Game Preview & Thread: Knicks vs. Wizards

Playoff basketball! Well, for the Wizards, at least. For now, the Knicks are precariously placed in eighth place in the East, tied with the fading Atlanta Hawks. Much ado about nothing until more wins are tacked onto the season’s tally and the word “clinched” emerges from the wilderness. To prep for this idiosyncratic meeting of the minds, between Wittman and Woodson, I called on the judiciousness of Conor D. Dirks of Truth About It. TAI is one of the finer members of the TrueHoop family, as they run a tight ship, and frequently put forth a unique cocktail of humor, enthusiasm, astute analysis, and originality. I encourage you to follow both Conor and Kyle Weldie (TAI’s founder) on Twitter, and to cite TAI as your number one source of all Washington professional basketball matters. Moreover, to hone in on your grasp of the uncanny ‘Zards, you can find two other back-and-forths between me and Conor from earlier this season: here, and here.

Last time these two teams met, this happened, simultaneously handing the Knicks their ninth home loss of the season, and propelling the Mike Woodson-led “Blame Beno” movement to the forefront of New York’s discombobulated agenda. The domain of the “worst Knicks losses in 2013-14” is cold and dark, but the late game collapse against Washington at least belongs in the conversation. What, if anything, does this moment mean to you?

CDD: I almost loved this moment more for the Woodson reactions that would follow than I did for the Wizards win. Almost (said as I furtively scratch my neck, feel the dull tug of world-weary, forgotten hairs that will never know the glory of a non-disposable razor, and say “I NEED THIS”), but not quite.

This is “brightest timeline” Bradley Beal. He’s long, strong, and down to get his layup on. Last season, which was Beal’s rookie year, in a January 7 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Beal hit a game-winning leaner from around the free throw line. Since then, he’s developed an undeserved reputation as a clutch player, and this play against the Knicks only served to reinforce that belief. If anything, pressure has had a deleterious effect on Beal’s scoring during “clutch” situations this season. In the last five minutes of games within five points, Beal is shooting 34.7 percent from the floor overall, and 35.7 percent from behind the arc. Still, it does feel good to say Beal has ice in his veins, so I don’t judge those who wish to continue. They have to follow their hearts.

Over the last three games, the slashing Bradley Beal you see in this video has surfaced. Against the Hawks last Saturday night, he tried to get his shots closer to the basket. Lawd, he tried. It didn’t quite work out (he was 5-for-15, and a team low minus-20 in a win) and we rewarded young Brad with the equivalent of an L.V.P. award in our own corner of the internet. Against the Bobcats and the Celtics, though, Beal found his focus, and suddenly the tag-on, wide-framed Ray-Bans Beal likes to wear in the locker room made perfect sense: he was a stat nerd waiting to be pushed forth from the amniotic stew of Randy Wittman’s datavoid of a game plan. He went 8-for-12 against the Bobcats and 7-for-8 against the Celtics. And these were good shots.

For now, most of those frustrated with Beal’s poor shot selection have fingered Randy Wittman as the prime suspect, and justifiably so. Beal has said as much, when asked: “those are shots Witt wants me to take.” Wittman, for his part, is not shy about telling folks where they can put their numbers. It’s difficult to come to any real conclusion, though. These are assumptions about based on isolated quotes (some of that is, of course, that Wittman won’t answer much of anything regarding “numbers”).

It’s like doing police work on a serial killer, I think. We think we’ve got our guy. There’s pressure from the fanbase to lay blame, so we make a hasty arrest. Then Wittman is jailed, and he can’t hurt anyone else. Spouses celebrate, many couples reinvigorate their marriages with rare affection. We think we’re safe. The Wizards hire a new coach, and … “LOIS, THERE’S ANOTHER BODY. BRAD BEAL IS DOING IT AGAIN.”

The Wizards clinched their first playoff berth since 2008 with a 26 point win over Boston on Wednesday night, and have gone a respectable 10-8 during Nene’s absence (including wins over Toronto, Brooklyn, and Indiana). Does a ticket to the postseason automatically deem this season a success for Washington?

CDD: Depends who you ask. Without starf***ing, I can tell you that John Wall has the right attitude. He’s happy as hell right now, and because he’s young, he might be vulnerable to a letdown game or two, but he doesn’t see the first Dougie he busts out (or are the kids doing the Nae Nae now?) as the Everest of the 2013-2014 season. This is what he had to say after the Wizards clinched a playoff spot against the Celtics:

“It’s great for me, I mean you celebrate tonight and get ready to go on the road and win another game. That’s the main thing for me is to try to finish the season as strong as possible and prepare ourselves for a great playoff seed spot. But I put all the pressure on me in anything we do, losing, winning, or anything like that. That’s just the way I am and that’s how competitive I am so for this [to happen and] to do it with a great group of guys means a lot.”

D.C. is a strange sports town. The pitiful, abhorrent Washington Football Team was a bigger story on the day the Wizards clinched their first playoff spot since 2008 because they signed DeSean Jackson. To the casual D.C. observer, the Gilbert Arenas playoff years are summarily reduced to “oh, right, they were good for a minute, with that guy, what’s his name?…with the guns?” So, to many, a Wizards playoff game is just another venue to trod into with boat shoes and neon-rimmed plastic glasses (or pastel-colored polo shirts for the ladies), hoping the fellow intern or consulting associate you brought is “chill” and will “dig the game” and will maybe “start sexting during the work day.” In that sense, yes, making the playoffs is enough for certain folks.

There is, however, real, albeit more tempered, excitement among the team and long-time fans. There has been a long procession of cathartic moments as the franchise finally moves on from the unfortunate end of the Arenas era and the utter despair of the Blatche/McGee/J-Craw era. Getting over .500 for the first time against Portland. Wall being selected for the All-Star team. This gif of a briefly vulnerable Wittman and John Wall hugging was an Internet winner, the relief of playoff validation made infinite loop, but also eliciting a “not-so-fast” reaction from some, including Adam Rubin, one of my colleagues at TAI:

“I understand the celebration, but it does just reinforce the fact that the Wizards are not a real NBA team. This is not so much an indictment of the current roster but of the long history of accepted futility that leads to people celebrating the fact that we avoided what would have been an absolutely horrendous failure of a season (i.e. not making the playoffs).”

Washington isn’t New York, where if you wish, you can stay out drinking until the bagel shops open up the next day, and where coaches like Mike Woodson are sniffed out as impostors early. Expectations for quality are criminally low (Comcast Sports Net’s Chris Miller said last night that he thinks Wittman should get some votes for coach of the year). The city has a tendency to adore winners, however modest the accomplishments may be. And yet, Ted Leonsis hasn’t rolled out the “Mission Accomplished” banner as of this writing. Progress?

Whereabouts on the space-time continuum do Drew Gooden and Otto Porter fit?

CDD: Otto Porter, mon petit prince. Otto must exist in a shielded place, a place that existed long before galactic semen was corrupted by the stirrings of microscopic life, beneath the shell of a cosmic turtle whose eggs are stars, a home that serves as much to incubate him from mean men as it does to keep his brilliance from colliding with the preconceptions of bust-sayers in a way that would put Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia to shame. “Eureka,” sayeth Poe, “space and duration are one.” For every inch he is granted by Randy Wittman (and there have only been inches), he takes an inch.

I WAS SO WRONG ABOUT DREW GOODEN. Riddle me this:

“There is a story that a man and not a man saw and did not see a bird and not a bird perched on a branch and not a branch and hit him and did not hit him with a rock and not a rock.”

How is this possible? Drew Gooden!* If every act of hitting also partly misses, it must also not hit. Drew Gooden has been the antithesis of NBA wisdom, and the thesis of Wittman’s “Good Shot” term paper. He’s lights out from mid-range, and according to him, “still Drew Gooden.” Which, I don’t know, could mean absolutely anything. He’s a hit for now, but he’s still Drew Gooden, maybe.

*Plato (I think) would say “A eunuch who did not see well saw a bat perched on a reed and threw a pumice stone at him which missed.”

Wednesday’s win over the Celtics delivered us yet another quirky Marcin Gortat-related instance, where he cheekily joined the C’s foul line huddle. This comes in a season where we have been blessed with the “Polish Hammer” ripping a towel on the sidelines, and advocating the place of 1-on-1 fighting in the NBA. How have you judged Gortat’s debut season in D.C.? Is there an obscure song that might help to symbolize the Pole’s performance?

CDD: Gortat’s season with the Wizards has been an unmitigated success. Let’s not forget about the price the Wizards paid for him (their 2014 first-round pick), which was undoubtedly steep for a “rental.” As followers of the Knickerbockers, you know that trading first-rounders can impoverish a team of one of the best NBA assets: youth. But even judging Gortat’s season in the context of the loss of that pick, I’m well pleased he became a Wizard. The trick will be to re-sign him at a reasonable (ha!) rate. The Wizards, ironically, are no good at tricks.

TAI’s Kyle Weidie had this to say after Wednesday night’s win against the Celtics, and I think the conclusion is about as correct as one can come:

“When Gortat is on the court this season, the Wizards allow an opponent Offensive Rating (OffRtg—points scored per 100 possessions) of 102.9. When he’s off the court, there’s a 6.3-point increase in points allowed (109.2). Last season the Wizards allowed an opponent OffRtg of 102.4 when Okafor was on the court, 104.0 with him off. Gortat is clearly more of a difference-maker, and he clearly is a season-saver.”

Much has been made, and rightly so, of John Wall’s breakout season, but Gortat has the highest on-court/off-court differential of any Wizard (plus-12.8).

After the first game against the Knicks this season, I asked Gortat about some visible frustration I saw going against Kenyon Martin in the post. He responded in a typically candid fashion by saying that the Knicks were trying to guard him with “puppies” while Nene drew the bigger defender. I know he makes the Wizards PR team eternally nervous, but he’s replaced the more somber leadership of Emeka Okafor with a confrontational brand of humorous honesty that has won him the respect of his teammates, even Nene, who is absolutely holier than thou.

It may not be obscure (or at least it wasn’t when it was released), and it may be awful, but I think this Savage Garden song sums up how Grunfeld and the Wizards feel about Gortat.

Gortat does miss an occasional bunny, though.

Also, here’s a video of Gortat explaining his huddle infiltration.

Washington is 29-23 since that fateful mid-December victory at the Garden, while the Knicks are an even 26-26. New York, however, has gone 12-3 over their last fifteen and have done so by outscoring their opponents by 6.7 points per 100 possessions. Who wins tonight, and why?

CDD: The Knicks will win tonight. Because of course they will. Because it only makes sense for the Knicks to beat the Wizards. Embrace the narrative. Can’t you just hear some old hat crooning “The New York Knicks were desperate, and the Washington Wizards overlooked them after clinching a playoff spot.” He might even continue to say “The New York Knicks had too much talent to stay as bad as they were for as long as they did.” F**k it, he might go all the way and say it could be “too little too late.” Then he will descend to #HotSportsTake hell, where he’ll be met by the original Chris Berman, who has since been replaced by a robot who was programmed to believe that puns are the highest form of comedy.

Distrust of the overly aged aside, I do think that the Knicks win this one by nine points. The final score will be 108-99. Here these two teams are, like patients etherized upon a table, both in the Eastern Conference “playoff race,” and the Knicks, on the surface at least, are playing really well. Against the see-saw Wizards, who prefer to orbit a .500 record than become a solar capture in another, greater system, that is probably enough.

Alright, sir. I appreciate the bountiful well of Wizards-centric sagacity, may the best coached team win. 

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Knicks 89, Warriors 84

New York Knicks 89 FinalRecap | Box Score 84 Golden State Warriors
Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 31 MIN | 5-14 FG | 5-6 FT | 13 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 15 PTS | -4Somehow it has gone unreported that Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) has been working night shifts in the Knicks’ analytics department. As much as a feckless traveling violation in the fourth quarter served as a sad encapsulation of where Amar’e is at physically, there were a couple of seminal moment–a freight train-like offensive rebound and one-handed throw down, followed by a death stare to the Warriors’ bench, one of the Knicks’ three field goals in the final period. A blissful, albeit brief, escape from reality, where STAT failed to help onto Steph Curry in the right corner on a game-tying three. Any time you can lock down Jermaine O’Neal sixteen feet from the rim you’ve got to do it. Oh, and the last time he snaggled 13 rebounds in a game, Dwight Howard was hanging around at the Epcot Center. By that I mean he was playing in Orlando. Dwight probably still likes to visit Epcot from time to time.

Carmelo Anthony, SF 34 MIN | 7-21 FG | 5-6 FT | 9 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 19 PTS | -14Foul trouble heavily handcuffed his first half, clearing the path for the bench to make a run in his absence. When the inevitable Dubs run arrived in the fourth and the Knicks tensed up on offense, the clock struck ISO-MELO. He didn’t have his finest evening at the box office, and was expertly suffocated by Andre Iguodala on one of the final possessions (leading to a shotclock violation), but it was neatly disguised by the work of the secondary lineup. More importantly: this game represents the first time in over two weeks that Anthony has played under 35 minutes.

Tyson Chandler, C 30 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -1Chandler, as has been case all season, drifted in and out of this one. The Warriors were without David Lee and Andrew Bogut, so he was primarly tasked with shutting down the Ace of Speights and the artist formerly known as Jermaine O’Neal. Maybe he felt such pedestrian duties were beneath him or something, but last year, when facing an equally shorthanded Golden State frontcourt, he grabbed 27 rebounds This was not as good as that. An alley courtesy of his stoutly-shaped teammate and a two-handed jam that eviscerated  O’Neal were pleasant surprises in the third.

Raymond Felton, PG 28 MIN | 0-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +1The Venn diagram doesn’t display a great deal of overlap between Ray Felton and Steph Curry (or at least it didn’t before somebody ate it). Another night of curious passing and anonymous defense, with an arbitrary airballed floater to boot. On the plus side: until SportVU officially starts to track the category, let’s agree that Felton leads the league in assists after crawling/bumbling and stumbling. A back-tap/scoop out for a Timmy treble drove a stake in the heart of the Warriors’ aspirations in the second stanza.

J.R. Smith, SG 42 MIN | 8-17 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +10Second quarter scoreline: Earl Smith III 14, Golden State 12. As we saw on Friday night, no one can really say for sure how long this window of “Good J.R.” will last. As Winston Churchill once said, “J.R. Smith is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” It was fun to see a few aggressive drives to the basket weaved into the usual arsenal of step-backs and off-the-bounce heaves. Make yourself comfortable, Good J.R., stay a while.

Shannon Brown, PG 1 MIN | 0-0 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +2“What the… That’s it! Einhorn is Finkle! Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a man!” Shannon Brown is DEFENSE! DEFENSE IS SHANNON BROWN! Shannon Brown, sent into the game by St. Phil (who was hovering in the rafters of the Oracle via astral projection), stepped in and saved the day with a steal on the final possession of the game. Two points and a steal in under a minute of playing time. I, for one, welcome our new “Shannon Brown: Defensive Stopper” overlord.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 20 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +4Prigs was back to his pesky best, canning a couple of threes and  orchestrating the offense with aplomb during the key second quarter stretch. Why he (and others) were pulled from the game in favor of the ghastly Felton-THJ-Smith-Anthony-STAT quintet remains a mystery. The combination of steady defense and level-headed floor general-ing is only part of what makes Pablo so valuable. 45.7% 3PT shooting helps, too.

Iman Shumpert, SG 26 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +12Fourteen points over his previous four games (including tonight). Remember that time when Shumpert netted 53 points in a two-games span in Texas? No? Did I make that up? Oh, well. Shump is Shump, and the stereotypically gritty, wary, deliberate defense was there again tonight (save for an instance in which he too decided it was a good idea to help one pass away from Steph Curry). I wonder if he’s learned a thing or two since our friend Shannon Brown came on board?

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 28 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | +15The fourth quarter of a tight game with postseason consequences is not always the ideal time for a nap, Rook. Leaving Klay Thompson on an island for an uncontested trey was the most glaring example of an evening of questionable defensive choices. It wasn’t all bad, though. You’ve got to admire his wildly unabashed confidence, both on the break and from distance. It’s nice to have an offensive spark plug to throw into the works from time to time — if utilized correctly.

Three Things We Saw

  1. This game was… not pretty. Golden State mustered 13 total bench points, and players not named Stephen Curry finished a combined 18-of-58 (31.0%) from the field.
  2. The Warriors managed 18 freebies, 14 offensive boards, and 10 threes, and lost. Before tonight, that had happened a total of eleven times (in games decided in regulation) in 2013-14. Something tells me that there was a stroke of luck involved in this one (for the Knicks).
  3. Atlanta lost their sixth consecutive game tonight, placing the Knicks two back in the loss column of the eighth-placed Hawks. Don’t forget the tiebreaker, though. Both teams play again on Monday night; the Hawks host Philly, and the Knicks will travel to Utah. So, hope? Hope.

Knicks 88, Suns 112: 77 Signs of Suns-Induced Sadness

As this game was a meeting of two former Mike D’Antoni-orchestrated “Seven Seconds or Less” squads, and the Knicks are regular committers of all manner of defensive sins, it seemed fitting to call in the services of Detectives William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt) of Se7en fame. Oh, and, during a timeout early in the evening, a Suns fan calmly banked in (no pun intended) a half-court jumper for ownership of a cool $77,777 cheque.

New York Knicks 88 FinalRecap | Box Score 112 Phoenix Suns
Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 30 MIN | 8-16 FG | 3-5 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 19 PTS | -27“It’s impressive to see a man feeding off his emotions.” – Somerset
1. When one watches Phoenix’s pogo-stick pivot, Miles Plumee, soaring to the rim in transition for a reverse alley-oop jam, it evokes all kinds of Stoudemire-related sads.
2. It’s heart-warming to see him starting game after game once again, and Amar’e continues to have efficient offensive outings, yet, it means next to nothing.
3. The Knicks are disadvantaged by roughly ten points per 100 possessions when Amar’e is grouped with Anthony and Hardaway Jr. This three-man lineup was plugged into the game in the midst of Mike Woodson’s rescue efforts.
4. After knocking in an eighteen-footer and being clipped on the elbow by Channing Frye, STAT gestured the “count the basket,” symbol. This, as the team was down 29 early in the third quarter.
5. Stoudemire is not especially on board with the idea of passing the ball on offense, of late.
6. Amar’e had been 1-2 as a starter against the Phoenix Suns.

Carmelo Anthony, SF 40 MIN | 8-20 FG | 3-5 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 21 PTS | -23“Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.” – Somerset
7. Carmelo played the first fifteen minutes of this game, without a break.
8. Fatigue has loomed over Anthony’s season.
9. Despite the Knicks failing to be within single digits for the entirety of the second half, Melo played 40 minutes.
10. An anomalous 40% from the field and 60% at the line isn’t going to propel this supporting cast within reach of anything significant.
11. Melo only managed to get to the line five times, two below his season average.
12. Mike Woodson elected to continue to flog the proverbial dead horse, only yanking Anthony from the game in the latter half of the final period.
13. Melo had averaged 40 minutes of playing time over the last two, and this was the Knicks’ third game in five nights.
14. Mike Woodson has ridden Carmelo Anthony into the ground – but will not throw him under the bus.

Tyson Chandler, C 29 MIN | 0-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | -21“Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” – John Doe
15. Eric Bledsoe blocked Chandler in the second quarter.
16. Markieff Morris also blocked him, in the third quarter.
17. He went 0-4 with a -24 and more fouls than points through the first three quarters. Is that good?
18. Slowly but surely, “2011 Tyson Chandler” is drifting further and further away from our collective consciousness.
19. He decided to get involved in a scuffle with Markieff Morris, because why not?
20. The lead was a flattering 19pts at that stage.
21. And, of course, Chandler picked up the obligatory technical for his troubles.
22. I’m not going to sit here and say that Tyson Chandler played well.
23. If Chandler’s visible displeasure, murmurings and passing remarks about being “out-schemed,” weren’t enough of an indicator of his Woodson-related frustrations, watch this game.
24. Even with hints and spurts of a possible revival, ultimately, his play has vacillated from DPOY to an apathetic, rebel-without-a-cause defensive figure. Sigh.
25. Miles Plumlee had five more rebounds than Tyson Chandler, albeit in six fewer minutes on court.

Raymond Felton, PG 23 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 6 PTS | -26“This isn’t going to have a happy ending.” – Somerset
26. Raymond Felton is the starting point guard for the Knicks.
27. In basketball, the point guard is responsible for establishing the offense, controlling the flow of the game, and involving teammates. So, yeah.
28. For a short while, it looked as if Bledsoe and Dragic were going to score ALL OF THE POINTS.
29. Goran Dragic toyed with the portly point guard, including 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting (three from downtown) in the first quarter.
30. In very Knicksian fashion, a fast break opportunity (in the third quarter) ended with Felton being called for a travel after taking it to the basket for a one-on-three.
31. Felton sunk an and-one floater early in the third. Fuel to the floater-friendly fire.
32. Felton demonstratively displayed his dismay at a hand-checking foul call with 9mins left in the third. By his count, he has never been correctly adjudged to have fouled an opponent. All 1449 career fouls were mistakes.
33. Dragic copped a nasty cut to the eye and was clobbered on more than one occasion on the evening.
34. Dragic finished with 32pts on 5-9 3FG shooting.
35. Dragic, unfortunately, does not play for the Knicks.
36. Raymond Felton is a big part of what we do here.
37. Four assists on the night for Raymond Felton. Also: four turnovers, and four personal fouls.
38. The Knicks’ backcourt defense conceded a total of 48 points and seven 3PM to the Suns’ starting guards.

J.R. Smith, SG 31 MIN | 6-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 15 PTS | -37“It’s more comfortable for you to label me as insane.” – John Doe
39. J.R. Smith finished a -37 in 31 minutes of court time.
40. Earl scored 10pts in the first stanza, including two threes. After this, it was all downhill.
41. J.R. Smith finished a -37 in 31 minutes of court time.
42. Three turnovers and zero assists for the Knicks’ enigma.
43. J.R. Smith finished a -37 in 31 minutes of court time.
44. This is now Smith’s worst +/- on the season, “besting” a -32 from the Christmas Day loss to OKC.
45. He could not follow up his franchise record-tying 9 3PM from the win in Sacramento with another franchise record.
46. J.R. Smith finished a -37 in 31 minutes of court time.

Jeremy Tyler, PF 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 047. Jeremy Tyler has unequivocally been demoted to the role of “participant” in the garbage time barbershop quartet of Aldrich, Murry, Tyler, and Brown.
48. Shavlik Randolph had two points and three rebounds in 3 minutes, trumping Tyler’s three minutes.

Cole Aldrich, C 6 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +549. Travel to “Cole World” was strictly limited to the final six minutes.
50. Cole Aldrich miraculously assembled a tidy +5 – only that it was restricted to five minutes of floor time.
51. The Knicks have the league-leader for defensive rebound percentage (Aldrich, 31.4%) but couldn’t find ten minutes to squeeze him into the rotation.
52. Cole Aldrich(’s playing time) has been kicked to the curb.

Shannon Brown, PG 5 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +353. “Defensive stopper” by default, Shannon Brown, didn’t enter the game until garbage time.
54. Any chance of a Shannon Brown revenge game narrative was thus erased.
55. Shannon Brown attempted five field goals.
56. Shannon Brown is an active member of the Knicks’ roster.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 20 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -1“I just don’t think I can continue to live in a place that embraces and nurtures apathy as if it was virtue.” – Somerset
57. Pablo is nearly 37 years old. Eric Bledsoe is not.
58. Prior to tonight, New York was 8-19 in games where Prigioni dished out three or fewer assists.
59. Pablo hoisted (and made) a three in transition. This may or may have been the highlight of the night for the Knicks.
60. For entertainment, a tricky touch pass to Amar’e (that led to free throws) closely followed that three. In the fourth quarter. When the Knicks were down 19.
61. The lightning-bolt-in-a-bottle duo of Dragic & Bledsoe is very near the worst possible defensive assignment for Prigioni.

Iman Shumpert, SG 26 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -1“What’s in the box?” – Mills
62. There were no extra clues dispensed in the ongoing mystery of what happened to Iman Shumpert’s soul.
63. A solitary corner three summarized Shumpert’s offensive contributions.
64. Even with J.R. Smith’s misfiring, erratic arsenal, and a blowout scenario for the bulk of the game, Shumpert could not get more than 26 minutes of burn.
65. It’s okay, though, because Shumpert is a “big,” guard, and TRIANGLE. Holding out hope that games like tonight are not the kerosene onto the flaming, nail-ridden coffin that is Shumpert’s confidence.
66. Shump has now scored 11 points (total) over the past three games.
67. A decently nifty defensive outing on Shumpert’s behalf was buried deeply beneath the muck of the rest of the team’s performance.

Toure’ Murry, SG 5 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +368. Confirmation that Toure’ Murry does indeed still exist. Unfortunately, confirmation didn’t arrive until the result was well and truly decided.
69. Toure’ Murry has not played more than six minutes in any game since February 28.
70. Toure’ Murry’s headband was unable to provide any additional luck.
71. It’s okay to (quietly) admit if you forgot Murry was once a part of the rotation.

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 21 MIN | 2-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +5“Did the kid see it?” – Somerset
72. Hardaway Jr.’s shots were not falling.
73. Hardaway Jr. does not appear to play defense.
74. The combination of being trigger-happy and off-target doesn’t tend to bode well against one of the league’s best transition teams.
75. This game was the eleventh time in the rook’s campaign that he has launched at least five three-pointers while shooting 20% or below from that range.
76. 2-11 is not a productive night of shooting the basketball.
77. THJ entered this game in the desert having converted just 31.9% of his three-point attempts over his last ten.

Knicks 115, Bucks 94: A Successful Saturday Matinée

Milwaukee Bucks 94 FinalRecap | Box Score 115 New York Knicks
Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 26 MIN | 6-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +14STAT failed to finish around the rim in the opening half, squandering a couple of chances for an emphatic, time-warping throw-down. Even though we were graced with his penchant for “my bad,” defensive hiccups, and the ball was slippedy slidin’ all over the joint on offense to start, he managed to gather himself and put forth a more-or-less friendly day at the office. Aside from struggling to cover the likes of Ramon Sessions and Khris Middleton in switching scenarios, the third quarter served as the canvas for a pair of industrious three-point plays from Amar’e (as part of a stretch of eight straight points). Ultimately, it’s pleasing in the simplest of ways to see him on the court and enjoying basketball…even if it is against the Washington Generals.

Carmelo Anthony, SF 33 MIN | 8-16 FG | 6-6 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 23 PTS | +19In a less-than-surprising turn of events, the Knicks kickstarted the game with a Melo isolation play. The ISO-ing was a tad heavy to begin with, but that corrected itself as the game chugged along. Incredibly, this is the 43rd time this season that Anthony has amassed at least seven rebounds in a game; a testament to his hustle and the development as a player. Perhaps more importantly, though, a blowout of the bumbling Bucks offered just the fourth chance in the past six weeks for Melo to play fewer than 35 minutes.

Tyson Chandler, C 25 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +18Chatter! Communication! A vague semblance of cohesion! Defense! Chandler delivered an authoritative, stabilizing (and loud) voice on the defensive end, especially in the first half. Barking, shouting Tyson really is the best Tyson. Please show up more, this particular Tyson, even if all of your woofing doesn’t show up in the final stat line.

Raymond Felton, PG 23 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | +13The pleasantly plucky penguin premiered with a peck of perfect drop-offs and pretty passes, yet early foul trouble had him pegged him to the pine for prodigious periods over the first 24 minutes (okay, stopping). He managed to connect from beyond the arc (1 of 2) and is actually…wait for it…6-14 (42.9%) from downtown during this six-game streak. Nonetheless, Nate Wolters still netted 15 points via some efficient shooting and steady play, and Ray isn’t entirely without blame for that.

J.R. Smith, SG 23 MIN | 5-7 FG | 3-3 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | +18Earl continued to do Earl-like things, splashing from outside and adding a pinch of spice to the occasionally stale Knickerbocker offensive cocktail. This included zipping a nifty bounce pass to Amar’e in a pick-and-roll setup that was followed by a dainty twirl that would have made Nijinsky proud. Oh, and he went for a nonchalant Saturday gallop after a made three at the beginning of the third. This is the fourth time in the last six games that he’s handed out at least four dimes, and he is an aggregate +77 in that span, which is nice.

Iman Shumpert, SG 27 MIN | 5-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -2The skeleton of Shump (his soul vanished sometime between late October and mid-December, replaced with some very Knicks-ian nihilism) actually scored 14 points, marking the first time since February 9 at Oklahoma City that he has reached double figures. Oddly enough, he was the only Knick to register a negative +/-. Shump got a tad tip-jam happy (if that is a thing) late, soaring to the rim twice in quick succession in an attempt to throw back to his throwdown in last season’s Indiana series. Alas, it was not to be. No cause for somber reflection, though. I’m still giggling at hi banked-in corner three in the first half.

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 25 MIN | 8-12 FG | 2-3 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | +4Apparently Hardaway Jr. was not really in the mood to miss a shot. Not to start with, anyway. Furious fast break and intricate half court finishes at the rim were the appetizers to the usual entrée of sweet, sweet perimeter shooting. He even recorded a swat (!!!) while guarding Wolters on a drive in the fourth. This was THJ’s third straight game with at least 20. Lagging, sputtering defensive concentration notwithstanding, what’s not to like about the rookie’s season?

Three Things We Saw

  1. The Bucks are still the Bucks, sadly. They are now 13-53, genuinely jostling with Philadelphia for the league’s worst record/all the ping pong balls. Yes, there’s merit in the strategy. It just can’t be that much fun to watch.
  2. The Knicks scored 60 points in the first half, meaning that they are yet to have a first half with fewer than 58 points at any stage during the GOING STREAKING streak. Although the offense looks to have regained a cohesion and fluidity, it’s tough to be too enthused, given the opponents. Minnesota is the only above .500 team they’ve knocked off and even then, the Wolves were a mere game over an even record.
  3. As mind-numbingly bad as Milwaukee’s played, all hope is not lost. The Greek Freak is the unofficial darling of hoop enthusiasts everywhere, obviously, but it was the understated effort of Nate Wolters that caught my attention. Meaningless in a game such as this, no doubt. Prior to today, nonetheless, Wolters had logged 1200 arduous minutes on this 13-52 Bucks squad with a respectable -11 (all things considered). Kudos to Patrick Gallagher for highlighting that on Twitter.

Game Preview & Thread: Knicks vs. 76ers

Uno, dos, tres! Three is the magic number — these erratic, gnarly Knickerbockers have strung together a miniature-sized streak of successes. Let’s ignore the fact that the consecutive victories came against a trio of inconsistent, (presently) non-playoff teams, and rejoice with the knowledge that the delightful eighth seed in the Eastern Conference is lingering a mere 3.5 games in the distance. That’s right, a few more nights of avoiding half-hearted hopelessness, and the ‘Bockers will have the privilege of partaking in an assuredly lopsided opening round series in the upcoming postseason festivities. (Side note: Bucks in six) To gear up for tonight’s game, I reached out to Eric Goldwein, editor of Hoop76, who kindly offered a few thoughts on the squad from the City of Brotherly Love. Take a second to mire in the misery of measured mediocrity, and allow yourself to swoon over the Sixers’ sweet sixteen (game losing streak). But hey, at least they’re not busy “racing to a red light.”

During this sixteen-game losing streak, the Sixers’ defense has allowed opponents to connect on 38.9% of attempts from beyond the arc. The team’s net rating over that stretch is a ghastly -19.5, almost double that of the next worst team, too. How debilitating and discouraging has it been to have to watch this tragically undermanned team continually get pummelled?

Eric Goldwein: After four months you get a little numb. With this personnel, the Sixers’ D is going to get burned one way or another and they’ve picked the three, rather than (well, in addition to) the paint, as their poison. Instead of cheating out on the perimeter, coach Brett Brown has elected give his defensively challenged bigs some help defense with a “pack-the-paint” defense. (Here’s a detailed explanation from Kyle Neubeck.) For now, it’s a disaster. It’s leading the league in 3-pointers surrendered (9.3) — I could be wrong, but I’m fairly certain they’re on pace to set the record. This is partly a product of the fast-pace, three-heavy style, though giving up that many threes at such a high clip (37.2%, 24th) is not a sustainable defensive solution. We’ll see what happens when they get some real defenders — like Nerlens Noel! — in the lineup.

“This might sound… trivial or even a bit corny. I think [the Sixers] deserve it,” – head coach Brett Brown on his team being worthy of a win, after Philly’s loss to Utah on Saturday night. Is Brown’s assessment of the Sixers’ play fair, or is it (as he hints) a clichéd remark?

EG: The Sixers deserve a W in the same way I deserved all those trophies from my youth soccer leagues. They haven’t checked out, sure. Awesome. But that makes it all the more depressing; that they’re hustling and still can’t beat a Utah Jazz team — playing on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road — just goes to show you how terrible this roster is.

Take a look at the following statistical breakdowns for these three Eastern Conference teams (in the month of February):

Team A: 2-11 W-L record, 110.7 opponent points per 100 possessions, 42.4% opponent 3FG%, 54.2% opponent eFG%.

Team B: 3-8 W-L record, 109.2 opponent points per 100 possessions, 42.0% opponent 3FG%, 53.8% opponent eFG%.

Team C: 0-11 W-L record, 111.6 opponent points per 100 possessions, 38.9% opponent 3FG%, 54.1% opponent eFG%

Those numbers are all pretty putrid, no? Well, Team A is the Knickerbockers of New York, Team B is the Milwaukee Bucks (owners of the worst record in the NBA), and Team C is Philadelphia. There was a lot of talk about the Sixers creating a rather objectionable piece of NBA history by going winless in February, yet by many measures, these Knicks were almost as awful as the team that traded (albeit meaningless) future draft considerations for Byron Mullens. Can Sixers fans take solace in the fact that, tanking notwithstanding, there are teams with much foggier blueprints performing at a similarly atrocious levels?

EG: Absolutely. The Sixers, unlike the Knicks, are losing with a purpose. There’s a plan in place and all these 20-point blowouts are an unfortunate byproduct of said plan. The Dolan model, it seems, is to buy/trade all the shiny players, throw out the duds, and buy some more. I’ll take the short-term tanking over that any day.

An alarming number of opposing guards have registered new career-high points totals against New York this season, including former Sixer Evan Turner dropping 34 at MSG in January. Should Knicks fans prepare for MCW, Tony Wroten, and/or James Anderson to join the illustrious club by netting new personal bests?

EG: James Anderson has stepped up since Evan Turner was dealt, and I could see a breakout game. Though not a career-high. He dropped 36 against the Rockets back in November and even against the Knicks, so it’d be hard to surpass that. I could also see a random Knick setting a personal mark against Philly’s putrid D. Tim Hardaway Jr.’s over/under: 20.5.

One of the team’s two lottery picks in the 2013 NBA Draft, Nerlens Noel (who is yet to appear in an NBA game), sent out this cryptically coded tweet on Sunday. It sent a minor shockwave throughout basketball Twitter, with many speculating that the former one-and-done Kentucky pivot could be making his much-anticipated league debut (against Boston) on that date. At this point in the season, does anything else matter for the Sixers? Would you rather Nerlens sit 2013-14 out entirely and aim to be ready for the start of next season, or should Philly sneak in a handful of games to send out hype and hope for what may be to come?

EG: Yeah, put ‘im in. Why the hell not? From what I know about ACL tears — umm, very little — it’s as much a psychological recovery as a physical one. If there are no long-term risks, I don’t see much of a downside to letting Noel finish out the season.

Will the Sixers ever bring an end to this lengthy losing streak? If so, any chance it will happen tonight at the Garden?

EG: Philly couldn’t even take Utah on the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday. I’d be surprised if they kept it close against the sorta-but-not-really red hot Knicks, who are coming off three straight wins. The streak isn’t ending tonight. I’m not sure it ever will.

UPDATE: Tyson Chandler will miss tonight’s game for personal reasons. That’s…not good, but hopefully, against Philly it shouldn’t be a death-blow. We’ll see who starts in his place.

UPDATE II: Smallball!

Knicks 118, Wolves 106: Hey Look, A Win!

New York Knicks 118 FinalRecap | Box Score 106 Minnesota Timberwolves
Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 31 MIN | 8-18 FG | 2-3 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | +17Can someone from the Knicks’ brass please be sure to send a gift basket to kindly ol’ Doc Emmett Brown early tomorrow morning? Forget microfracture surgery, platelet-rich therapy in shockingly clean German uber-clinics, or any other newfangled remedies that have failed to adequately attend to STAT’s lingering ailments–stick to the flux capacitor. Amar’e drifted through the time-space continuum to not only produce one of his better outings of the season, but also somewhat remarkably emulate his former self, seamlessly blending a mélange of plucky pick-and-pops, spectacular swats, irrelevant goaltends, and characteristically entertaining defensive lapses. For once, Amar’e can go to bed at night without having the prophetic words mouthed by Christopher Lloyd repeated over and over again like a particularly bleak mantra: “There’s that word again. ‘Heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?”

Carmelo Anthony, SF 43 MIN | 14-27 FG | 2-4 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 33 PTS | +14Carmelo Anthony continued to be Carmelo Anthony, cranking out yet another verse in his free-form epic prose poem of excellence. Melo hastily dispatched anything and everything that the Minny threw at him, blowing by the Wolves’ wings with regularity. It was as if Rick Adelman intended to poke the proverbial bear by keeping poor Corey Brewer on the Knicks’ All-Star forward, defiantly hoping that his speed and athleticism could at least contain a portion of Anthony’s multi-faceted offensive arsenal. It was not to be, as Melo registered his nineteenth 30 point game of the season. Fun fact: it was also the 27th time he’s connected on at least three treys. Yes, yes, we’ll still worry about his impending/possible escape from New York (See what I did there?), but on nights like tonight, it’s enough to make one forget all that, and just enjoy watching him roll.

Tyson Chandler, C 35 MIN | 6-8 FG | 3-3 FT | 14 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +2Despite putting forth a tangible defensive presence for what seems like the first time in ages, the siren song of the obligatory technical foul proved to be too enchanting for the Knicks’ everlastingly frustrated middleman. He even threw a jab in Kevin Love’s direction in a halftime interview with the MSG crew, asserting, “He can’t play D.” Chandler was clearly in a feisty mood, and got T’d up for ill-advised flying elbow on a moving screen that would’ve done Macho Man Randy Savage proud. Of course, we (and presumably, he) will take the fine as the cost of doing business if it means a return to the 2011-ish form for Tyson. I mean, Kevin Love failed to convert a field goal in the entirety of the third quarter, so that’s something, right?

Raymond Felton, PG 31 MIN | 5-8 FG | 6-8 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 4 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 18 PTS | +21Bizarrely, the “only a matter of time before they blow this lead. I can’t believe this is happening again. Dear God, no. Please, Oh Lord, not again” collapse by the ‘Bockers coincided with Felton’s foul trouble and subsequent exit early in the 3rd. Raymondo-Felton led the team with a startling +21 in thirty-one minutes of floor time, and was able to stop Ricky Rubio from netting a new career-high in scoring or puppy-dog looks or doe eyes or any thing. That’s an achievement in and of itself, really. The tell-tale sign for this game came down the stretch in the final quarter, where Felton found himself pirouetting out of traffic and straight into his flailing floater motion. This time, he splashed the improbable-looking fling through the net, helping to steady the ship that so often encounters bumpy waters. Nice game, Ray.

J.R. Smith, SG 27 MIN | 6-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +2Earl had a nicely efficient, reasonably subdued outing, dialing up a few from downtown, dishing when called upon, and like his stout, callipygous backcourt mate, banged home an unlikely off-the-dribble heave above the outstretched arms of Chase Budinger that doused any misguided Minnesotan’s hopes for victory. When those shots are falling, well… Yes, they’re falling.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 16 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -11It’s not a tremendous reflection of Pablo’s evening that the Wolves’ whittled the lead down to two when he entered the fray, or that Ricky Rubio – yes, that Ricky Rubio – just straight strolled down the lane past Pablo, wrapping many “dinkers and dumpers” around, through, and above the aforementioned Knick backup point for Pekovic. It’s not every day that you get to see Rubio finishing at the rim, with heavy contact no less, so I guess we have Señor Prigioni to thank for that.

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 27 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +3THJ’s impact, at least on the offensive end was minimal, but a pair of timely perimeter heaves swings the pendulum in the opposing direction, in this instance, the corner trey that he splashed when the Knicks were pulling away in the 4th. He did find himself on an island (on the low block) guarding Kevin Love for about seven consecutive seconds in the first half, which was more than alarming. Fittingly, Minnesota couldn’t capitalize on said mismatch, though.

Three Things We Saw

  1. Prior to this game, the Wolves had registered an 8-1 record on their home floor against teams from the lowly Eastern conference, with their sole loss coming against Miami on December 7. Given that the Knicks entered with a road record of 9-20 and a mark of 6-25 against above-.500 outfits, this was no throwaway win. Wait, scratch that – the Knicks are still 22-40.
  2. Look for Mike Woodson to use this game (and this game only) as ample justification for big lineups from here on out. Neither of the Knicks 10-day contract fliers saw the floor (see: Clark, Earl, and Brown, Shannon) while Woodson stuck to a strict eight-man rotation, until the foulest-smelling odors of garbage time had reached his nostrils. Pablo Prigioni (sixteen minutes) was the low-man for minutes in the regular rotation crew, with Woody grimly riding the starters for all of their worth in classic, stubborn, woodpecker-ish fashion.
  3. This loss delivered a crippling, potentially fatal blow to the Timberwolves’ playoff aspirations. Minny had only just crept above .500 and arrived at the Target Center having won six of their previous seven contests. If not for the serious poop that they left on the floor in the first half (conceding 66pts to the team ranked 29th in the league for pace of play), their postseason outlook and streak of successes may not have been so jarringly and surprisingly derailed.