Heat 113, Knicks 91

December 17th, 2010, is a date that has been circled on my calendar since the league announced this season’s schedule. Tonight was the city’s chance to shout out our new opinion of LeBron to his face for the first time. Long wooed by the city, with Knicks fans applauding his accomplishments on our home court, his “Decision” changed everything. The fans who once longed for James in orange and blue now despise him.

And boy, did MSG do its part tonight. From before tipoff throughout the first half the crowd was electric, with thunderous chants of “DE-FENSE” every time the Heat touched the ball, and loud Boos ringing out each time it was passed to LeBron. The crowd even reserved a special chant for when Chris Bosh would shoot free throws: “OVER-RATED“, no doubt a result of the Heat’s implied belief this summer that Bosh was the best free-agent power forward, a belief any Knicks fan would now contest. Moreover, the team was giving us a reason to cheer, overcoming a 13 point second quarter deficit to lead the game with 3:24 left in the first half on a Landry Fields tip-in. Though the Knicks and Heat entered the half tied at 59, the game was soon to turn, with the Heat outscoring the Knicks by 16 in the 3rd quarter, with LeBron shooting 6-9 in the quarter for 14 points. The fourth quarter left nothing to doubt, as the Knicks were unable to find any offensive rhythm. Despite the horrific 2nd half, I don’t believe that tonight’s loss should be a cause for major alarm. My thoughts on the matter and analysis of the box score below.

  • First and foremost, this was not Amar’e’s night. During the recent win streak, Amar’e had appeared perfectly in control, a combination of power and grace that could not be stopped. Tonight was the polar opposite- everything Amar’e did seemed rushed and slightly out-of-control. 24 points on 28 shots is not the efficiency we’ve come to expect, and four turnovers certainly didn’t help. However, I doubt this problem will continue. For one thing, it appeared that Amar’e was hit on the arms every time he drove towards the hoop, with nary a call. It’s questionable tonight whether it would have helped- Amar’e shot an incredibly poor 2-7 from the free throw line- but other refs may well have been blown the whistle. Every superstar has a bad night now and then, and tonight easily could have been the result of the incredible minutes per game D’Antoni has been playing Amar’e. Perhaps the best thing tonight’s result could do is force the Knicks to lean a bit more on someone like Anthony Randolph (who looked hungry for playing time during the few minutes of garbage time he received) to spell Amar’e. Amar’e finished with a +/- of -22, which was poor but hardly the worst on the team.
  • That honor would belong to Raymond Felton, who posted an incredible +/- of -33. I wonder if the heavy minutes are again a suspect for the poor play, specifically because some of the things Raymond is best at (driving the hoop for a lay-up, for example), were absolutely beyond him tonight. Raymond hit the underside of the rim at least two times on drives- ugly.  He shot 3-12, was 0-3 from 3, and while the box score shows he dished 10 assists, he had no impact on the game. Not a result you would like against a team which is widely considered not to have a point guard. I’m not sure who we can look to to give him rest though, so this one is questionable.
  • Interestingly enough, the only positive +/- on the night belonged to Shawne Williams. This is attributable largely to his presence on an interesting second quarter line-up featuring four players shooting over 36% from three- Gallo, Chandler, Williams, and Fields- and a 5th, Toney Douglas, who is not shy to shoot. This was quite the interesting lineup. Wilson Chandler was the player presumably playing at center, if one had to be designated as such.  This group erased much of the deficit, and gave the Heat plenty of trouble defensively, mainly because the Knicks knocked down a few shots, but, alas, this particular lineup was not to return in the second half.
  • Thank goodness Gallo was dialed in to start the game, or it might not have remained close for even a half. Gallo’s 21 points before halftime were inspired. One could sense that he was playing with a great deal of confidence. Unfortunately his shot, along with the rest of the team’s, went away in the second half. Regardless, his 25 points were a game-high.

So why am I not particularly worried? First, I think Felton and Stoudemire are better than they showed tonight. Given proper rest, I would doubt they perform as poorly the next time they play the Heat. Second, their free throw shooting was just atrocious tonight (56.5%.) Making the ten free throws we missed wouldn’t have won the game for us, but considering the quality our players normally demonstrate at the charity stripe, shooting such a low percentage is an anomaly. Third, LeBron and the Heat were just incredible tonight, but in a way that could be hard to repeat. If you disregard a late miss by James Jones in garbage time, the Heat shot just under 59% from 3 tonight. Furthermore, LeBron knocked down a number of long two-pointers. While one is hard-pressed to call it great defense when his shot is dropping, the defenses of teams who have played the Cavs in the playoffs have designed their scheme to force him to take that exact type of a shot. On another night, his shooting percentage could quite easily be below the 60% he had tonight, including 50% from deep. This shooting contributed to the largest +/- on the night, at +31. However, this is why we wanted him on the Knicks. LeBron James is really good at the game of basketball. While the Knicks couldn’t ‘Beat the Heat’ tonight, despite the rowdy support of the MSG faithful, there are some losses to which one doesn’t need to overreact, and I count this among them.

Q&A on Raptors Republic

Recently, I exchanged e-mails with Sam Holako of Raptors Republic regarding the Knicks, Raptors, and the upcoming season in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference at large. Sam has posted our Q&A on his site:

http://raptorsrepublic.com/2010/08/27/beyond-the-raptors-kevin-mcelroy-and-the-knicks/

Feel free to check it out. Hopefully, we’ll occasionally do some similar features throughout the 2010-2011 season with Sam and some of the other TrueHoop bloggers.

Top 10 Ways the LeBron Special Goes Down

10. LeBron announces his decision 30 seconds into the special, then turns to stunned ESPN studio guy and says back to you.

9. James encourages viewing audience to play a drinking game with him. Every time an ESPN montage shows a dunk – drink!

8. LeBron reveals that we’re all in a sideways universe, and that we should be remembering soon that we are all friends. Except for Ben Linus.

7. James decides he’s going to remain in Cleveland, but instead of the Cavs selects to play for minor league baseball team the Akron Aeros. Says he needs to get out of Jordan’s shaddow & surpass his .202 batting average.

6. James announces he’s going to sign with Chicago. Newly signed free agent Carlos Boozer comes on stage with the contract. LeBron rips it up & throws it Boozer’s face yelling “SEE HOW IT FEELS?”

5. Citing too much pressure, LeBron decides to play in Miami as long as he’s considered the third wheel. Says he prefers to come of the bench and just be a regular NBA rotation player. Asks if anyone knows what kind of donuts Wade & Bosh like?

4. Steven A. Smith and LeBron James re-enact the infamous Piper’s Pit with Jimmy Snuka.

3. After 55 minutes of build-up including videos of James’ history, speculation of the future landscape of the NBA, and that cool touch screen ESPN uses for free agency LeBron says he’s staying in Cleveland. The result is 25,000 people tweet the same exact thing at the same exact time “WTF?”.

2. James announces that Akron is now an independent nation. A coronation ceremony follows, with James being crowned King to Devo performing “Whip-It.”

1. LeBron James says he’ll allow each team to give him one task. The first team that selects a task that he’s physically unable to do will be the team he chooses to sign with. The Cavs owner asks for a 720 slam dunk. LeBron takes the ball jumps in the air & spins twice before jamming it. The Bulls owner requests a blindfolded three point shot. LeBron covers his eyes & sinks it with ease. Miami owner challenges LeBron to score against their two best players, Bosh and Wade. LeBron beats Wade with a crossover and dunks on Bosh. The Knicks owner steps up and says “sign with the Clippers.” LeBron James says “New York it is!”

Three Or So Minutes With Mike Kurylo

Summoning my inner Andy Rooney, here are some things that I’m going to nitpick on.

John Krolik on where LeBron could go:

Say “screw it,” join Amar’e on the Knicks, run some great pick-and-rolls, make a lot of money, possibly become the A-Rod of basketball, win relatively few playoff games.

OK so it’s supposed to be a tongue in cheek remark primarily for humor, but there’s an ounce of truth to every joke. This swipe at D’Antoni’s playoff record riles me up, because under the surface it’s an extension of the cliche [only] defense wins championships. The common wisdom is that D’Antoni doesn’t care about defense, but according to Kevin Pelton, “D’Antoni’s teams have never been the defensive liabilities they were made out to be in the media.” Additionally implying that offensive minded coaches don’t win championships ignores the contrary. There are lots of defensive minded coaches that were unsuccessful in the playoffs: Mike Fratello, P.J. Carlesimo, Doug Collins. Larry Brown coached for 21 years until he finally won an NBA championship.

Every year there are 29 coaches that end the season without a new ring, so the inability to win a championship isn’t strictly a D’Antoni trait. The other LeBron-a-thon coaches have the same issues. Is Byron Scott a playoff risk because he was unable to win a title in New Jersey or couldn’t get out of the second round in New Orleans? Avery Johnson’s playoff record is worse than D’Antoni’s. In only 3 seasons, he managed to have back to back first round exits. One of those teams won an astonishing 67 games during the regular season.

Kelly Dwyer on Chris Duhon:

This is a good acquisition, for the Magic. A very, very good one, I’d say; and that’s coming from someone who has spent a good chunk of this decade ruing Duhon’s very presence and the strange hold he had on a very good (but very flawed) pro basketball coach and the resulting minutes allotment with a team located in the American Midwest. Chris can play, he can pick up plays very quickly, and he gives good effort.

To give Dwyer credit, the majority of his article is about how bad Duhon is. Nevertheless I could be convinced that Orlando signing him as a backup PG is a decent move. A solid move. A safe move. But a “very, very good one?” No way. If Nelson misses a chunk of time this year their fans are going to hate Duhon. If it happens deep in the playoffs, they’re screwed. The PG depth in free agency isn’t much, but compared to Felton & Ridnour, Duhon is awful. And let’s be blunt, Felton & Ridnour aren’t all that great themselves.

Playoff teams usually play it safe, instead of taking risks. Instead of choosing a PG that could win a playoff game, they went with one that they hope won’t lose one. They might not have landed one of the guys above, but maybe they could have gotten a player like Jordan Farmar. Compared to Duhon, Farmar is 4 years younger, a better defender, scores twice as many points with a sizable advantage in efficiency (TS% 53.5% to 50.1%).

[Note: I highly respect the work of Krolik and Dwyer. For instance Krolik’s most recent piece on LeBron James is stunningly beautiful and well thought out. It’s a prime example of what blogs do right, that newspapers get wrong. Newspapers have been focusing on the rumors, speculation, and hoopla. Krolik is quite reasonable and gets to the heart of the matter, in a profound manner. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t read Ball Don’t Lie to get Dwyer’s keen opinion on any transaction or event in the league.]

Knicks Sign Amar’e

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the New York Knicks have signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a 5 year $100M contract. For New York this is the first step in Donnie Walsh’s rebuilding plan which began in the summer of 2008. The Knicks seemed to be an obvious fit for Stoudemire, given Mike D’Antoni’s 4 and a half seasons in Phoenix. Although the Knicks haven’t ruled out a Lee-Amar’e pairing, it’s likely that Stoudemire will replace him as the team’s power forward/center. Last year STAT attempted free throws and blocked shots at more than double the rate, and provided more scoring at a higher efficiency. However he is an inferior rebounder, isn’t as good passing the ball, and comes with a greater price tag (unless Lee is lucky enough to find a taker for a max deal). Much like Lee he isn’t known for his defense.

The other big knock on Stoudemire is his knees, which is thought to be a liability. Amar’e missed almost all of 2006 due to microfracture surgery. But in 3 of the last 4 seasons he has played 79 games or more, and in the other one it wasn’t his knees that caused him to miss time. He suffered from a partially detached retina in 2009. Much like Fred Taylor, the injury label has stuck to Amar’e despite his recent good health. Injuries are rarely brought up with fellow free agent Chris Bosh, even though Bosh has missed more games than Stoudemire over the last 4 years (45 to 32).

Of the free agent power forwards on the market (excluding Dirk, who wasn’t truly available) none match Amar’e’s team’s success. In 7 seasons, Bosh’s Raptors have managed to be above .500 once. The most Boozer’s Jazz teams ever won in a season was 54 games, something that the Sun’s have matched or beaten 5 times. How much of the Suns’ success rested on Stoudemire’s production will be tested as they look to replace him with Hakim Warrick and Channing Frye.

All that is not to say that Stoudemire is undoubtedly the cream of the crop of the big men free agents. Bosh is 2 years younger, and has advantages with regards to rebounding and passing. And it’s arguable that dollar for dollar Amar’e is not an upgrade from David Lee.

But often perception trumps reality. For the Knicks this day isn’t necessarily about this signing, but the next one. And if grabbing Stoudemire, a 5 time All Star, nets New York another big free agent then the extra cost is undoubtedly worth it.