Lakers 113, Knicks 96

For the second time in three nights, the Knicks played a team from Los Angeles who came into the Garden on the second game of a back-to-back. And, for the second time, the Knicks looked like the more tired team. With their 11th loss in their last 15, the Knicks dropped to .500 for the first time since November 28th, while remaining a game and a half ahead of Philly for the 6th seed in the Conference.

But while Phil Jackson certainly brought a more tested and talented squad to the World’s Most Famous, the Garden’s Charmin-soft rims didn’t seem to know the difference: the Lakers shot a very loud 54%, including a solid 6 for 15 from distance. In fact, of the players who took more than one shot, only Ron Artest (2-9) and Steve Blake (2-5) managed to shoot below 50% from the field. It was the 5th time in 6 games the Knicks have surrendered over 50 for FG%, with the lone exception being a 100-98 loss at Philly a week ago.

Meanwhile, the Knick’ shooting woes continued, as they once again mirrored their opponents’ proficiency with a head-scratching under-50% outing for the 4th time in 5 games. Overall the Knicks shot 41% from the floor, including 5-20 from downtown. The lone bright spot – at least statistically – was Raymond Felton, who banked 20 with a gaudy TS% of 75%. Stat, meanwhile, again had trouble getting to the rim against the Lakers staunch interior, netting 24 on 20 shots. Ironically however, and despite playing in the veritable Laker forest of bigs, Stoudemire managed to grab 10 boards for the first time since pulling down 12 against the Thunder on January 22nd – a string of 8 games that has coincided with an equally confounding overall rebounding famine for the Knicks.

Despite the co-captains being somewhat effective, the rest of the rotation struggled to find a rhythm. Though continuing to show an increasing acumen for taking it to the tin, on this night the whistles were silent for Gallo, who went 4 for 15 (including 0 for 6 from deep) and finished with 12 points and 6 boards in 38 minutes. Fields, who seems to have hit at least a few bricks on the “Rookie Wall” the last few games, was deafeningly silent, going 2 for 6 (0 for 1 from 3) en route to a +/- (-17) that was second only to Wilson Chandler’s -18. For his part, Chandler – who had the unfortunate task of guarding Gasol for much of the night – played with slightly more confidence than we’ve seen in the last few games, netting 13 (5-10 from the field), 5 rebounds and 4 assists in a heavy 34 minutes off the bench.

Kobe did his Kobe thing in the first quarter, picking his spots and channeling performances past in tossing up 19 on 5-7 shooting, before finishing with an irritating 33 and a TS% of 82. For a while the Knicks kept up, and trailed by only 2 at the end of 1. For much of the first quarter and the first part of the second, the ball was moving on O, guys were getting open looks, and Ray in particular was honed in, scoring 14 and dishing out 4 assists en route to a lone-bright-spot kind of night.

Then the second quarter happened. Felton and Stat went to the bench – as did Kobe and most of the Laker starters. Mozgov, who played a rough-but-passable game en route to 7 points and 11 boards on 3-9 shooting, quickly to into foul trouble, opening up the middle for the Lakers, who began exploiting the Knicks weak interior D. This episode featured 6’8” Wilson Chandler stranded helplessly on Pau Gasol, with Amar’e guarding Bynum. It was also around this time that the Knicks apparently figured “we’re having such a swell time playing defense, why don’t we turn the ball over 9 times in the quarter and 4 times in 5 possessions?” The result was a 14-point halftime lead that found both the Garden crowd and the KB forum eerily silent.

The Knicks actually outrebounded the Lakers 44-41, including 13-7 in OREBs. While there were a few inevitable lapses – which happens when you’re playing against two smart, athletic 7-footers – the Knicks also showed at least a tentative propensity for boxing out, all but eliminating by the third quarter what was, in the first half, a sizable rebounding margin. Still, particularly in the first half, it seemed all of L.A.’s offensive boards came at times when the Knicks needed a change of possession the most.
New York never made a serious run in the second half, closing to within 10 only once, and the Lakers pulled away early in the 4th as Luke Walton led the team down the home stretch. Actually, I don’t know what happened in the last three minutes. ESPN actually spirited me away to overtime of the Cavs-Clippers game. Apparently, “relevance” only begins where 26-game losing streaks end.

Despite perhaps the worst coupling of games this year, if the last two LAX-fests have taught us anything, it’s that the end of a back-to-back can actually turn out favorably. With the Sixers and Bobcats lurking in the shadows, tonight’s game in Newark presents a definite litmus test for our faltering cagers. Fall below .500, and get ready to hear the Chris Sheridans and Ric Buchers of the world play the gut-‘em guitar for the next two weeks. Go in and dominate in an arena that just weeks ago was selling last-minute Nets-Cavas tickets for 50 cents, well, that’s what good teams do.

Suns 129. Suns East 121

When I was a youngin’, the Martin Luther King Day afternoon game was always a treat. One, I got a day off from school in the middle of a typically bleak NYC winter. Two, the ‘Bockers always played (or at least seemed to) against one of the NBA’s better teams and occasionally they’d pull off a dramatic and/or unexpected win. Even more enjoyable (to a teenage me) is when there’d be some random act of violence and/or hostility

Some of y’all may recall, the Nix actually played in the first MLK Day game (it only became a holiday in ’86) v/ Philly and the next year took on the awesome and equally loathsome Celtics. A nip and tuck affair, they won it on a last-second, off-balance bank shot by their perpetually undernourished “power” forward, Louis Orr.

Then there’s the infamous game in 1990 when Trent Tucker nailed a rainbow trey with .01 left on the game clock for the win (leading directly to the, “Trent Tucker Rule,” which stipulated that a player needs at least .03 seconds to attempt any non-tip shot). You can see it at 9:43 of this clip. Particularly amusing (but alas, not shown) was Pre-Zen Master Phil Jackson’s’ look of utter incredulity after the ball went through the hoop, his hands grasping futilely at his Late-80’s-era NBA head coach perma-weave hairdo.

But of course, buzzer-beaters aren’t nearly as compelling as all-out brawls, if only for the crushing irony of fists flying on a day celebrating a man who dedicated his life to preaching non-violent resistance.  Like in 2001 when Marcus Camby got a little peeved at future Cavs GM Danny Ferry and took a vicious swing at him, only to miss entirely and whomp Jeff “I should really never be allowed anywhere near an NBA brawl” Van Gundy upside the head. This lead to a series of hand-wringing and faux-appalled articles by the tabloids along the lines of “Oh the humanity!” or, “On Martin Luther King Day! Children were watching this game. Won’t somebody please think of the children!” And even, “Dr. King’s legacy/work/words mean nothing to these hooligans on the court!!!

Honestly though, I’m fairly sure they just recycled the same “think-pieces” they’d written in ’93 when, after a close-fought Nix-Suns game, Charles Barkley, displaying his usual sense of timing and clearly only wanting to have a calm, rational discussion (that in no way involved violence or violent rhetoric) about some calls that he disagreed with, literally vaulted the scoring table to chase down Referee Jim Clark, wrecking a few Commodore 64’s, Wang Laptops (Seriously, there used to be a big-time computer company called “Wang.” Another delight for teenage me. [Wang, tee hee!]), and Apple 11g’s before being forcibly restrained by all-time bad, lumbering backup 7-footer, Tim Kempton.

I hope you all enjoyed this brief primer on MLK Day and the Nix, b/c honestly, I just didn’t want to write about today’s miserable game of basketball. They lost, which will happen from time to time, but if you check the comments in the in-game thread, folks are pissed. Raymond Felton is getting those perturbing Chris Duhon comparisons again. Stat’s soft. D is awful, etc. etc…Basically, all the things we heard and said at the start of the season. I guarantee a ratcheting up of the howls by the unwashed masses plus Berman/Isola/Vescey to, “GET MELO NOW!!!” You can set your watch by it.

In brief, the Knicks were just terrible closing out on three pointers and let the Suns hang around all game. It was odd. I said myself in the comments it seemed as if the Knicks were “waiting to win.” Now, I try not to delve too much into bad sportswriting sociology/psychology (e.g “They wanted it more.” “We weren’t hungry.” “This team has no heart” and on and on.) but in this instance, it seemed as if they felt they were about to go on a 20-2 run at any moment and put the Suns away, but it never happened. There were a few brief flurries, but really the two teams stayed within 3-4 points of one another until the very end. Alas, Stat missed some gimmes in the 4th, the Knicks committed a ton of silly fouls and the ghosts of Channing Frye, Vince Carter and Grant Hill made clutch bucket after clutch bucket. Here’s some more detailed thoughts on our heroes for those of you who are gluttons for punishment.

RAY-RAY: Somewhere, Ted Nelson is smiling. Felton’s been off for a few weeks now. 13 dimes notwithstanding, 3-13 from the field is just not good. Is this a return to his statistical norms or is he suffering from fatigue/overuse or is he hurt worse than he;s letting on? Only time will tell.

STAT; 39 41 points (TOTH to BigBlueAl) is sure swell, but as previously mentioned, he came up small in the 4th. Then there’s his, “I’m not going to contest this shot b/c I can’t get in foul trouble” thingy. I get that, but that shouldn’t carry over to rebounding. How a guy 6’10” who can jump through the roof finishes with only 6 rebounds is beyond me. Maybe I should ask Brook Lopez.

GALLO: He had a solid game coming back from injury, but he’s still got to demand the ball more. Felton too, needs to find him when he’s heating up.

DWTDD: There’s good Toney, who’s a major pest on D, can semi-run the point and cans open shots. Then there’s bad Toney, who takes awful contested runners, turns the ball over constantly, and seems like his b-ball IQ is at Jerome Jamesian levels. Guess which one we got today?

WILLLL-SON CHAND-LA: Not much to say. His some nice shots but also missed a ton of 3’s and wasn’t a factor on defense. It’s these so-so, it doesn’t really matter if he’s on the floor or not, games that make the populace clamor for that guy in Denver. (Of course, it’s these disappearing acts that make it much harder to get said Denver-ite (Denver-ian?).

EXTRA E/BULLY WALKER: Like twin demiurges, they both had some nice moments (E off the dribble, Dubs from downtown), but there were defensive lapses and putrid fouls galore v. Carter and Hill, who both played like it was the year 2000.

LANDRY FIELDS: Dude needs a nickname. Plus, he needs MD’A to play him at the end of the game. He was his usual intangible-tastic, rebounding, spot-up shooting self, but for reasons unbeknownst to your humble correspondent, didn’t play in the 4th till the game was out of hand. When Landry doesn’t get enough PT, the angels weep tears with droplets o f WP/48 inside.

C’est tout, mes gars. There’s a nasty Southwestern road trip coming up, with both the Spurs and Thunder on the docket seeking some measure of retribution. Yikes. This is still a young team, and games like the last two are bound to happen, but to paraphrase/honor Dr. King, “We, as a team, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.”

What Difference Did Two Games Make, Statistically Speaking?

The Knicks have won their last two contests, and have snuck into 7th place in the Eastern Conference standings. This chain of events might have coaxed Knick fans who were on the ledge back into safety. But what do these recent games say about the team? To do so I’ll compare the Knicks stats from prior to this win streak to today. I’ll concentrate with team stats, since they are the most insightful.

The good news is that the New York offense has jumped up to the 8th spot from the 18th. Although the Knicks have improved in each of the four factors, the biggest improvement has come in free throw shooting. Getting to the line is now a Knick forte, with the 3rd best rate in the league. Although Amar’e (8.2 fta/36) and Gallinari (7.5 fta/36) power the franchise, Wilson Chandler has made the most significant strides (3.4 to 4.0 fta/36).

On the other hand, the defense has declined as New York now ranks 24th, down 4 spots from prior to the win streak and 13 spots from less than a week ago. Defense appeared to be a Knick strength, but now has become a liability. The only factor that dramatically dropped was opponent shooting percentage, which is now the fifth worst in the league behind the Kings, Wizards, Suns, and Clippers. The knee-jerk answer is that Turiaf’s injury has made New York worse on defense. However Ronny came back on the 16th, a day after the Knicks were ranked 11th. Additionally he’s started in the last 3 games, so it’s hard to explain the defensive decline on his absence. The better explanation is that the team overall hasn’t done a good job in preventing opponents from getting good looks at the rim. The strength of the Knick defense is in making opponents cough up the ball, as New York ranks 11th in forcing turnovers.

Nuggets 120, Knicks 118

To be honest, if before the season started I had known that the Knicks would drop this game, I wouldn’t have been too upset. The Nuggets have been a quality team for a number of seasons, and losing to them on the road would be no great problem. The problem is that I likely would have assumed that the Knicks entered the game with a better record than the 3-7 they sported as they entered the Pepsi Center this evening, a record made even more excruciating by the manner in which the Knicks have lost. Tonight’s loss was the Knicks’ fifth by five points or less, which doesn’t include the 21 pt blown lead in the game against Minnesota. The team is proving that it is good enough to make the game close, but also that they are still that play or two away from getting over the hump. Down by eleven points with just over six minutes left, the Knicks made up the difference in three minutes to tie the game at 109. From that point on, however, the Knicks missed six of their last nine shots, with only a Raymond Felton(19 pts 11 ast) three-pointer with one second left bringing the margin back to within two points. Quick thoughts from the box score:

  • If there was a positive to be taken away from tonight’s game, it was the continued emergence of Landry Fields into a bona fide starting guard in the NBA. Count me as among the optimists when it comes to Fields- he’s displayed an excellent ability to drive past his defender and finish at the rim, and his numbers tonight (21 pts on 15 fga and 17 reb) back up the data from the season thus far. Fields is an efficient scorer whom I’d love to see given more opportunities to display his previously-questioned-now-undeniable athleticism.
  • And the loser tonight? That distinction must belong to Roger Mason Jr., who managed an astonishing +/- of -11 in only six minutes of playing time. Mason looks nothing like the shooting guard who fearlessly fired three-pointers on San Antonio Squads earlier in the decade. His minutes could almost certainly be better divvied up between Fields and Bill Walker, giving Mason a nice seat next to Eddy Curry.
  • On the Nuggets side, rumored Knick-to-be Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points, requiring 21 shots to do so and turning the ball over five times. I leave it to you to decide if you’d be excited to trade for him.
  • Wilson Chandler contributed five blocked shots, keeping his average at an incredible 2.3 per game and putting him in the top ten in blocks per game in the NBA this season. Those critical of Ill Will’s efficiency may have been pleasantly surprised by his 23 points on 16 attempts, although one would like to see him corral more than one rebound.
  • Finally, Gallo’s shooting woes continued (6-19), though he did shoot 7-8 from the stripe to give him 21 pts.

All in all, the loss tonight puts pressure on the Knicks to take a game from the Kings in Arco Arena this Wednesday. If the Knicks are to truly be considered a playoff team in the East, it’s the type of game they need to win, not only to add a W to the win-loss column, but also to stop what is now a six-game losing streak.

Wolves 112, Knicks 103

view of a road sign saying panic button

Before the game I took a gander at my stat page to see what the Knicks were up against. The Timberwolves seemed to be their typical pathetic selves, ranked 30th on offense and 25th on defense. Most of the four factors were below average, far below average. That is except for one notable exception, rebounding. Prior to tonight’s game, Minnesota ranked 2nd in offensive rebounding, 8th on their own glass.

So it should not have been a surprise to see the Twolves dominate New York on the glass. In the third quarter with Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench due to foul trouble, it seemed that Kevin Love grabbed every Minnesota miss. With Mozgov occupied with Darko Milicic, New York had Wilson Chandler on Love. And for the most part that match-up on the glass looked like a high schooler facing off against grade schoolers. Love set a Minny record with 15 rebounds in the 3rd quarter, three shy of the NBA record (Nate Thurmond in 1965). By the game’s end he also set the team record for total rebounds with 31.

New York squandered a 21 lead in the 3rd quarter, and Minnesota eventually took the lead in the 4th quarter with 9 minutes left and went on to victory. In addition to being out-muscled and out-hustled on the glass, the Knicks shot poorly (44% eFG). Five New Yorkers had more shots than points, Chandler (17 points, 19 fga), Amar’e (14 pts, 15 fga), Douglas (10 pts, 9 fga), Mozgov (0 pts, 2 fga), and Randolph (0 pts, 2 fga). Although Chandler shot poorly, he did contribute with 5 blocks and 7 assists. And Felton (22 pts, 13 fga, 8 ast), Fields (16 pts 14 fga, 9reb, 3 stl), and Gallo (25 pts, 17 fga, 5 reb) saw their good nights wasted in the losing effort.

2010-2011 Game Recap: Warriors 122 – Knickerbockers 117

One of the most entertainingly stupid games I’ve seen in a long time.
— Frank O.

How to sum this up for those that might have missed this sordid affair? Well, it’s a game the Knicks should have won, that for the majority of it, they should have lost, that for a second there in the final seconds, it looked like they might be able to win, but no, in fact, they lost. I’ll touch on the overall hi-jinks of our hardwood heroes, but first, a few in-depth thoughts regarding the sequence of plays that cost them the game. The ‘Bockers were up two (and, to be honest, really getting bailed out by the refs, even if they were canning their FT’s) when…

1:57: Dorell Wright makes 25-foot three point jumper (Monta Ellis assists) 114-113

For what seemed to be the umpteenth time, Curry beat Douglas/Felton off the dribble and kicked out to a wide-open shooter, to which the Nix wouldn’t or couldn’t close out. Okay. No worries. Let’s just execute on offense like we had been for the last 6 mins of the quarter. No prob!

1:36: Toney Douglas misses 25-foot three point jumper. Raymond Felton offensive rebound. Gallinari misses 25-foot three point jumper. Wilson Chandler offensive rebound. Gallinari misses 4-foot jumper 114-113

Just an AWFUL sequence. Yes, Toney was open, but he hadn’t hit a three since Chicago and they had been killing the Dubs at the line. Felton gets the board, but Gallo forces ANOTHER off-balance 3. Chandler gives them another chance and Gallo bricks a layup. Leading to this fastbreak…

1:05: Stephen Curry defensive rebound. Chandler blocks Reggie Williams’s jumper. Dorell Wright offensive rebound. Wright makes layup 116-113

Great play by Chandler to block the shot, but the rest of the team just gave up on the play. Guys, I know it’s frustrating that you really screwed the pooch on the last offensive sequence, but run back on d, pretty please? Okay, that was bad – but still time left, just keep attacking the rim. All is well. Remain calm!

0:49: Dorell Wright shooting foul (Amare Stoudemire draws the foul). Stat misses 2 free throws

Look, they’d made 27 or so in a row, but you have to have those. Lee then made one of two and Gallo forced a three, AGAIN. And that cued up the fat lady. Yes, Stat’s three that made it close, but Chandler was positively the last guy who should have taken the shot that could have tied it (even if he was 4-9 behind the arc at that point).

One minute and thirty-odd seconds of Dumb.

Powerful Dumb.

Dumb with a side of extra stoopid and a boneheaded chaser.

You know, I was born 10 years too late to watch/root for the Clyde/Willis teams, and lawdy it galls me. I so want to pull for a smart team. (And please don’t say the Rileybockers. They played like a bunch of crazed dogs [as Lawrence Taylor might say], but watching the head-scratching things they’d do to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory caused me to literally put my head through the wall on one occasion.) Tonight, for every good thing the Knicks did, they did something so gut-punchingly awful that one could easily forget what the good thing might have been. F’rinstance. Stat hit a bunch of tough shots and finished with what looks like a pretty cran-tastic line (33 points on 15 shots, 10 rebounds, 3 steals), but he turned it over six times (and I’m surprised it’s only 6), all of them on unforced errors – dribbling the ball off his foot, hands of stone on the pick and roll – and of course the two bricks from the line at the end. Gallo was driving to the lane and playing solid D, but…he forced some terrible treys at the end of the game. Toney Douglas made some tough runners as they were coming back in the 4th, but…he too couldn’t buy one from downtown and played some uncharacteristically flimsy defense (going under screens, dumb reach in fouls), especially v. Stupendous Stephen Curry (Seeing him for an entire game for the first time, I gotta say that he’s wicked good. Better than I thought, even. I’m so pissed that he’s not a Knick. Effing Warriors. Anyway…) And Chandler…gap-toothed Willy, one might be tempted to call him from here on out…27 pts, .40 3FG%, and 3 blocks notwithstanding, on the final play he definitely had time to get the ball back to Stat or even swing it to Gallo in the corner for the final shot (MD’A said as much in the post-game presser, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that he did take the shot.)

So how is one to feel? Are you pleased that they did so many things well? Or appalled that they continue to play utterly sans IQ (Save for Landry Fields. Landry, you complete me) and seemingly get stupider at the end of games (see Portland, last week). Do you marvel at Felton’s guts/clutch play? Or groan that he’s worse than Duhon on the Pn’R?  Whither these fledgling Knicks?

And we couldn’t have a wrap-up without mentioning our homeward angel, David Lee. Nothing we saw tonight we hadn’t seen time and time again over the past five seasons, but his absence certainly has made my heart grow fonder. David, we hardly knew ye.

One more thing.Those new GS unis are damned pretty. I’m sorely tempted to break my piggy bank and buy one w/a certain “un-athletic” PF/C’s name and number stitched on the back.

Knicks 112, Wizards 91

The Knicks won their second game in as many nights, handing the Washington Wizards a 112-91 defeat. On offense it was a team effort as 6 New Yorkers had double digit points. Toney Douglas led the team in scoring with 19 points, and although he needed 19 shots to accomplish it, he contributed a lot in the other areas. The Knicks guard had a Clyde-esque 5 steals and 10 rebounds, along with 3 assists. Stoudemire dropped 18 points with only 11 attempts, but had 4 blocks and most importantly only 2 turnovers.

It was a game were seemingly every player in white, blue, and orange had a good night. Gallinari nailed 4 of 9 from downtown. Timofev Mozgov stole the ball and showed some agility going the length of the court (only to be fouled at the rim). The biggest theatrical moment was Wilson Chandler throwing down a thunderous dunk, a play that will undoubtedly be shown on every recap of the game.

However the best thing to take from this game is that New York has won the games that they should be. In recent history, optimistic Knick fans were inventing reasons why their team should be respected. For instance after a 3 point loss, the idealist would say that New York was just a shot away from victory. So far in the 2011 season, there is reason to be optimistic. No excuse is required.