New York Knicks 99 – Indiana Pacers 110 – Game Recap

I had a fever, and the prescription was more zone defense.

A decent loss, nothing to write home about, a game where the Knicks were pretty much always in the mix but couldn’t pull it off when they needed to (not that it mattered, after the win against Charlotte we are in dire need of quality losses – even if I’m not sure if this counts as one). The main new wrinkle in Fiz’s gameplan is a zone defense, which I am partial to, what with being European and all.

My coach used to call the zone “the homeless man defense”, which was accurate in describing how usually – at least in Europe – zone is the last weapon deployed by teams that are simultaneously terrible but scrappy as hell. Problem is, these Knicks aren’t really scrappy. Some of them surely are, but some others are incredibly lackadaisical in terms of effort and willingness to work on the defensive end.

All of this is to say that I’m ok employing some sort of zone defense here and there, because it effectively minimizes the defensive problems of some guys (especially Mudiay), but you can’t throw a zone while playing Kanter and Knox. Kanter just makes me angry on defense. He’s completely uninterested in anything that happens more than a foot from him, so much that opposing players routinely are open under the rim because Enes didn’t care about his area of the zone, but only the small circle around him. It’s like he’s wearing a cloak of invisibility with reverted effects: he can’t see outside of its circle of effect. Knox, on the other hand, looks like he’s trying, but can’t understand for his life where he’s supposed to be and leaves open the corner man over and over again, which is one of the biggest no-no in a 2-3 zone. I won’t delve into details about how Hezonja plays zone defense, because honestly I’m not a coroner.

Anyway, it was good to know that we weren’t able to pull a win out of this mediocre game, zone or no zone. I just got incredibly bored watching this game.

The good:

– Uh, nothing really good here. Emmanuel Mudiay (18 pts, 1 reb, 6 ast, -2 +/-) played a semi-productive game. He’s really learning a bit how to use his big body to take advantage of smaller defenders, which isn’t bad. I don’t like his shot distribution that much – still too many midrange jumpers – but if you can shoot almost always with a completely clear visual because you’re 3 inches taller than your defender, they’re not necessarily bad shots. Or better: they are, but not compared to his three pointers, which looks more and more like a ditched Mortal Kombat choreography for Johnny Cage. Nonetheless, Darren Collison had the absurd idea to foul him on a three point attempt. What’s amazing is that Mudiay hitting just one of the three free throws awarded to him was a statistically equal outcome than letting him shoot, since his 3P% for the season is exactly .333. At some point in the fourth he opted for a thunderous fastbreak dunk attempt that collided with the rim before bouncing around midcourt. I like the fact that he tried to dunk the ball, I don’t like the fact that he thought he was (last season’s) Donovan Mitchell.

The bad:

– Look, I get that we were undermanned. I get that we couldn’t possibly have done without Trey Burke (3 pts, 4 rebs, 3 ast, -2 +/-) tonight. Actually, scratch that. I don’t want to know anything about that. Giving minutes to Burke and Frank (3 pts, 2 rebs, 4 ast, -11 +/-)  at the same time is quite pointless. Burke just returned from a mild knee injury, and tonight kept of bricking everything in sight, hitting just one of seven attempts from the field. The main problem, though, is that as soon as Trey gets the ball and Frank is on the court with him every semblance of offense gets thrown out of the window. I don’t want to rehash the whole “Frank is/is not a PG”, because as of now everyone has his answer, and pretty much every answer tends towards “no”; anyway, I feel like I have to make a remark about the fact that if you don’t give the ball to Frank with full license to operate – which means: if you give the ball to someone, if he isn’t open you’ll get the rock back – you have to teach him to move around, screen for others, cut backdoor and so on. If you play Frank with Trey (or Timmy, for that matter), you’re condemning him to never develop. That’s as much on Frank as it is on the coaching staff: the difference, though, is that the coaching staff is paid to think of ways to get the most out of Frank, and there were some hints that letting him work with the ball was the beginning of something. If Trey has to play, I wish it was with THJ and not with Frank. Frank tends to defer too much to guys who like to handle the rock and shoot contested pullups night after night. I liked it better with Trey out (sidenote: Frank defends very well even in the zone. He’s just a natural on that side of the court).

– Boy, the last time I saw something as rusty as Courtney Lee (7 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -12 +/-) it was a nail used to hang a painting in the house where my grandma was born in 1925. Lee’s game is just screaming “tetanus”: if you look at him closely, especially when doing his familiar “pump fake an invisible defender, dribble inside the arc, shoot a semi-contested 19-footer” routine, there’s a 3% chance you’ll fall down struck by some mysterious illness. I’m still not convinced that wasn’t what kept me in the bed all weekend trying to recover from that nasty fever – without other symptoms! Anyway, if that’s how we’re showcasing him, the trade-Lee-boat has long sailed away. Everybody on cue… Thanks, Phil!

Paracetamol tablets-size bits:

Do you know that if you take two 500 mg Paracetamol tablets, it becomes a full gram of Paracetamol? You might not believe it, but this is the word-for-word translation of the incipit of one of the top Italian radio hits of 2018. I hate it, I hate the music, the words and the way the singer (Calcutta) delivers them. Nevertheless, I hated this game more. It felt like wasting two hours of my time. Then again, I couldn’t sleep, so maybe it wasn’t a complete waste of time. But on the other hand I could have watched two episodes of whatever TV series of choice.

– Enes Kanter’s numbers are so easy on the eyes that it’s hard to believe he’s hurting the team so much. I don’t like seeing him play, but I know I can count on him to (not) anchor one of the worst defense in the League. One of the emptiest 20/15 games I’ve ever seen. In the fourth Thaddeus Young stripped the ball off him in the post out of a double and he didn’t even try one bit to resist it. Everytime something like that happens, it comes to my mind that this guy wanted to make the All-Star team, and I feel like his name should be changed into Cognitive Dissonance Kanter.

– You know who’s hurting this team’s development the most? THJ, that’s who. If you look past his PPG numbers, his season is turning into a major disappointment. He’s posting career-second-worst numbers in WS/48 and TS%, all the while employing the worst shot selection this side of Trey Burke and never trying to break the opposing defense to find easy shots for his teammates. He’s horribly miscast as a first option, not only because he’s not that kind of talent, but most of all because he makes everyone worse around him. If we could ship him away for Jabari Parker, I’d do it now. Chicago could also keep Rebecca Haarlow and Wally Szczerbiak, for all I care.

– December Kevin Knox is a glimmer of hope: 16.5 PPG on 41/40/54 splits (terrible FT%), with 6.3 RPG, 2 APG and 1.3 stocks per game. He doesn’t look that lost anymore. I feel like his ceiling is a poor man’s Chandler Parsons. It’s not good, but it’s much better than I thought a few weeks ago.

– Vonleh couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn tonight (3-for-10 from the field, 1-for-5 from three), but I still love his game. 12 boards, 3 assists, no turnovers. He’s not terrible when defending in the zone. It’s enough for keeping on dubbing him this season’s MVP for the Bockers.

– Kornet should play a bit more, especially with Mitch out. He can’t jump over an envelope (cit. Fizdale), but knows where he should be in a zone defense and he’s not afraid to let if fly.

– I don’t know what more to say about Mario. I’ll just say that “Hezonja” would net you a boatload of points playing Scrabble.

– Breen and Clyde bring their best even in games like this. I loved their bit about burgers. Also, I can’t think of a better example than Clyde about the benefit of a mostly no-meat diet. Dude’s 73 and he’s fresher than me.

Tomorrow we have a back-to-back against Phoenix. Is it too much to hope for a quality loss? Is any loss a quality loss with Mitch, Dotson and Trier sidelined?

 

Charlotte Hornets 119 – New York Knicks 107 – Game Recap

Hear me out, I have a proposal. What if we started every game with a -15 handicap from the beginning? I mean, if that’s what it takes for Fiz to feel safe playing our kids a lot of minutes, why not (all the same, somebody has to explain to me how come that you choose to play Hezonja and Mudiay to win games)?

We were treated to a game where scores were approximately a lot for them and a little for us, and I think nobody cared even a bit. We saw, maybe by accident, a game similar to the ones we grew accustomed to in the first portion of the year. 41 minutes for Knox. 31 for Dotson. 20 for Frank (artificially limited by his penchant to pick useless fouls on the perimeter and by two bogus calls in the fourth quarter). 20 for Robinson. Even 9 for Baker  (Trier was out with a strained hamstring; we don’t have news about him yet, I guess he’ll be out for the whole three-game road trip)! But more than that, more than minutes distribution, it was evident that the kids had the greenlight to be, you know, just them, which in case of Knox is “a guy who shoots everything in sight”.

Now, it’s impossible to say that even a single guy has played well (they haven’t; when stakes are this low, you have to play a perfect game to be “good”). But it’s not impossible to single out who played really bad, so I’ll do just that comparing guys to typical winter maladies, with the recipe to cure that illness right after the “bad” player.

The cold and the cough: Mario Hezonja (1 reb, 1 foul, -4 +/-) is annoying, persistent, and doesn’t seem to go away easily. In the end, it’s inconsequential at best, but can leave you tired and numb after a few weeks of its presence. Mario was so bad that he was the only starter not to return on the court for the second half, having Knox start in his place in the third quarter. I can’t remember a player who does less for the Knicks than Mario since the Bargs days. Hez looks like he has talent, but at this point I’m not even convinced he has some aside from the talent of convincing you of the contrary.

Acetylsalicilyc acid: Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 1 reb, 3 ast, +7 +/-) scored again in double figures with cool efficiency, hitting 6 of his 8 shots. I have a weak spot for low-variance guys, the ones who produce the same without regards for context. Dot is one of them: he doesn’t care if the team is up 20 or down 20, he’ll play the same way as he always does. Oddly, he didn’t attempt a single three tonight (he’s shooting 4.1 per game), but it’s not like there were timid guys around him. Bottom line: if you want to feel better after Mario, play some Dotson and revel in his consistency and workmanlike competence.

The headache: Emmanuel Mudiay (6 pts, 3 rebs, 4 ast, -20 +/-) makes it impossible to have a headstart, as for the last three games his individual defense has cratered and his team defense… well, I can’t focus with this impending migraine. This season Mudiay has objectively gotten a bit better on offense, picking his spots more carefully inside of the arc and showing off some passing chops (the best pass of the game was his assist to THJ in the first quarter for a backdoor cut between three opponents. A Nash-like pass, I swear to you). His shooting from the perimeter, though… with that form it’s impossible he’ll be ever able to hit more than 30% of his outside shots, and that’s a clear limitation on his overall impact on the game. What is really detrimental, anyway, is his defense. It’s difficult for everyone to stop Kemba and the likes, but Emmanuel doesn’t even try. He gets lost on the first screen and then wanders around like a hobbled man would play tag. Combine him with Mario on the defensive end and you’re better off staying in bed all day.

The ibuprofen: Ron Baker Frank Ntilikina (18 pts, 1 ast, 64% FG, +2 +/-) had the offensive night of his career, going perfect from three on four attempts and playing the third quarter like a real NBA combo guard, confident and assertive. On defense he was not his best self, especially in the second quarter when matched with Tony Parker, who schooled him over and over again. I don’t know what happened at half-time, but it was certainly something goooood. After going scoreless and at times being listless in the first half, in the second Frank stepped onto the court with 8:42 to go in the third quarter. He had to adjust a bit to the game, and then two minutes later he exploded in a flurry of shots: his first basket was a pullup shot after a behind-the-back dribble and a headfake; his second was an extended elbow three; his third was a top of the key three in rhythm; his fourth was an elbow pullup after a Robinson screen; his fifth a corner three. All in all, he was often in the right spot after having moved well without the ball. He couldn’t keep cooking in the fourth because of a very wrong call on a drive (bogus offensive foul, his fifth) and a possibly wrong call on defense a couple minutes later. It was also good to see Fizdale incensed for those calls on the man he benched for three straight games; if there was a moment to be ejected, he picked the right one. Maybe (just maybe) Fiz was up to something with those DNP? I don’t like mind games, but everything is possible. All in all, not the best game of Ntilikina’s career (his defense was a bit meh) but a huge injection of confidence – and maybe a great way to earn more playing time. I wish he could hit the boards more, though. He’s tall, he’s kinda big. He has to grab at least 3 boards per game.

The sore throat: Enes Kanter (6 pts, 4 rebs, 50% FG, -17 +/-) leaves you speechless at the worst times, and not in a good way. It’s not the first times a second-string opponent big starts the game wreaking havoc against the Knicks, thanks to the porous defense of Enes (remember Sabonis?). Cody Zeller went 5-5 in the first quarter to help Charlotte building a comfortable lead, while Enes stood around watching the stiffy Hornets center having his way near the rim. You convince yourself that maybe Kanter isn’t that bad for your team, and then are forced to turn the other way scratching your throat feeling uneasy just to have thought that. Enes also had uncharacteristically weak hands, fumbling passes and boards. Not his best night.

The propolis: Kevin Knox (26 pts, 15 rebs, 1 stl, -7 +/-) had an overinflated night and as a result might become overrated and thought as a panacea for all sorts of sickness, but mind you: I liked it. I don’t like Knox’s game, and that’s definitely not new, but his motor has gotten a lot better and I like his disposition. He’s starting to look like he maybe has a place in the league after all, even if he won’t certainly ever be known for his efficiency; but 25+ points and 15+ boards are not a feat for every rookie. In the last 20 years, only fourteen guys, Kevin included, posted such numbers as a rookie. The only teenager besides Knox? LeBron James (the other rookies were, in temporal order: Keith Van Horn, Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Amar’e Stoudemire, Emeka Okafor – lol -, Charlie Villanueva – double lol -, Marc Gasol, Michael Beasley – I’m out of lulz -, Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ben Simmons. Not bad, huh? I just fear that in 20 more years someone else will write lol near poor Kev). If anything, we can say for sure that coach Fiz is not afraid to have his rookies shoot the ball: Kevin took 25 shots to get to his season-high in points, tying the tally of the Milwaukee game. He’s goodish in fastbreaks and shooting threes and uncontested pullups. Everything else is still a mess. There was a sequence in the first quarter where he missed the layup, grabbed his own board, missed by a country mile from under the basket, grabbed again his own board and finally was mercifully fouled. He just doesn’t know what to do when people put themselves between him and the rim.

Vaccinate yourself!:

– Noah Vonleh with 9 assists. Some of them were very good. I compared 20-ish games ago to a homeless man’s Draymond, and I stand by my opinion. I’d be happy to have him back (for a reasonable contract). An off night from the field, but it was a hard time for all the starters.

– Timmy was better than in the last games, scoring 21 points on 13 shots and dishing 5 assists. He turned the ball over five times, though. Timmy as the first option is a great tanking help.

– Mitchell Robinson is already a known quantity (6/2/1 with a side dish of two spicy blocks), and he can’t really play basketball yet. I love this kid. One thing I noticed: his screens are way better than they were at the beginning of the season. They’re already worlds better than KP’s screens. His defensive rebounding, instead, keeps on being questionable at best (his DRB% is less than his TRB%, go figure.

– Ron Baker got some playing time, and all he cared for was to make sure that Courtney Lee scored. Terrible offensive player, wonderful heart (and a surprisingly steady game, 5 points and 3 assists in garbage time).

– Courtney Lee played 13 impalpable minutes save for the time where he ditched and uncontested three to pump fake the air and then shoot (and miss) a contested 20-footer. Old habits never die.

– A wonderful vintage Tony Parker night. As I’m already on record saying, I liked the Manu-era Spurs. I feel like I could have appreciated Tony a little more than I did. He took to school every Knick defender (not that is was that hard, but still).

– At the end of the game, the cameras indulged on Frank being busy chatting with Batum and Parker, what with French Heritage Night and whatever. Kevin Knox dived in to greet the two Charlotte players, they saluted him back and went back at talking with Frank in one motiion, with the familiar expression everyone of us has when we meet someone we really don’t care about at the Christmas company party.

So, let’s head to Cleveland! It’s very likely that I won’t be able to recap that one (severe work obligations on Thursday!), so we’ll see each other on Friday night, again versus the Hornets.

Au revoir!

 

 

Brooklyn Nets 112 – New York Knicks 104 – Game Recap

Why does it have to be so hard?

One of my favourite definition of insanity is the (misattributed to Einstein) following quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. For the umpteenth time this season, and more specifically the fourth in a row, the Knicks looked lost both on and off the court well into the second half of the game. On the court, well, for 30+ minutes this game was borderline unwatchable, full of defensive mistakes, stupid turnovers, and even an iffy own-basket by Kanter and Vonleh. Off the court, there was a minutes distribution so puzzling it made me question my sanity, because if you’re losing by a lot and not playing well at all, why in the hell do you keep the youngsters glued to the bench?

Then, with 3:43 to go in the third quarter, Frank came into the game for Mudiay and Robinson was brought in for Kanter. Forty seconds later, Knox was subbed in for Hezonja. From there to the finish line (15 full minutes of play), the Knicks trotted out the following lineup: Frank-Trier-Dotson-Knox-Robinson. Did we win the game? No, but with that lineup who cares. Did we make the game competitive and spirited? Hell yes. Did it make the game watchable and, most importantly, meaningful? HELL YES. This is our future. Our (cue the eyeroll of who just wants to hear and read about day-to-day basketball) cost controlled future. Our all-upside, no-downside future. That lineup, made of two genuinely good prospects, a solid wing in the making, and two mostly sucky first round picks, was +9 and suddenly made the Garden remember what it’s like to play defense with passion – and length.

Do you want more of that? Because I do. The fact that we lost, and in a competitive way nonetheless, while Atlanta and Cleveland won made it easy to find the sweet core of this sour, bitter candy. But setting aside the final result or the tankathon projection, playing the young guys gives you hope. Let’s see if those five will see the court through the next few games. We need Fiz to stop sending young guys to that infamous dungeon of his.

The good:

– Honestly, it’s hard to dub anyone really good for this game. The aforementioned uber-young unit was good as a whole, but none of the guys played well per se. So, counter-intuitively, I’ll hand the first good mention to Enes Kanter (23 pts, 14 rebs, 3 ast, -9 +/-), because without him the first 30 minutes of play would have been a sh*tshow of epic proportion. His presence, and his flawless touch around the rim, kept the game a sliver from rock bottom in terms of watchability, and even if he’s not a good team player he still is a good player, and I have to give credit where it’s due. That’s even more true tonight, when Vonleh straight up stank and the third best rebound tally of the team (after Enes and Mitch) went to Mario. Enes was his usual unrelenting machine on the glass and was efficient, hitting 10 of his 13 field goal attempts. I still don’t want him around here anymore after April 2019, but I have to commend his good performances. He even dusted off a nifty eurostep in the first quarter. If the game was only predicated on offense, Kanter would probably be in the top 5 of all NBA centers. Again, he’s just playing a different game from a different time. If you kept the same finishing lineup with Enes instead of Mitch, I think we wouldn’t have been that exciting overall and goodish on defense.

The above-average

– Sorry but I have to say it: Frank Ntilikina (7 pts, 1 reb, 3 ast, +7 +/-) was quite good tonight. The numbers are mediocre, even if he shot 3/6 from the field, and one attempt was a end of period heave (Trier should teach him to stop doing that to preserve his efficiency – lol). His impact on the game, on the other hand, was not. I know, defensive numbers don’t paint him like the total pest he is on primary offensive threats on opponent teams, but they’re so noisy that it’s all a bit inconclusive. He smothered D’Angelo Russell from the first possession. He got smoked just once by Dinwiddie (and then nobody came in to help). I’ll put it simply: guys were scoring effortlessly on us in the first 35 minutes. In the last 13 minutes, they committed three 24-second violations. Also, handing the reins to someone who wasn’t Trier was big for Zo. He’s not at his best when he’s asked to create first. If there is someone else capable of doing that, even if not at the rate we’d like to, and also to defend, Zo can untap his potential. Frank still tends to suck, but we need him a lot more than we need Mario or 5 extra minutes of THJ and Mudiay. Great finishing in the paint for him, too.

– Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, -1 +/-) was the most evident beneficiary of Frank comeback. Dot in his first 15 minutes without him: 0 points, 0-3 from the field. Enter Frank: 12 points (8 in a row in a span of 63 seconds) on 5-for-7. As I said: this guy need someone to set him up to get in a rhythm. Defending better helps getting into transition which in turn helps finding guys open. That’s why defense is so important: a good defensive possession is the best start for a great offensive possession. This is his 16th game (on 22 played) that he goes off for 10+ points. I’ll say it again: Dotson is a keeper.

– Allonzo Trier (15 pts, 2 rebs, 46% FG, +5 +/-) didn’t play his best game and made mistakes on the last two plays (he should have passed the ball to a very open Mitch under the rim in his last foray), but was a force to be reckoned when driving to the rim. He was a bit less listless than Dotson before the late game spurt, but he too benefited from Frank’s insertion. Dinwiddie ate him alive, but I have a hunch that Zo will recover his at least average defensive presence in the next few games. By the way: the deadline to sign him to a real contract is approaching very fast. Does anyone have an idea about what’s going to be the offer? Nobody seems to be talking about it.

The bad:

– Tim Hardaway Jr. (7 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -9 +/-) threw out a real stinkbomb. He was nowhere to be found on offense tonight, trying to empirically prove that the cold hand fallacy is not a fallacy at all. I love his method to get out of a slump: just shoot it more with even less preparation, like it’s ever gonna work. His FG% for season has plummeted to 39.1, and his free throw rate is going down as well. He’s hovering around his career advanced stats, and that’s definitely not promising, as it wasn’t his body language for the whole game. He went 0-for-5 from three and every three pointer was a bad one. Someone should try to explain to him he’s not Steph Curry, or even Reggie Miller. I hope some fringe contender needs a sixth man sooner or later. Yeah, a 17 million dollars sixth man, but I hear that in Houston and in New Orleans they’re getting a bit desperate.

– Noah Vonleh (4 pts, 3 rebs, 4 ast, -7 +/-) played one of his worst games, maybe the worst when he wasn’t plagued by foul trouble. I don’t know why, but he just wasn’t there with his head tonight. I won’t blame him too much, but you really can feel when he’s not doing his best job out there. The whole team suffers and it’s pretty evident. His defense was lackadaisical too, as he even failed to rotate more than a couple times. The 4 assists are cool to see; the traveling violations in the first quarter 30 feet from the cup aren’t. I think he’ll be better against Charlotte.

Fun-sized bits:

– Mario Hezonja shot well for the first time in ages (4-8, 3-4 from downtown) but still was a game-worst -14 +/- and got a few of his teammates demonstrably angry at him for how he was misusing possessions. He’s unconceivably unaware of how bad he is at this game, but I don’t think it’s his fault, like at all. He’s not appointing himself a starter, there are other guys doing that for him.

– Mudiay is so bad on defense it’s incredible. They put him in the pick and roll, he dies on the first screen over and over again and then doesn’t know where to rotate. The Nets killed us with that simple action all night (again, defensive stats don’t tell all: watch film of Mudiay defending and of Frank doing the same, and tell me you don’t see differences).

– Mitch in full octopus mode on defense in the fourth quarter (three steals on passing lanes, a swallowing block) and with a pair of circus tricks on offense. If he only could avoid committing stupid fouls (and technicals) and could work on his hands – free throws included – he’d be a solid contributor right now. Just imagine where he’ll be in two years from now.

– Knox had a meh game. Not bad, not good (50% from the field though! And two confident drives to the rack). It was still nice to see him on the court not making too many mistakes during that fun fourth quarter.

– Four minutes for Courtney Lee. Thanks, Phil!

– The MSG crowd gave a heartwarming cheer for Frank as soon as he touched the ball. I’ll admit it: I’m a Frank fan. That melted juuuust a bit my cinical soul.

– During an intermission MSG gave a community award to Dr. Strange. No, not the comic book one. A certain Dr. Theodore Strange who saved the life of a fellow marathon runner. I mean, not all superheroes wear costumes, but some of them have their destiny in their name. Waiting for the first Bob Stark to save a kitten in a flying suit.

– Alan Shearer at MSG tonight. One of the most prolific scorer ever in soccer. It was funny to hear the contrast between Rebecca’s and Alan’s accents. OT: I have a much harder time understanding British people than American one. I wonder if it’s the same for you native speakers.

Are you ready for the French Heritage Night? I hope Frank is. A back-to-back against Kemba on a France-themed night should grant at least 15 minutes of gameplay to our offensively-challenged defensive savant.

See you tomorrow!

Washington Wizards 110 – New York Knicks 107 – Game Recap

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior. 

Ah, the immortal words of the Latin poet Catullus. “I hate and love [you]. Why I do that, perhaps you might ask. I don’t know, but I feel it has to be, and I suffer”.

Setting aside the fact that it’s one of my favorite piece of poetry of all time (so concise, so full of meaning and deep layers – if you didn’t know Catullus by now I strongly advise you to read something by him, the man did write a lot of all-time love poems, and a few of the most lecherous lyrics ever carved into stone before pulp literature was really a thing), has anything ever been written that can be best applied to our Knicks?

I mean, we keep watching and hoping, sometimes hoping for losses, sometimes for wins. Sometimes we find ourselves deeply entrenched in the meanders of dubious present and future contracts, sometimes we’d like to burn it all to the ground.

Other times we end up losing a game and feel ourselves a bit empty, not knowing if we would have liked to lose or win. This game was one of them. Would I have been happier winning this game? I honestly don’t know. I guess that’s what happens when you’re not exactly sure about the direction of the franchise, and when shots don’t fall like they did against Milwaukee.

The good:

– One can only hope that when Frank will emerge from the dungeon, he will play with the same confidence and consistency that has characterized Damyean Dotson (17 pts, 9 rebs, 1 ast, – 3+/-). Dot’s numbers after stepping again on the court are really noteworthy: 17.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 1.5 spg on 62.5% from the field and 65% from three, all in just 26 mpg. Of course the shooting numbers are bound to go down, but let’s say he shoots just 45 from the field and 38 from three. That would still be good for around 12 ppg. If other numbers stay the same (and maybe he improves his passing a bit, 0.5 apg is a really meager tally) you have a picture perfect 3-and-D wing on your hand. I already suggested that, but I guess the best course of action for this season is to engage in a little play pretend where we selected Dotson with the 8th pick last season while drafting a promising French kid in the second round with the 44th pick. Dot’s activity on the boards is really good, and it’s hard to ever see him in the wrong place on the court. Still one of the great mystery of the season why Mario is starting in his place (not that Dot’s game suffers from playing with the second unit).

– As written in the game thread, this was one of the rare games I got to catch live thanks to a bout of insomnia. I finally got to fall asleep at halftime, with all of these blunders by Emmanuel Mudiay (16 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, +4 +/-). I can distinctly remember at least 5 shots of his that were blocked and a pair of ugly turnovers. Mudiay’s fourth quarter, though, was a sight to behold. Suddenly he was penetrating with purpose and shielding the ball from those vicious Wizards defenders. He hit one of his patented legs-on-the-elliptical-machine threes. He pushed the pace, a thing he has become above average this season, roughly in the 60th percentile among players who made an appearance in at least half the game for at least 10mpg, and second among Knicks with the same parameters (take a wild guess about who’s first – the answer will be in the continuation of the recap). I didn’t like particularly his overall game, as he was too distracted and unattentive on defense, allowing cuts after cuts after cuts, but without him there wouldn’t have been the final effort that made this game so much more palatable. If we’re honest, in the good column I’d have to put just Mudiay’s fourth quarter.

The bad:

– Allonzo Trier (2 pts, 1 ast, 50% FT, -12 +/-) is doing everything he can to help our front office in contract negotiations. After exploding for a monster performance against Detroit, he’s posting 6.3 ppg on 26.1 FG%, 3 rpg, 2.3 apg and an average plus/minus of -12. Sign him now! Seriously, it’s normal he’s gonna have some nights off. He’s a rookie, and he’s not a point guard by any means. As soon as defenses start doubling him he’s lost and muffled, like putting a pillow in front of a megaphone. He’s not ready to be the designated primary ballhandler of a unit on a regular basis, and that’s ok. He shouldn’t be unless the situation is favorable and demands it, just like it is and was for Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford. Tonight he just didn’t have any solution for the second half extra-tight Wizards defense. He even missed two free throws. Who knows what happens to the rotation when Trey Burke comes back now that Courtney Lee is healthy. If there was a time to sign Zo to a team-friendly deal, it is now.

– Mario Hezonja (9 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, +1 +/-) is a real aficionado of this column. I still don’t understand why we’re supposed to have at least a bad starter in all of our iterations. With Lance down, Mario’s stepped up big time for that role. What’s borderline unbelievable is that he has played much worse as a starter than he did when he came from the bench. Bear with me. Mario as a starter: 5.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.0 apg on 33% from the field an 22% from three in 18 mpg. Mario as a bench player: 9.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.2 apg on 40% from the field and 28% from three in 20 mpg. And this numbers don’t even paint the whole picture, as it’s defense where he’s really been otherworldly terrible. We’ve played 25 games and I think there’s no question about who’s the Knicks worst player this year. So, sure, make him the starter and put Frank in the dungeon (I hope at least Ntilikina is not in the Butcher’s room from the original Diablo). As for tonight: Mario came out a bit aggressive, then chucked his way out of the game. To me, the most notable sequence of his game was in the first quarter with 5:25 to go. He was tasked with guarding Satoransky, and after a simple action by the Wizards, Wall threw the ball to Sato in the left corner, wide open (Mario got sucked a bit into the paint by a strange defensive rotation). Hez was still the closest guy to Satoransky, but no! He yelled and pointed at Mudiay, who was much closer to his man (Beal), to go and contest the Czech’s shot, while he was running towards the center court, and maybe Beal. It was something else, really. It was the basketball equivalent of faking an incoming phone call so you don’t have to speak with the guy you spotted 30 feet away, only for him to greet you anyway because your phone isn’t lit up and it’s pretty evident you’re looking for an excuse.

Fun-sized bits:

– Enes Kanter with a double-double, again (13 and 16 in 25 minutes of action). His effort was critical in the first half in keeping the Wiz down. I won’t talk about his defense again, but Fiz threw a very sneak-tank move in the fourth, putting Enes as the lone big in a lineup with Knox, Dotson, THJ/Trier and Mudiay. He entered the game as the score was 93-84. When Vonleh was subbed in for him just four minutes later, the score was 105-89. He never saw the floor again and the game ended 110-107. I think you get the idea.

– Vonleh had a good game (11 pts, 8 boards, +9 +/-) but I can’t put him in the good section if he misses that many bunnies and loses the ball four times due to sheer carelessness.

– Mitch with 3 blocks and a monster alley-oop (Knox had the nice idea to throw him a lob in the first, but missed the spot by about 2 feet. Mitch was able to capture the ball and stuff it anyway), and some good defense in space. It stands to no reason that he only played 14 minutes (at least he’s leading the league – the whole league! – in BLK%).

– Chuck Hardaway Jr.’s new recipe to get over the hump: if you’re shooting badly, take your first shot from 30+ feet! An uninspired 20 points outing for Timmy, who’s regressing to his former habits: bad shot selection, not going to the line that much, not doing a lot on the court (2 assists and nothing else).

– Kevin Knox is putting a lot more effort in his game lately. He shot badly (again), hitting just 3 of his 11 attempts, but got 9 boards, some of them contested, and handed out 4 assists. I liked what I saw from him tonight. Nothing to write home about, but his heart was in the right place.

– Kevin is the answer to the former question! He’s the Knicks with the highest pace on the team (good of the 77th percentile in the whole league). He’s attempting wretched layups, but he’s wasting no time in doing that!

– I like Courtney Lee. He stabilizes whatever lineup he’s in. I’m happy he’s playing again. I hope he’s somewhere else by January.

– The botched uncontested layup by Lee with two minutes to go was hilarious: Lee went for the layup with swag and landed ready to treat those two points like it was nothing (in a very convincing fake way). The layup bounced off the rim. Lee’s face transformed in a second in an expression that suits the awkward kid from high school who has the talent to always say the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was the layup version of the Nick Young missed three GIF.

– David Fizdale said, an hour before the game, he wasn’t sure if Burke’s minutes would go to Trier of Frank. Hahahahahah. Of course. Why not.

I’ll wait for you at the dungeon’s entrance on Thursday against a Celtics team that’s playing much better than it did the last time we faced it. Let’s see who comes out!

Milwaukee Bucks 134 – New York Knicks 136 (OT) – Game Recap

Ok, first of all: what an amazing game. I needed that. I think we all needed that. And I’m not talking about the win: I’m talking about 53 thrilling minutes of basketball, with lots of great NBA action this time. We already had a game that went to overtime (two overtime periods indeed), but it was such a slog that gave birth to the sushi recap. This one was different. It was highly enjoyable, tremendously involving, ecstatically adrenalinic. From time to time, it’s good to see a game like this as a Knicks fan first and a Knicks critic second.

Second of all: this is not sustainable at all. It was amazing to win but it won’t happen again like this: every Knick save for three (THJ, Knox and Trier) shot .500+ from the field. The team as a whole shot .531 from the field and (gasp!) .588 from three on 34 attempts. So let’s enjoy this one, because it was the game that made us regress to the mean after three horrendous slump-shooting games.

Third of all: aren’t you a bit dazed by Fizdale’s blabbering about Frank? He got his first DNP of the season and Fiz said something about “Nobody gets in my doghouse, they know they can get back into the rotation”. Oh really? In the fourth, we deployed a lineup without any nominal PG (even if we include Trier in the mix): THJ, Dotson, Knox, Vonleh and Kanter. And you couldn’t find a minute for Frank? It I didn’t know better (but do I?) this DNP would reek unmistakably of “Frank is traded by Wednesday”. If you’re not gonna play him, send him to the D-League. He really sucks as an offensive player right now, but I don’t think he deserves such gratuitous DNPs, especially on a night where Burke injured himself in less than two minute of gameplay and Hezonja found a way to play 12 minutes. I’m sick of this bulls*t from Perry (I’m assuming it’s his fault and there’s little it can be done to change my mind – for now – sorry if I’m explicitly calling bulls*t on this one).

But on to much sweeter notes, after this sour rant!

The great:

– Noah Vonleh (15 pts, 5 rebs, 1 ast, -4 +/-) keeps on being the catalyst for great Knicks games. He didn’t miss a single shot, going 6-for-6 from the field and 3-for-3 from three. He also played great defense on Giannis. Of course the Greek Freak got his (In my mind he’s the most dominant player in the world right now, just a smidge above LeBron and two above a healthy Curry), but Vonleh played him in the best possible way. Do you remember how everyone lauded over and over again Lance Thomas for his good defense on Antetokounmpo? Well, Vonleh did the same while playing actually productive basketball. He fouled out in overtime because of course you’re going to foul out guarding Giannis for 35 minutes. It has to be said that Giannis got a few star calls from the refs tonight, especially on a bogus uncalled traveling violation with just 2:05 to go in the fourth. His night began in the most auspicious way, with a thundering dunk on his first possession, who got the Garden riled up from the start. All in all, another great performance from Vonleh.

– Damyean Dotson (21 pts, 5 rebs, 1 ast, +15 +/-) is the living proof that whatever Fiz’s doghouse is, any sane person wouldn’t have put him in there. While you could theoretically give to his last three strong performance the old “sitting did him good” spin, the truth is that Dotson was performing really fine ever before that. Luckily his strong play in the first game where they needed him was enough to silence whatever order was made in favor of Hezonja. But, well, let’s speak of tonight: 21 points on 9 shots, good defense – a couple times even on Giannis after a switch, most importantly in the last possession of the fourth quarter – and the bucket that put the Knicks in front for good, maybe one of the best (if not the best, since you can count them on the fingers of a Homer Simpson’s hand) ATO we saw this season. He also is one of the few Knicks who run correctly the curl-around-the-screen-motion, and tickled the twine twice after one of those curls tonight. Dotson is for real and on an astonishing good value contract, raise your hand if you want to see him playing more!

– Emmanuel Mudiay (28 pts, 3 rebs, 7 ast, -3 +/-) had the performance of his life in the late fourth and in overtime. He almost singlehandedly carried the Knicks offense in that final stretch and was good at doing so. His efficiency was good but not great (28 pts on 20 shots), but he delivered in the clutch, hitting the three-point game tying shot with 24 seconds to go in the fourth and another two in the overtime. His shooting form from the perimeter is all over the place (think Russell Westbrook mixed with the worst Cobra Kai alum while intoxicated from cough syrup), but when they fall, they fall. I won’t expect him to hit 4 of 5 again anytime soon, but he picked the right night to do so. Those 7 assists were a welcome sight, also. I maintain that Mudiay is not a real PG, more of a combo guard. Nothing wrong with that, just saying that even if he develops more I wouldn’t be comfortable in handing him the reins of a team, and that we have a possibly superior one with the same build in Trier (I looked it up and amazingly B-R lists Trier as 2 lbs heavier than Emmanuel. Are we sure Zo didn’t pass some money to whomever is in charge of official measurements?). Still, a good game for Mud and a fun one to watch too.

The good:

– I guess that Kevin Knox (26 pts, 4 rebs, 4 ast, +5 +/-) will be the talk of the town in today’s newspapers. And, honestly, he deserves that, even if for one night. While watching the game during the fourth quarter, I thought it was gonna be an incredible outlier, because it looked like he was hitting every shot. During his last voyage to the stripe, at some point the MSG graphic showed he was 9/18 and 5/11 from three, far from what you would call “catching lightining in a bottle”. I would have liked to see him grab more boards, but his effort level was significantly higher tonight, even diving into the floor to try and get a jump ball in the third. His positioning in the offense was much better. His quick release and good sense of space on the perimeter reminded me (for one night) a bit of Steve Novak. Kevin played 37 minutes, was a plus-5 and however his career will be (not jinxing him this time; you already know what I think about him, but come on, even I can cut the kid some slack) we’ll always have the Knox game against the Bucks. By the way, here’s the list of Knicks rookies who hit 26+ points before Christmas (sorry, games in late season tend to count less for this purpose, as the competitiveness is not assured – remember Dot’s 30/10 from last April?) in the last 30 years: Knox, Trier, KP (twice), the immortal Chris Copeland and Channing Frye. It means nothing but it’s no small feat in itself, and Knox is the youngest.

The just above-average:

– Chuck Hardaway Jr. (21 pts, 4 rebs, 8 ast, +10 +/-) keeps on shooting badly, as for his last 6 games his TS% is a terrible 43.6, bringing the full season one to under 54, which is bad Melo territory. Luckily, he found other ways to contribute, as evidenced by his 8 assists and his plus-minus. Timmy played 47 minutes tonight, which means that, while we know that plus/minus is terribly inconclusive and noisy, the team was minus-8 without him on the court. He took another charge, which keeps him in second place in the whole league. Brief aside, again about Ntilikina: I guess Frank has done something awful to Fiz and his family not to see a single minute of action in a game where Tim Hardaway Jr. gets squeezed for 47 minutes, third most in the league for the season (to this date). Sorry, I really don’t get it.

The bad:

– Mario Hezonja (2 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -6 +/-) found a way into this column even after his earth-shattering dunk/staredown/walkover in the first minutes. It’s not that he’s bad per se (well, he is, but that’s not the point): it’s that his presence on the court is simply not functional to anything. He kinda spaces the court, but what good is it if he can’t hit shots? If anyone deserves to be in the “not doghouse”, it’s him. Give Dotson the nod in the starting five for hell’s sake!

Fun-sized bits:

– Mitch didn’t foul out (Edit: yes he did with 1.2 to go. I erased that memory from my mind)! And had the game-sealing block on Eric Bledsoe in overtime. He got the task of defending on Giannis for the final stretch, after getting the same assignment in sparse minutes in the third and fourth, and guess what? He was pretty good at it. He put more attention in not going for the block, not leaving his feet early, not flailing around helplessly. He committed a very dumb foul on a Brogdon three point make in the fourth that was a bit reminiscent of KP’s closeouts, but he’s learning. I love his touch around the basket, but his hands need to get stronger and more confident in catching the ball. It’s good to know Fiz trusts the kid in crunch minutes. Well, at least until he puts him into the “not doghouse” for abstruse reasons.

– I’m sorry, that “not doghouse” thing just doesn’t sit well. I’m one of the most quiet, calm, soft-spoken people you’ll find around, but I can’t stand intellectual dishonesty.

– Enes Kanter was pretty inconsequential. Not good, not bad, just a bit mediocre.

– Allonzo wasn’t particularly good but contributed anyway: 9 points on 3-for-8, 6 boards, 5 assists for the rookie in 17 minutes of action.

– I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Malcolm Brogdon was -26 in plus/minus while scoring 22 points on 12 shots, getting 6 boards and dishing 4 assists. I guess he was the lucky talisman for our three comebacks during the game!

– Yeah, three real comebacks in a single game. The Bucks were up by 13 in the second quarter (Knicks get the lead 71-70 in the third with 8:48 remaining), up by 16 in the third with 5:30 to go (Knicks down just by three with 10:22 in the fourth), up by 14 in the fourth quarter with 6:54 remaining (Knicks tie with less than 25 seconds to go). Or are they two fake comebacks and a real one? I can’t decide.

See you on Monday against the Wizards and that insufferable jerk named John Wall!

New York Knicks 108 – Detroit Pistons 115 – Game Recap

Hello losing my old friend, I’ve come to talk about you again.

After the three-win streak that we just endured, finally a consolatory loss, and with a kinda better minute distribution from Fiz. The game was ugly (our Bockers ended up shooting 39.6% from the field, but entering the second half their percentage was under 30, welp) and much less closer than the final scores indicates; there were times tonight when watching those two teams playing that I caught myself wondering if I was witnessing some sort of impromptu post-modern art performance. Guys fouled like crazy (usual and unusual suspects) and in the end Blake Griffin was just too much for any of our defenders. In the closing minutes, out of frustration (and necessity) Fizdale dusted off a previously horrendous Frank to defend on Blake, and while he did a decent job at defending Blake (but kept on sucking extremely hard at the game of basketball) the score was well out of reach, so it didn’t count. Every other guy was bullied and torched by a curly, burly Motown discount version of LeBron James. But a loss is a loss, so rejoice!

The good:

– Allonzo Trier (24 pts, 10 rebs, 7 ast, -6 +/-) makes you wonder why in the hell the Knicks haven’t already cut someone to sign him, and not out of astonishment at Iso Zo’s feats; there is an opportunity cost lurking around the corner, and it says “The later you sign him to a real contract, the more it is gonna you cost”. I mean, our man got close to a triple double and was the driving force behind a very fake and weak comeback in the fourth. It’s pretty clear that Fizdale trusts him to be our closer, especially on nights where THJ doesn’t have it – and that might mean a lot of nights by the end of the season. The last sentence, while serving its duty as our daily reminder that our roster stinks (your closer is an undrafted guy on a two-way contract!), could make Trier think twice before accepting whatever lowball offer the Knicks will throw at him. What could have cost you 2 million a year might now cost 3 or more. Every game where Zo puts up those numbers and does so on 11 shots is gonna raise the price. An undrafted rookie rocking a .612 TS% (third among all rookies) on 20.4 USG% is the stuff of your dreams, even if he’s an older rookie. There have been 8 games this year where a rookie has put a GameScore of 23+: Zo has two of them (the others: Ayton twice, Doncic, Jackson Jr, Young, Carter Jr). It has to be said that while his offense was pretty much pristine, his defense was uncharacteristically lackadaisical. Ok, Ish Smith is a longtime Knicks killer, but he got where he wanted all night and Zo never did anything to stop him. I hope that Zo is not one of those guys that after having made it just gives up on defense.

– Someone has any effing idea why Damyean Dotson (17 pts, 1 reb, 1 stl, +5 +/-) could not find any playing time in the last 4 games and had to be taken off the shelf only because of urgent foul trouble? He’s by far – by far – better that any other 3/4 wing we have. I can’t shake this feeling that Perry is constantly in Fiz’s ear telling him to play his precious Mario. More importantly, Dot doesn’t give up. Like an utmost professional, he stepped into the game and proceeded to score 17 on 8 shots in 23 minutes. He could have been a little better on defense and on the boards, but you can’t have it all. I just hope that Fizdale never buries him again, it’s the only very baffling things he did in the recent winning streak. I don’t know about those trade rumors, too. Do we have to trust our front office with getting a good return from an unheralded second round pick on a uber team friendly contract? I don’t. Let’s hope Dot sticks around.

The bad:

– Frank Ntilikina (0 everything, -5 +/-) played one of the worst transparent games I’ve ever seen. The only thing preventing him from earning a cool 16 trillions was bricking 3 shots, fouling 3 guys and turning the ball over once. I’m a fan of Frank for evidently irrational reasons, but it gets harder and harder each day to think we didn’t make a serious mistake picking him at 8th last year. His game was so ugly that I can’t even remember anything about him on defense, save for the couple possessions when he was assigned to Griffin. Hey, what do you say if we pretend (paraphrasing what someone suggested in one of the last threads) that Dotson was our 2017 first round pick and Frank was our second round pick? Maybe we could shift expectations and apologetic contortions.

– Trey Burke (6 pts, 1 reb, 12.5% FG, -18 +/-) has turned into a pumpkin again. It’s unbelievable how much variance affects his games. Or not! Actually, his success is predicated on being a marksman on the least efficient type of shots in the game: the long two-pointer. If it doesn’t fall, you have a 6’1″ mountain of bricks staring at you, and that shot usually comes and goes. His game-low plus/minus tells the same story. It’s no coincidence that our defacto PG in the last quarter was Trier.

– I guess Mitchell Robinson’s (2 pts, 5 rebs, 1 blk, -13 +/-) scout report is officially out. His second consecutive mention here it’s not exactly his fault, it’s more about experience and tendencies that can and will be corrected. That said, it’s become obvious that he has no way of stopping crafty, huge big men near the rim without fouling them; the same can be said about speedy driving guards who are not afraid of contact. Another night prematurely ended by six quick fouls. It has to be said that giving him the Griffin assignment was like dropping a hurt, bloodied puppy on a sea full of hungry sharks, and Griffin caused the fouling out of Vonleh and Hezonja too. Growing pains, guys!

– Kevin Knox (4 pts, 3 rebs, 14.3& FG, -4 +/-) is, right now, a terrible basketball player. You had to hear the deflated, defeated somber tone used by Mike Breen late in the fourth quarter in referring to Knox: “Knox really looks lost, Clyde”. It was a torrent of sadness, as if a million neurons were facepalming in unison like tiny synchronized swimmers. And Breen has been with this team through a lot of bad times. He was there when the East was big. When Beno passed the ball. When Mardy Collins was playing for us. And I’ve never heard anything so dreary come out of his mouth. But Knox is the perfect recipe for piling losses, so yay! I can be happy again! …or not.

Fun-sized bits:

– Enes with another double double. Guy is a machine. A slow, overpayed, self-inflated one, but a machine nonetheless. I wish we were in the 90s to trade him for a king’s ransom. We’ll end up buying him out instead. But his terrible defense is pivotal to our tank effort, so until March maybe it’s cool (if Mitch really can’t stay on the court).

– Mudiay with a vintage Mudiay performance. Do I have to act surprised?

– Chuck Hardaway’s numbers in his last 4 games (3 W, 1L): 17.3 ppg on 32.3 FG% (47.3 TS%). At least he reduced his usage to just 23%.

– Frank’s TS% is 43.5. His 2017-18 was 43.7. I think we would be excused if we started thinking about him as a non-shooter.

– If Vonleh has foul trouble issues, the whole team suffers. Tonight it was really apparent. His game is pure substance, even when posting mediocre numbers (6 pts, 7 rebs, 1 ast, 3 blks). He keeps on shooting the three at a .400+ clip, though.

– This would have been the perfect game to unleash a sprinkle of Ron Baker; I’m a bit sad that didn’t happen.

– Mario is playing a bit better, but nothing that grants him any of Dotson minutes.

– Stanley Johnson killed our guys tonight with 21 points, and his defense on the perimeter was very good. Is this again my heart saying “Be patient with Frank” in the background?

Another back-to-back for us tomorrow against the 76ers. Don’t know why but I have a feeling that we’re gonna win. Let’s see if I’m wrong (I hope to be)!

New York Knicks 103 – Memphis Grizzlies 98 – Game Recap

Picture this: you’ve been ousted by your former employer because of friction in the workplace, which were probably caused not only by you, by you alone paid the price. You go to work for an upstart, if disjointed, new young company. Fate intervenes and pits you up against your former employer in a nation wide competition for best businesses; you probably know you shouldn’t stand a chance to win and you would benefit more for your company developmente by just letting your youngest team members learn on the way, while getting the most experienced ones to just provide support and a sort of backbone. But no, you have to win. It’s personal.

Well, I completely understand that. Sometimes it’s really personal. So this time I’ll set aside my usual rants about veterans and rotations and whatever. It feels good for Fiz. You could see it in his eyes, and especially in the post-game hug with Mike Conley. His clash with Marc Gasol last season could have been an unwashable stain in his NBA career. Now it looks like it’s just another bump in the rearviewmirror.

Getting to the game: it was great! You see, I’m used to low-scoring games, what with my European upbringing, and rooting for the Knicks makes it so that we’re usually fond of players who give their all on the court to prevent the other team from scoring easily, but I have a soft spot for well-played games that are not shoot-outs. Now, don’t think that I don’t like those crazy scoring nights around the league that tend to happen daily this season, but well, they look like blockbuster cinema. It’s fun and everyone likes it, but sometimes a real fan wants to appreciate something closer to the nature of the game. Or maybe it’s just me longing for the past days where I banged and raised elbows and profusely sweated and fouled hard guys trying to score easy baskets, and I had my freeflowing locks a-la Christian Laettner blocking my view on the court, while nowadays I never play anymore and I’m scratching my bald head at the last 350 words.

Let’s try it again.

Getting to the game: it was great! A hard fought, gritty win on the road against the team with the best record in the Western Conference, with a few heartening performances along the way and a thrilling finale where our guys showed up in the clutch. Let’s delve into details!

The good:

– Enes Kanter (21 pts, 26 rebs, 3 ast, +9 +/-) threw in a performance for the ages, netting 14 points and 11 rebounds in a single quarter, the third. It’s his second 20-20 game for the season, and his 26 rebounds are a career high and a season high for the whole league. He played a Thibs-approved 42 minutes, but didn’t seem gassed at all in the waning minutes (insert joke here about how not playing defense make the feat easier, as you rest on the court for half the time). There were times, especially in the third quarter, where he utterly dominated the mountain-like Marc Gasol under both rims. I am always thankful for Enes, since he got us out from the Melo contract with the added benefit of the MitchRob pick, but I’m routinely harsh with him. Not tonight. I was happy to root for his monster performance. Amazingly, his game score for tonight amounts just to third-best for the season. I wish it was easy to root wholeheartedly for him this season, sadly it’s not recommendable, as it wouldn’t be recommendable to fall in love with a crazy-hot partner who you know won’t be around in a few months and will ruin some of your most promising friendships.

– Emmanuel Mudiay (17 pts, 2 rebs, 4 ast, +5 +/-) was again pretty good on offense, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the line to offset his subpar shooting night (5-for-12) and being the protagonist of the highlight of the game, a late-game breakaway and-one dunk after a Burke steal with less than 100 seconds to go. Mudiay has been legitimately good at attacking the rim this season. He falls to the ground like he did in past seasons, but this year he usually converts the shot. It’s funny that I refer to a 5-for-12 night as “subpar”: if he ended the season shooting 41.7% from the field it would still be his most accurate average by far. For the current season, instead, he’s shooting 49.2% from the field and is on the verge of breaking the .100 WS/48 threshold that basically would posit that he has become an average NBA player. It’s genuinely astonishing and at the same time it functions as a glimmer of hope for the development of a certain other offensively challenged kid with African roots. Mudiay found a way to be a contributor even against the top defense in the League, and that’s really something. If this is the real Mudiay, I’d count it as the highlight of Fiz’s career.

– Noah Vonleh (7 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, +17 +/-) took more than a backseat to Kanter’s amazing night, but make no mistake: he’s the glue that keeps everything together. Simply put, when he’s on the court it’s almost impossible for the Knicks to be outmatched in physicality and effort, and as a tertiary ball-handler he shows a lot of confidence, and his teammates rely on him to create from time to time. Memphis would have certainly escaped with the win if he wasn’t there grabbing some hard boards in the fourth (you know, the ones where you have to jump high, something that Enes doesn’t exactly excel in). Great signing from the scrap heap, wish we could have him for a few more years.

The bad (or more on point, the meh):

– Kevin Knox (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 blk, -4 +/-) is not ready for this type of games. He shot the ball three times and he never did so in rhythm. It’s hard to find your spots against a team as defensively prepared as Memphis, so that’s not entirely his fault, but his contributions nowadays seem to came only by his points scored, and when he doesn’t hit shots he’s worse than useless, he’s actively detrimental. His road to be a competent NBA rotation player will be bumpy and we have to be ready and patient. As of now I’d say there’s a 30% chance that Kevin will be an NBA player in 5 years, but there’s no way to know for sure. I didn’t have a lot of expectations from him this season, I’d say we’re par for the course.

– Mitchell Robinson (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -5 +/-) was the primary suspect on everyone’s list of “player less suited to play against Memphis”, and that list was correct. The rail-thin Mitch could do nothing against the Gasol behemoth, nor against the rangy Jaren Jackson Jr. He was completely out of sorts in all of his 13 minutes of play, particularly on defense. Nights like this act like a much needed reminder that Mitch has still a lot to get to NBA-starter level, but well… he’s a 20 year second-round pick rookie who’s exceeding expectations by a lot, so he’s more than forgiven. He’s still leading the league in BLK% even after this empty performance, go figure.

Fun-sized bits:

– Trey Burke was more than instrumental in securing the win, with his great interception for the Mudiay’s dunk and his 8-for-8 from the line, but man… he clunked a lot of shots. He was 3-for-15 from the field, playing a big part in the awful 37.4 FG% posted by the Knicks team. Being a six-foot guard has to be scary on a night where Memphis set its franchise record for blocks in a game.

– Tim Hardaway Jr had his second bad shooting night in a row, but made up for it with some charity stripe forays (22 points on 16 shots, 7-for-7 from the line). All in all a very transparent game from him, but in the end we needed a few of his buckets to take home the W. Sitting comfortably at 23.3 ppg on 55.5 TS%, he’s playing the quintessential high volume-average efficiency scorer role risen to prominence in many Melo years.

– Speaking of Melo: do you realize this would have been the last year of the contract Phil gave to him? And he’s apparently out of the league? How’s it goink?

– For the second straight game, Frank played 13 minutes. They weren’t bad, but Fiz looks to have shifted into “Frank is a wing who will play minutes accordingly to the game flow” mode. I’m not sure if I like this, but Frank’s not complaining. 7 points and 6 boards for him. A little more substance in his game for once.

– Exhibit A about Frank’s shot being irreparably broken: a hideous airball from three (with his feet set) in the first quarter just after a clean make from the corner 90 seconds before. Exhibit A about Frank’s shot needing only some confidence: the kid is shooting 15/16 from the line for the season and his stroke looks pure. I think Frank has to make a mental leap to become a good player; the downside of that is that mental leaps are the hardest to successfully complete.

– Zo with another double figures scoring night, but this time he wasn’t efficient (5-for-12). Credit Memphis for making his efforts at the rim much harder than they were in his first 20 games.

– Mario started again. Didn’t do a lot again. But he was a bit better and didn’t get in the way (and looked a bit more focused). Can we please see more Dotson and less Mario? Thank you.

– For all the people who think that winning useless games is better because it helps building a winning culture: if the byproduct of said “winning culture” is a Knox instead of a JJJ, I don’t want to win anymore. To me, JJJ is going to be the second best player in this rookie class.

– Lastly, for all my rants about winning useless games, we’re at 7-14, which means we won a third of the games we played, which means if we keep this W/L ratio we’ll end up at 27-55, right around where I predicted at the beginning. It’s easy to get carried away by the tanking passion.

Let’s see what our guys are made of on Tuesday against Detroit! For now it’s all. See you!