kanter because then he may start again, a good assist tally, but maybe not from young people we are in position to extend, a good THJ game because after all we have him for another two years, a bad THJ game because maybe they’ll be convinced to move on from him, a good THJ game because his trade value will go up, a BZZZ crackling noise
SYSTEM FAILURE SYSTEM FAILURE…
…We’ve found the following malware in your system: Knicks fandom 3.1, Hopeful Knicks fan 1.2, Knicks supporter with advanced stats basic knowledge 1.18, TakeThatForData.avi, JDAndTheStraightShot (complete collection).mp3…
…RESTARTING OPERATING SYSTEM…
…well that’s what I look for in these games, and sometimes I find it. And when I don’t, I find myself rooting for Mario and Enes to win this fucking game because sometimes guilty pleasures are the only things that save you from the drab world we live in. And to win a game that started with the Knicks guns a-blazing against the Lakers is one of the dirtiest, guiltiest pleasures in the world.
– If you would have told me that Mario Hezonja (10 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, +9 +/-) would have made another appearance in this column, I would have thought you were crazy and/or we were talking about year 2023 when we clinch our Atlantic Division title thanks to a game in Seattle against the newly-minted expansion team Sonics, where Mario moonlights as their starting SF and scores 5 points on 20 shots. Well, I was wrong. Mario got playing time tonight thanks to foul trouble to the December Eastern rookie of the month, Kevin Knox, and he did make a superb impression. I mean, his contract is still pointless for next season, but if this was the real Mario, I’d have no problem at all seeing him play 15 minutes per night. He was energetic, bunny-hopping, rim-running, hell bent on putting the ball into the basket or getting fouled and even – gasp – on protecting our rim. The play that elicited the most vocal cheering in me was his block on Ingram with six minutes to go in the final stanza. A pristine block which maybe for the first time in all season signaled that Mario has the will to play basketball and he’s not only collecting checks. I guess he’ll revert to his usual droning, but that block was a revelation, and I’ll cherish it at least until the trade deadline. Bonus fact: Mario was the only Knicks to hit more than 45% of his shots. For all of the hot start that we witnessed in the first quarter (our first six baskets were all from the three-point line and we scored 39 points in those 12 minutes), the Knicks ended up shooting 37.4% from the field. How does a team that shoot so poorly win a game and score 119 points in the process, you might ask: it shoots 41 free throws. The refs were quick for the whistle, but it was very nice to see the whole team attack the rim with abandon.
– The other unlikely hero is Enes Kanter (16 pts, 15 rebs, 3 ast, +5 +/-), who for a night looked rejuvenated and electrified to simply play competitive basketball. The numbers in points and board are nothing new, but don’t tell all. Tonight Enes did a semi-passable job on defense and a great job at protecting the rim in the fourth quarter. Before the night ended, Kanter totaled a career-high 4 blocks, stuffing people in purple and gold here and there after being thoroughly vandalized by Zubac in the third. By the way, the extension feature of NBA League Pass informed me that Enes got to his 251st career block tonight. You know who got more blocks than Kanter got in his 8 years in the league since he was drafted? Here’s the full list, but let me tell you a few names: a washed up Carmelo Anthony (252), scorned lover Matt Barnes (272), useless stretch fourve Jah Smith (298), in and out of the league Ekpe Udoh (325), point guard with doomed contract John Wall (361). It’s got to be embarrassing to be 6-11 and block less shots than those guys. But well, all that matters is that now Enes is happy again (Could you guess that Kevin Durant was 17th in the whole League in that span? I couldn’t, and I’m amazed at that stat)!
– What the heck happened to Allonzo Trier (2 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, +4 +/-)? Has he been abducted by the Monstars? It’s one thing to hit the rookie wall, it’s an entirely other one to crash into it like the Kool-Aid man, save for the fact that he’s not barging through it but just gets plastered into it. If the dungeon still exist, and they didn’t pave it (and maybe put up a parking lot), I guess Zo will be sent there. I’m not advocating for it, but he genuinely looks lost on the court. I think the injury has something to do with it and I hope the contract doesn’t, but right now he’s early-Knox or overall-Frank bad. Get a grip, and maybe get some reps in the G-League to regain a bit of confidence and rhythm.
– Luke Kornet (6 pts, 5 rebs, 1 ast, +2 +/-) was largely ineffective, as we could have expected him to be after his crazy-hot shooting streak as a starter. It has to be said, though, that his main problem tonight wasn’t his ass shooting (2/8 from the field, 1/4 from three), but his total uselessness against JaVale McGee in the post. Now, don’t get me wrong, JaVale is not the runaway winner of Shaqtin’ a Fools anymore, and is a pretty competent center in his own right, but Kornet made him look like Wilt all of a sudden. JaVale is a freakish specimen, so I wouldn’t get too worried here, but Kornet was pretty bad tonight.
– Tim Hardaway Jr. started the game on fire, hitting 3 triples in the first 5 minutes. All of them were open. He went on never to hit any other three for the night on six more attempts. Generally speaking, his shot selection is awful. Someone in this blog described his mindset in the most accurate way: “Eh, the play is already broken, I might as well shoot”. And shoot he does, from anywhere, after a few dribbles, with no clean look in sight. 22 points on 18 shots isn’t inherently bad, but mediocre isn’t what 17 million dollars are called for. Still second in the whole League in charges drawn, though. I like that (and just that).
– Kevin Knox had a so-so game (14 points on 12 shots, 5 boards) but it was very good to see him hit a crucial floating bank shot with 100 seconds remaining to put the Knicks up 5. His floaters and quasi-hooks are looking much better as of late, even if he doesn’t hit a lot of them. As I said a few times, though, he’s shooting the right shots. I like what I see from him (with the caveat that he’s a rookie. If this was the finished product, it would be near to worthless).
– By the way: congrats to Kevin for his Rookie of the Month award! The East does not have a murderer’s row of candidates (to me the best rookie in the east is Carter Jr., then as of now is a homeless men brawl between Knox, Young, Sexton, with Mitch, Mo Bamba and mayyyybe Robert Williams on the wings), but he’s made gigantic strides in these two months. Bravo!
– My best wishes to Frank, who got himself injured in just 56 seconds of play. He still was able to post a -5 plus/minus. Dude can’t catch a break.
– Mudiay was as good at channeling his inner Jason Kidd in the first four minutes of play to find open guys on the perimeter as he was bad at hitting shots and generally playing basketball, save for a pleasant third quarter. Dude has gotten better, but he’s just a small step above “utter trash”. To wit: in his last 5 games, his TS% is .409 on 25 USG%. I commend him for the 3.44 AST/TO ratio in that same span, but as I said… a long way to go before being a serviceable player for an average team.
– Vonleh started like a man possessed and then hit the brakes thanks to foul trouble. In just 17 minutes of play, 7 points, 10 boards and 4 steals. A Hell’s Kitchen legend says that if you utter “Draymond Green” in front of a mirror three times after you ate a mildly spoiled burrito, Noah Vonleh will appear in your house and will tidy it up.
– Trey Burke is alive and well, and we needed his buckets tonight. It still remains a mystery how I could convince myself that he was a steady floor general, whereas he’s just a microwave role player. I should have known better.
Now that we got this good win out of our system, let’s see if the tank will get back on track against the Blazers on Monday! Until then, I’ll run a few CC Cleaner routines on my mainframe.