2015-16 Game Thread: Knicks @ Lakers

There haven’t been many games since mid January that I’ve looked at and thought the Knicks absolutely should win. But tonight is one of them. The Lakers have no incentive to win any more games this year, with their pick set to go to Philadelphia (the only team in the league with a worse record than them) if it falls outside of the top 3. The Knicks really don’t have any incentive to win either, seeing as every win reportedly brings us closer to putting Rambis at the helm again next year. If I’m Melo or Kristaps, I don’t want this dude to be my coach going forward, but who knows? Maybe Rambis is like one of those substitute teachers the class knows they can manipulate into letting them do just about anything, and the team enjoys the lack of strict supervision and wants to keep the party going.

Speaking of keeping the party going, I don’t remember who pointed this out in the comments a few days ago, but someone astutely pointed out that LeBron, CP3, Melo and Kobe were all in LA last night and none had a game to play. The chance of them having gone out last night is roughly 170%, so we may see an All-Star game type of atmosphere in regards to effort from those guys today since they’re all on the wrong side of 30, and speaking from experience I can say the hangovers just keep getting worse as you and your boys get older but you keep going out and partying like you’re 22. I expect LAC-CLE to tighten up in the 4th quarter since those teams are still fighting for playoff seeding, but the Lakers and Knicks have no reason to go HAM.

I’m assuming Kobe is going to play tonight, seeing as it his last game against the Knicks and Melo before his impending retirement. Only 15 more games to play, and the reality of Kobe not being a part of the league isn’t striking much of an emotional chord with me. He’s been part of my basketball life now since I was 11 years old, and I’ve never been fond of Kobe or the Lakers, but when he was on, he was always one of the most exciting players I’ve ever watched. I find myself watching Steph Curry and having similar reactions to him as I did in the past watching Kobe, shaking my head, wondering how the latest circus shot found the net. He was arrogant and he was vastly unlikable for the majority of his career, at least to me, but I feel I should be a bit more upset about the reality of a league without him. I think he’s been dwindling for so long that the end of his career feels roughly like putting a dog to sleep that has had major health problems for a long enough time that it would be easier to see it dead than alive. Kobe hasn’t been Kobe since about 2010, so this long and drawn-out process of him coming to grips with his basketball mortality has been difficult to watch.

I went and saw Kobe in DC December 2nd shortly after his retirement announcement, and the typically strange DC crowd was extremely pro-Kobe. Hell, I was chanting his name right there with them in the final period as the Wizards stared into the stands and wondered why they have to play in this transient city where every road team brings thousands of its fan into their arena. Really, Washington, Durant is gonna come back here to finish the prime of his career, in front of a city that doesn’t give a shit about anything but what the vanity plates on the lease they can’t afford says to all the other miserable commuters who callously march back and forth to the jobs they hate? I don’t think so.

But that night was actually pretty magical—Kobe scored 31 points and hit what turned out to be the game-winner, so it was everything and more that I could have hoped for to see Bryant in person my last time. He looked like the Kobe I remembered from the 2000s, and it’s a night I’ll never forget. John Wall and everyone else came and paid their respects to Kobe as we chanted his name throughout Verizon Center, he gave a few big waves and trademark smiles to the crowd, and disappeared into the tunnel, throwing the towel draped around his neck over the railings to whoever was lucky enough to catch his collected sweat that night. It was the last time I was ever going to see him play in person, and it hit me after a few minutes of soaking up the nostalgia before I collected my things to leave the arena. That’s when I knew I wasn’t sad to see him go, really. It was just the end, and that was okay.

I haven’t gotten into any of the specifics of tonight’s game, like the matchups and shared history between the franchises. Phil being our president ties us to LA in a lot of ways, and Kobe still holds the scoring record at MSG. Melo was probably closer to signing there two years ago than any of us know, and obviously Phil’s first two coaching hires (and hopefully, not his next one) are from the Lakers family. These franchises represent the two largest cities in the most powerful country in the world, and right now, both are functionally awful teams. It’s tough to say who has the brighter future, as the Lakers may cough up their draft pick even if they finish with the 2nd worst record (their chances of getting a top 3 pick are about 57% if they finish with the 2nd worst record, which is a slightly weighted coin flip. Not something you feel overwhelmingly confident about if you’re in the Lakers front office) and then they would be stuck trying to fill holes around their young talent through free agency much like the Knicks will have to this summer.

D’Angelo Russell is beginning to show why he was the 2nd pick in the draft last year, and his development will have a lot to do with how the Lakers look going forward. Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson are good young pieces, but Russell is the only one with a chance to develop into a superstar. Randle is intriguing, but I think he’s just a tad undersized, and probably doesn’t have the Draymond Green DNA combination of swagger, toughness and work ethic to overcome it. Still, the Lakers have an interesting collection of young talent, and if they retain their pick, they will have a lot of cap space and a very positive future.

I must admit, this time of year I tend to get crazy over the March Madness and get out of the NBA pool for about 2 weeks to plunge head-first into the college tournament. I love the first four days, like every other basketball fan on the planet, and the conference tournaments I try to watch just to get a feel for some of the best teams, since I don’t watch a lot of college basketball during the NBA year. I’ll have more thoughts after the brackets come out in the recap, but assuming this game is as lackluster as I believe it will be, we can come back to this later. I’m a believer in Kansas, actually, even though they’ve been synonymous with Duke in their consistency with being upset by high seeds early in the tournament. They look really good to me. Michigan State and Virginia also strike me as teams that can go really far in this tournament and maybe win the whole thing depending on the bracket. As always, the bracket and matchups will affect my thinking some, but that’s my early return.

As far as highly ranked teams I don’t believe in, I’m going to have to go with conference foes Xavier and Villanova. Something about them just makes me think they’re doomed to lose in the first weekend or in the Sweet 16. Both will be high seeds, probably a 1 and 2, and I think they’ve played in a 2nd-rate league for 2 months and are going to be revealed for what they are once they meet similar talent in the tournament. Again, I’ll have to see what the matchups look like before I can make that case definitively, but that’s my thinking now. Oregon is likely to be a 2 seed, but has an outside chance of being a 1. The Ducks have been downright dominant lately. Nearly every year I dismiss the Pac 12 as an inferior conference, though, and I’m doing it again, because it’s almost always worked out well to choose against that conference in the tournament. Oregon goes down early.

And you can’t talk about the tournament without bringing up your “sleeper” so I of course have a couple thoughts about that. Kentucky is not really a sleeper, being that they’ll be a 3 or 4 seed and everyone knows their pedigree and NBA talent. But they’ve been under the radar all year, and a little of this is my SEC homerism, but they’ll make some noise in this tournament, and could win the whole thing, much like they very nearly did as an 8 seed making the title game a couple few years ago. I also believe in Texas A&M, Kentucky’s opponent in the SEC title game today, as well as Indiana and Purdue, to perform above their seeding (which in all three cases will probably be a 4 seed or better, but still, these teams aren’t far apart in quality from any of the 1 and 2 seeds).

Seemed criminal to not devote a section to March Madness on Selection Sunday so there ya go. I will be diving headfirst into the brackets after the Knicks game tonight (and before it and during commercials and halftime, who am I kidding) like many of you. Have fun with it, it’s probably going to be a better source of entertainment than tonight’s game. But hopefully Kobe and Melo play well in their last game against each other, because it would be fun to see them trading shots in the 4th quarter of a close game, I can’t deny that.

Wow, I can’t believe I wrote this much for this game. I thought I would go like 500 words max. If you made it through all of that, congrats, and enjoy the game you crazy people!

2015-16 Recap: Knicks 94, Nuggets 110

I’d like to think that we can all agree on what the two biggest problems with this team are, as the season sputters like a 2 year-old hampster towards its eventual and merciful end. The talent at guard is nearly nonexistent, and the coaching has been about as effective as Don Draper is at being monogamous. The kids could use more run and a better coach, but still, I just don’t see Gallo or Grant as a viable NBA starter even with good coaching. The other players around the league at those positions are too damn good, specifically at point guard, where the Knicks get Dextered every game.

Good coaching would do wonders, though. Fisher wasn’t doing a terrible job. He wasn’t doing a particularly good job, but he wasn’t a complete disaster, especially considering the roster he was given, and he was fired at the end of a stretch of extremely difficult games against some of the league’s best teams. The entire coaching thing still perplexes me, and I wish I knew the real story. I admire the players for being so professional about the coaching change. It makes me think there was some rather large issues between the players and coach, because nobody seems to have taken it all that hard. Nobody has said anything particularly meaningful to the media one way or the other about that decision, and that decision was basically a public admittance that the season was over and they would blow this thing up and rebuild with free agency in the summer, in both coaching positions and roster.

Phil seems to go after people he’s comfortable with, and Fish and Rambis are old pals of his and part of “the team.” It’s why Vujacic was put on the bench instead of a more viable, younger guard with upside—he’s part of the Lakers club. I hope Phil will either come downstairs himself and coach, which I still think is a distinct possibility for next year, or that he will hire someone outside of his comfort zone like a Tom Thibodeau or *gasp* David Blatt. There are quite a few viable options out there for the next coach of the Knicks, but the Phil Jackson Circle of Assistants need not apply for the job.

I would talk more about the game, but come on. This team deserved to lose, they played with about a third of the intensity of an international friendly in soccer. They mailed in the game, so I’m mailing in writing about it, because I’ve churned out thousands of words over the last couple of weeks talking about inept and unenthusiastic Knicks performances that left us all with a bad taste in our mouths. It would be one thing if they were giving max effort, or if they were giving the young guys all a good chunk of minutes together for the sake of development, or if we were seeing improvement in some of the concepts (whatever those are right now, if they exist at all) of the defense and offense. But none of those things are happening. Melo is being played 40+ minutes a night in losing efforts, Afflalo is chucking fadeaways like a kid imitating MJ in 1996, and Zingis Khan is being put in and pulled out more erratically than…well, I’ll let you choose how to finish that joke.

The effort tonight was embarrassing for most stretches of the game. Denver was guilty of it as well, even though they won by 16. Both teams seemed to have agreed to turn the game into a scrimmage where only light jogging was allowed. It was like watching an over-50 league game at the Y, except people were being paid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to yawn their way through a professional basketball game in front of a half-empty arena full of people staring at their phones.

I’m a night owl, and this West Coast trip suits me perfectly. One of the things I’ve always loved about basketball is how it’s usually on until 1 or 130 in the morning, sometimes later. I’m gonna be awake anyways, there might as well be basketball to watch. Or so my logic goes. But I have a feeling watching this next set of games isn’t going to be any less painful than watching tonight’s game was.

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong and it’s worth staying up late to see what happens out West.

2015-16 Game Thread: Knicks @ Nuggets

It’s been a strange couple of days in Knicksland, which is to say that is has been a normal couple of days, since so many have been strange lately that the definition of normal has tilted towards the unusual being familiar. For one, they won their last game by 13 over a pretty good Detroit team (with Porzingis sitting out, no less). Melo played 41 minutes as his recent spat of being run into the ground by his coach continues, but he also has said some interesting things to the media. He wants to help the team recruit free agents this summer, making the conversation around whether or not he wants out of New York more murky because it seems he intends to stay. I’ve thought this all along about Melo, because as so many people have reported, he and his family have put down roots in New York and they enjoy living there. Why do you get a no-trade clause put into your contract if you don’t like your current situation? All might not be going so well on the court, but off the court, I think Melo genuinely enjoys his lifestyle and has no desire to change it.

I thought his focus on Rondo as his desired next point guard was interesting, mostly because I don’t think he would be a good fit. Rondo famously cannot shoot, and despite Melo and Rambis’ insistence that the Triangle is friendly for a traditional point guard, I don’t see Rondo able to fit into the spaces that kind of offense provides. Sure, he’s a willing passer and a defensive upgrade (to be fair, putting a Honeybaked Ham on the court in place of Calderon would be an upgrade), but he’s also a famous douchebag (the pundits insist on calling him “mercurial,” which is a fancy way of saying he’s an asshole) and the type of personality I’d rather not have on the team during Porzingis’ formative years. If the team really cares about its culture, it won’t go this route, no matter what Melo thinks of his buddy in Sacramento.

I do, however, think it’s smart that Melo wants to help out this summer’s recruiting efforts. I believe him when he says a lot of players have interest in playing in New York, because they see the new management and the foundation of an actual team being built. Sure, they haven’t even started framing the house yet, but the land has been chosen and the plans are being drawn up. It will take time, but a couple of good gets this summer could go a long way towards making that next step. Hell, there was a long stretch of time this year that we thought this team had what it took to sneak into the playoffs, and time has revealed that this roster is full of unwanted debris swept to New York by franchises who know the difference between what items can go and what can stay on an episode of Hoarders.

The Knicks do have several things going for them in this regard: they play at MSG, which still ranks as one of the best places to play in the league. Phil Jackson is the team president (for now) and his name commands the respect of the league. Kristaps is a foundational centerpiece who seems like a genuinely cool and hardworking person, and he’s young. And finally, Melo is a popular NBA player, someone a lot of people really like and count as a good friend. Because of Melo’s reputation and relationships around the league, I’m surprised he wasn’t more involved with recruiting before now. Maybe wading around in banana boats with The Hoopers in the summer wasn’t the best way to spend his off time as the face of a franchise starting from scratch?

The other piece of news was the signing of combo guard Tony Wroten, because when a player can’t crack the roster of a juggernaut like the 8-55 76ers, you’ve just got to add him to your roster. All jokes aside, Wroten was averaging 17 points a game last year before his ACL injury ended his season, and any young guard with potential deserves a look right now for the Knicks. It’s tough to say whether they have a single guard on the roster that the team would want going forward, so it makes sense to bring someone else in to give them a look. There’s no way this team can drag themselves into next year with the current rotation of guards and it’s good to know that they realize that. I don’t want to give up on Galloway or Grant at this point, and maybe one or both of them can become a productive rotation player, but I don’t see the potential for either of them to be an NBA starter. So the Knicks need to find help on the market, and that’s a whole ‘nother article we can save for when the season ends and we have a clearer picture of free agency.

Seeing as this is the game thread and the Knicks are in fact playing a game of professional basketball this evening, perhaps I should talk about it? Oh Denver, the franchise who traded Melo to New York when he forced his way out of Colorado. And they got a pretty damn good ransom for him, I think we can all agree, but both franchises find themselves in a similar spot right now (at least to the naked eye, if you’re just looking at the standings). Our old friend Danilo Gallinari suffered two torn ligaments in his ankle a couple of weeks ago and is out for another couple weeks at least, so we won’t get to see him play tonight. He’s been having a quietly efficient season for a Denver team that doesn’t have a playoff-capable roster and is never on TV, so we never hear about them.

For a team with a record nearly identical to the Knicks, the Nuggets have a lot of interesting players on their roster and could have as many as 3 1st round picks next year (it’s a bunch of tricky protected-pick stuff, but basically, if Houston and Portland makes the playoffs they get their 1st round picks this year) and another 2 or more next year. Their cupboard is not bare and they will be adding to it significantly with rookies on low-cost contracts, and it will be interesting to see what their team looks like in the next year or two. Denver really has done a good job of tearing down their roster and getting draft compensation for players like Mosgov, Ty Lawson and Aaron Afflalo (they got potential 1st round picks for all of those players, which is crazy to think about honestly given their relative value now. Damn Denver, keep up that hustle!). With a solid 6-man core of Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried and Gary Harris, the Nuggets are a team that we can justifiably be jealous of going forward.

The season is mercifully winding down, and hopefully these are the End of Days for having to watch many of the players on this team, most notably our starting guards. With any luck, by this time next year Afflalo will be mean-mugging whoever he plans on launching fadeaways against in Charlotte or Milwaukee or some other franchise on the fringes, and Calderon will be explaining how he made his duck sauce in a celebrity cooking competition.

We can always hope.

2015-16 Recap: Knicks 85, Blazers 104

When you’re in a rut, there’s a lot of things people will advise you to do. Spend more time with family and friends instead of being alone. Take up a new hobby, something to keep you busy and active. Exercise. Get out there, meet some new people, maybe at a spin class or a book club or just a good-old-fashioned bar (preferably a dive bar owned by a guy who drinks up whatever small profit he might manage to make while he serves you). Most of the advice comes down to one central concept: change your habits. To get out of one of the many funks life invariably will throw your way as a thinking, feeling human being, a person usually needs to shake up at least some aspect of their life to feel reinvigorated. But it’s not easy to do. A person becomes ingrained in their habits, in their usual way of living and responding to the world, and even though this may be the root cause of unhappiness or limited success or failed relationships, the person will continue to exhibit the same behaviors until, under great strain and effort, the person changes something, either about themselves or about their surroundings.

All this pscyho babble bullshit is to say, the Knicks have become ingrained in some bad habits, and sure there are ways to fix them, but right now they don’t have the coaching or players to do so. Since January 20th, the season has sputtered into a comedy of errors and can basically be summarized as thus:

Yes, Carmelo “ask Dolan for your money back” Anthony got up and laughed at himself. How could you not? When you’re so thoroughly embarrassed as that, basically the tripping-in-the-lunchroom-and-spilling-your-tray-all-over-you-in-high-school level of social terror, you can either join in the joke or be eviscerated. Losing their 15th game out of the last 18 has stomped out any rational hope for a playoff spot, which basically guarantees Kurt “Fuckin’ Magnets?” Rambis will inform the media of the Knicks’ impending playoff push.

The Blazers are no joke, and losing to them is pretty common these days. They have won 18 of their last 22, and are the last team to beat the Warriors, which they did convincingly right after the All-Star Break. Damian Lillard was left off the All-Star roster, and it seems to be exactly the right-sized chip for his shoulder. The Blazers were 15-24 and scratched out of the playoff picture, and now stand 3 1/2 games out of the 5 seed in the West. That’s a hell of a run. To put things in perspective for the Knicks, if they went on a similar run of 16-4 to close the season, they would be at .500 and likely still miss the playoffs.

Still think we’re going to the postseason, Phil? Mr. Rambis? (pictured below, asking the age-old question)

magnets"

I forgot about the roster crossover between these two teams until I watched the game. Not sure how I missed that RoLo and Afflalo started for Portland in the playoffs last year, so perhaps they had something to prove to their “little brothers” in Portland. RoLo was 4/5 from the floor, but as is the way with Mr. Rambis (I hereafter will not use the term “coach” until he, ya know, coaches), his minutes were limited in the typical erratic game-to-game fashion that makes everyone wonder what the hell is going on. Taps was limited to 25 minutes too, but at least his foul trouble was a deciding reason for it. Afflalo was 6/9 for 13 points, checking off his once-in-four-games efficient shooting performance with his excruciating salvo of pump funks and turnaround jump shots. The joy in the air at the reunion of these former teammates was palpable.

dame and rolo

But they certainly did not match the Swish Siblings (Trademarked and Copyrighted), who collectively went 18/37 from the field for 55 points. They combined to go 6/12 from 3, 13/13 from the line, had 8 assists and 3 turnovers. As Rambis so eloquently explained it after the game,

“We had troule containing their guards most of the night.”

No shit, man. That’s so weird, since your strategy was to go under screens and let two elite shooters get free for open shot after open shot all game long. I realize you can’t “coach” Jose Calderon to suddenly run faster than your average fourth grader at an elementary school field day, but maybe you could play Jerian Grant more than 8 minutes seeing as the season is over anyways? When is Phil going to shut this shit down and tell Rambis to just play Grant and Galloway (who had an awful game, but still, might as well play him) and give Porzingis more run at the 5 to see how the spacing works? There’s a lot of little experiments we could be doing these last 20 games, but Rambis simply refuses to take part in it. I knew we were going to get massacred at guard, I’ve seen these punks do it before to my beloved but perenially guard-challenged Dallas Mavericks.

Spin Cycle

Poor Dirk. I remember laughing at that when it happened, but it was still cruel. As we’ve discussed at length in comment threads across this season, the guards are a disaster on this team. They can’t defend anybody, their shooting is at best inconsistent, and nobody knows how to run the offense except for Athlete Impersonator Jose Calderon. That’s the first thing that needs to be addressed in free agency, but with Calderon due another $8 million next year and Afflalo at about the same number, it will be tough to upgrade the position with that money tied up. Maybe there is a draft night dump-off deal that can be made, or a sign-and-trade in free agency, to wiggle out of one or both of those contracts. But bringing them both back as prospective starters is a gloomy idea indeed. We don’t need the Splash Brothers or the Swish Siblings, but we need a competent backcourt that won’t be a nightly liability.

dame and cj
“Damian Lillard whispers sweet nothings in CJ McCollum’s ear”

Man, it would be nice to have those guys, though. I want to make one more point about last night, and that is the value of having a competent bench. Our bench has deteriorated this year and become mostly a liability. Galloway and O’Quinn haven’t developed as hoped (mostly, I think, due to coaching inconsistencies and issues with playing time jumping around more than an unchaperoned toddler at Wal-Mart with a baby bottle full of Mountain Dew), Seraphin and Vujacic are jokes, D-Will comes and goes like a stray cat and Grant doesn’t ever get run. Lance Thomas has been a welcome surprise, but will cost the Knicks substantially more than his current salary if they want to retain him next year.

Portland’s bench has the improving and intriguing Plumlee Stunt Double Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, a resurgent Gerald Henderson, Allen Crabbe (a free agent next season the Knicks should look at) and Mo Harkless. That is a SOLID bench, all on good contracts and all young and hungry. Sure, Portland doesn’t really have a veteran presence, but Lillard has taken on the leadership role for them and by all accounts he excels at it. I may not enjoy that terrible baby rap from that weird State Farm ad campaign, but man, do I enjoy watching that man play basketball.

baby rap

Portland is led by him, but their team has a lot of contributors, and their bench is a big reason for their recent surge into the playoff picture. They collectively were 14/30 for 37 points against the Knicks last night, an efficient performance and the hidden reason Portland won. Sure, the Swish Siblings had 55, but the other three starters for Portland combined to go 4/19 for 10 points. You don’t win that game without your bench. The Knick bench (excluding the last three minutes of garbage time when benches were emptied), by comparison, was 7/34 for 21 points. That is a terrible performance by any measure, and nobody was innocent. Even Lance Thomas went 2/10 on an uncharacteristically off night.

At this point in the year, we know what we’re watching. We have no draft picks, we have no playoff hopes, we have a roster of players no one is sure will be here in two years with Porzingis and a lame duck coach who we will have to watch juggle rotations for the next 6 weeks with the coordination of a blind cow and the uncertainty of a teenage girl shopping for a prom dress. But remember Knicks fans, whenever you get down watching this team as we wrap up the season, take a few deep breaths and repeat to yourself:

Kristaps. Kristaps. Kristaps.

Kristaps boogie

2015-16 Game Thread: Knicks vs Trailblazers

As the Rambis era continues to rear its ugly head in performances like last night’s game, my mind wanders to construct exactly how this situation came to pass. The Knicks were 22-22 and on the cusp of breaking back into the playoff conversation after a January 20th OT victory over the Jazz before everything went to hell. Since that fateful midpoint of the season, the Knicks have lost 14 of 17, their head coach was fired just before the All-Star break, and blame has cycled from one scapegoat to the next in the ensuing weeks. Melo has played well, probably the only Knick who has consistently done so, yet the fanbase was calling for him to be traded before the deadline. We all complained about Fisher, but I don’t think anyone was calling for his job on February 7th when he was fired following a brutal stretch against some of the league’s best teams. They played 6 of the league’s 8 best teams in a 10-game stretch following that win over Utah, losing 9 of those 10 games, and at the end of that gauntlet, Fisher was fired.

What happened? We will never know all the gory details about this, but I’m going to write out my own plot to this movie. Fisher, listening to his players and seeing their struggles to execute the triangle in the modern era of basketball, goes to Phil and asks to abandon this aging concept for an offensive approach more suited to their current personnel. Phil tells Fisher to stick with the process, that the players will come around, that the system will work given time to be implemented. Fisher says the team doesn’t have the shooters, that Kristaps isn’t reliable from the midrange and Afflalo is a shadow of his former self. Calderon can’t beat anyone off the dribble and no one on the bench is consistent except the surprising Lance Thomas. They have to play more pick and roll, and they have to shoot more 3’s out of drive-and-kicks. Phil insists on staying the course and refuses to budge on his evangelical faith in the Triangle. Fisher and him have a clash of egos, and Fisher is excused after a dramatic confrontation behind the scenes because emotions are running a thousand miles high after a particularly trying set of games.

Jackson and friends took the weekend to discuss how they would approach this from a public relations standpoint, and decided that the team’s public stance would be that the coaching change was for the good of the team, that the Knicks needed a culture shift, and that making the playoffs and salvaging the season was the reason for firing Fisher. The Knicks privately knew they had already played themselves out of a realistic shot at the playoffs, and so allowed Rambis to finish out the year as a Jackson lackey who would keep preaching the creed of Zen. Phil has plans to seek a new candidate this summer, or maybe even install himself if he’s feeling frisky enough (and I think that’s a real possibility here), and so he tells Rambis to use this opportunity as well as he can to market himself for another chance at an NBA head coaching job. Rambis has waited six years for another chance after being laughed out of Minnesota, so he takes this really seriously and says a lot of Ra-Ra quotes to the media and plays his best players a ton of minutes to chase meaningless wins down the stretch of a rapidly unfurling season.

And that leaves us where we are now. Kristaps was consigned to the bench nearly the entire 2nd half of Sunday night’s game, his minutes are being handled more erratically then an alcoholic’s house plants are watered, and players are jumping all over the place in rotation up and down the bench. The only thing that seems assured is that Melo will play 40 minutes a night, and RoLo and Calderon will be right there with him for most of the way. Tonight, the incredibly hot Trailblazers come to town, boasting one of the best backcourts in the league and a young, athletic roster brimming with confidence. My god, could you imagine if New York had Dame on this team? How many games would they win if you switched Calderon with Lillard, 52? 55? He’s such a gifted young player, and I’m so impressed with how Portland has completely overhauled their roster around him and achieved this kind of success in year one. To lose 4 of 5 starters from a playoff team and come back the next year and be a playoff team is the kind of thing usually reserved for the big schools in college basketball.

Portland has won 13 of their last 15 games, and one of those losses was a wonky home game against Houston where the Blazers held a 22-point 3rd quarter lead and somehow collapsed into a 15-point defeat. Houston has a weird way of pulling that kind of performance out of their ass every now and again (see, game 6 @ LA Clippers, 2015) when they get super focused, and Portland was fresh off their convincing curb stomp of the Warriors, so I’ll excuse it as a case of emotional exhaustion. So a team that’s 13-2 in their last 15 is playing a team that is 3-14 in their last 17, to put it simply, and the strength of the team that is 13-2 is the glaring weakness of the team that is 3-14. All this is to say that the situation does not bode well for our Knicks.

Portland, lovingly referred to as Rip City by their rabid fanbase of hipster counter-culture cycling enthusiasts, comes into MSG loaded with confidence and locally grown kind bud. The Knicks will have to do more than “try really hard” to beat this team, which is well-coached and plays with the ferocity of a team that has nothing to fear. One thing I haven’t questioned too often this year with the Knicks is their effort, I will give them that—the team has lost a LOT of close games and remained competitive in the majority of their games this year, even against the league’s best teams, but their late game coaching and poor general strategy has been the difference in them being a playoff team and being 11 games under .500 right now. It’s a shame that in a game of chess, they fired the guy who was playing checkers and made the guy playing chutes & ladders his replacement for the remainder of the season. But that’s where the Knicks are at right now, and even if Rambis thinks a checkmate is when Australians split a bill at a restaurant, the Knicks have 21 more games to play, starting with tonight against Portland. They may as well win some of them.

2015-16 Recap: Knicks 81, Heat 98

Same song…

The chorus played in my head as the 4th quarter unraveled tonight. The Knicks had a terrible start to every quarter in this game, but they played us for fools by closing each of the first three quarters on runs to keep the game at a manageable distance. Every time I wanted to turn away, I had to turn back, because an improbable shot would go in, a shaky Miami possession would follow, and suddenly the Knicks would be back to within 5 or 6. But they didn’t end the 4th with another end-of-quarter run, and instead slowly dissipated into the New York night. The offense was about as structured as a 2nd grader’s science project tonight, often resembling a hung-over group of guys playing pick-up basketball with each other for the first time. Mid-range jumpshot after mid-range jumpshot rained down upon the rims of MSG, and most of them clanged away into Miami possessions. What a difficult game to watch.

The tragedy is that the defense played pretty well throughout most of the game before finally folding under the collective weight of the offense’s ineptitude at the end. It was like watching a Denver Broncos game on the basketball court, except without the happy ending. This would have been the third time this season that the Heat held the Knicks under 80 points if not for a few late shots to get the total over the threshold of mediocrity. Granted, the Heat have one of the NBA’s best defenses, but New York barely challenged them in their offensive sets. We ridiculed Fisher for his lack of offensive imagination, and so we are forced to do the same for Rambis. Whatever the coaching strategy is for this team going forward, I have to believe this team is looking somewhere I’m not even seeing right now. Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks have come up a lot in media reports, but some part of me thinks this is all part of Phil’s plan to come down from the front office and take the bench after the roster is reconfigured this summer into something closer to what he envisioned when he took the job.

Speaking of coaching strategy, what the hell was the plan with Kristaps in the 2nd half? He is taken out a couple minutes into the 3rd, put back in for a few minutes towards the end of the quarter when the run was made to get it back to 4, and then is barely seen again for the duration of the 4th. It was mind boggling to watch, and I know most of us were thinking the same thing as far as that decision goes. Sure, Taps was going to have trouble guarding the Heat’s small lineups, but isn’t there a good reason to put him out there at the 5 instead of Lopez and see what happens? It was frustrating to watch the 4th quarter unfold with Porzingis sitting on the bench presumably wondering the same thing all of us were.

It’s not like this is a particularly deflating loss, since the Knicks have already played themselves out of any realistic chance at the postseason, but the team looked flat on offense throughout the entire game. It reminded me of when pick & roll seemed like a forbidden phrase for the team in December, as they seemed to just spread the floor and ISO with different players taking turns at trying to penetrate the paint (which was packed all night long) and taking contested jumpshots. The best shots the Knicks were able to produce were usually when a double-team was created by dribble penetration and the ball was kicked out to an open shooter, but many of those open shots were missed tonight. The Knicks simply don’t have many great shooters on the team, specifically from the mid-range they stubbornly kept trying to score from. Calderon had an off night, which hurt the offense more than probably anything else because the spacing was ruined by his inability to hit open shots, but he wasn’t alone. Lance Thomas was the only Knick who seemed capable of making catch-and-shoot opportunities throughout the game.

Portland comes to MSG in a few days, and those boys are on a roll, and are a guard-oriented team. Gonna be a rough one, I think, but this team needs to better execute their offensive sets, particularly how to set an effective screen at the right angle, and to improve their spacing and shot-making opportunities. There were a lot of missed open shots tonight, but just as many missed opportunities to create open shots by simply holding a screen for an extra half-second or making the right pass without hesitation.

We still have 21 games to go, and hopefully the Knicks don’t shoot 37% and get outrebounded by 15 in too many of those, because it makes for a miserable viewing experience. At risk of being Fishered, I’m going to go ahead and say the playoffs are a dead dream, but still, there is something to be gained from the final stretch. They should try and get to 35 wins and let the young players get more time instead of blindly favoring veterans who have no effect on the future of the team. Just my two cents, but hey, it seems logical at this point. No draft picks, no trade deadline changes, an interim coach… This team feels like a placeholder, the professional sports franchise equivalent of a bookmark—something inserted into a paused frame until something better happens later. I’m anxious to see what that is, but before that, the process needs to play out, and the team can’t lose sight of the rest of this season just because the results aren’t meaningful to their playoff aspirations of a couple months ago. Growth is more often experienced through pain than joy, so to the Knicks, I say:

Go FULL EMO. Embrace the Pain.

full emo

2015-16 Game Thread: Knicks vs Heat

I know this is supposed to be about tonight’s game and to get us all started talking about it, but I would be remiss not to begin this article with a nod to Steph “Galactus” Curry, Devourer of Worlds. I know it’s not easy to watch a Saturday night game, because that’s when a lot of us are out and not paying attention to television, but I hope you got the chance to watch this one live. I got home with about 6 minutes left in the 4th and from there, it was incredible. When I saw Steph in person this year, he had 51 against the Wizards in DC, and it was a spectacle to behold. I can’t imagine being an OKC fan and watching that 40-footer being launched as the last seconds dripped off the clock in agonizing slow-motion. We all knew the shot was in the second he recognized he had some space after crossing halfcourt, stopped, and pulled up to shoot it. It’s downright absurd to believe 100% that a shot from that distance is going to fall, but that’s the world we live in now, and Steph is still bending the rules of this new alternate basketball universe. Twitter very nearly exploded in the minutes that followed, and rightfully so. That shot was the reason I always try to watch Golden State games, rearranging my schedule like a doctor trying to go on vacation.

On to more pressing matters. Oh LOOK, our old friends from every playoff series in the late ’90s, the “It’s 76 degrees here, chumps!” beach-picture-taking trolls who come out when they see our snow-soaked streets. The Miami Cheat (I’ll never forget the 2006 Finals, also known as the D-Wade Free Throw Parade. Screw you, David Stern) lost yesterday in a weird 3 PM game in Boston. NBA teams aren’t used to playing at that time of day, and it showed early. Both teams took most of the 1st quarter to start playing with any rhythm, and eventually the Heat were escorted out of the Boston Garden with a humbling loss to the team directly above them in the Eastern Conference Standings.

The Heat come to another famous garden tonight, as they face our beloved Kristerblockers tonight at MSG. The Heat continue to be without The Babadook Chris Bosh, who has another blood clot scare to deal with, which in all seriousness I hope is resolved soon and he will be okay. Bosh is a great player who is underappreciated and I’ve always enjoyed him, and he is one of the NBA’s more unique personalities. Look for some of his interviews, the guy stands out among his peers in terms of just plain being interesting.

the babadook

The Heat still bring plenty of talent with them, though. Dragic, Wade, Whiteside, Winslow and Deng provide plenty of Umph, and the Heat are about to add Joe Johnson’s reanimated corpse. If Bosh can be medically cleared to return this year, the Heat have a roster capable of doing puppy-left-alone-for-the-first-time type damage in the playoffs, and a 2nd-round date with Toronto (or Cleveland, should Toronto take the 1 seed, a possibility becoming more probable by the day) would be appointment viewing.

Since Kurt Rambis took over just before the All-Star break, the Knicks are 2-4 (and could have won in their typically heartbreaking one-possession losses against the Wizards and Pacers), improving Rambis’ gaudy coaching record to 58-149 in his career. To be fair, he did inherit the Timberwolves after they traded Garnett and began rebuilding, but he is still laughed at by Minnesota fans. Ask any long-suffering T-Wolves fan how they feel about Rambis and you’re strapping yourself in for a 12 minute rant complete with physical threats and deep-seeded hopes for various maladies to befall Mr. Rambis, as they would snidely refer to him, denying him the title of Coach at all. Thus far, he has talked the talk to the media. He seems to be trying really hard at the fire-them-up motivator style of coaching, and some of his language is creeping into his players’ vernacular. Melo was quoted by the New York Times as saying,

“The connection that he’s [Rambis] talking about, if somebody gets beat you have their back; if that person gets beat, you have their back,” Anthony said. “Everybody’s on this train. A lot of time recently, we haven’t been connected as a team like that. I thought tonight we did a better job of being connected.” – New York Times

Though I now see it as a Fool’s hope, Rambis remains committed to trying to reach the Playoffs. He says the word in every interview, constantly trying to impress on the team to think like a winning team. That’s all well and good, because thinking is the first step toward acting, but the team really needs more than a sports movie cliche style motivational speech right now. They need cohesive offensive sets that generate open shots, they need more dribble penetration (which I’ve heard Rambis preach on this week, which I’m happy to hear him emphasizing) and they need a more consistent defensive identity. Against Orlando, the defense looked more linked together, or connected like train cars, as Rambis prefers to teach the desired defensive mindset using a preschool metaphor.

little engine that could
“Choo Choooo!”

It was a good team win for a Knicks squad desperately in need of a positive result after losing 13 of their previous 15 games. Porzingis had 18 points and 6 rebounds in 25 minutes, equaling his rebound total from the previous three games combined. His rebounding has been concerning lately, as he has failed to crack double-digit rebounds since a 13-rebound performance against Denver on February 7th. Rambis has been stressing the need for Taps to go inside more often, and really when you’re 7’3″ there’s no excuse for having a peasant’s six rebounds in over 80 minutes of court time. Kristaps knows that, and I’m sure his numbers will scale back to his averages, but he needs to show more aggression on the defensive glass and stop leaving Melo and Lopez to fend for themselves on the boards. Rebounding is possession, and the Knicks need every one they can get.

Tonight’s game will be a difficult task for the Knicks, against a team that typically gives them fits that is fighting for playoff positioning in the tightly bunched Eastern standings. It would be only one win and still leave the Knicks depressingly far out of reach of any playoff hopes, but it would be a 2-game winning streak, which the Knicks haven’t had since mid-January. It would be good to come out of the weekend with a positive vibe, and beating the Heat always comes with a little extra reason to smile.

Enjoy the game, everyone. Follow @JuddsKidding on Twitter to see my inane ramblings about basketball on a mostly nightly basis, and I’ll be in the game thread of course. Have a feeling this will be an entertaining game, Melo played poorly against Orlando and he always shows up against Miami. Can’t wait for tip-off.

GO KNICKS!