Searching for Derek Fisher

Yesterday, I didn’t check Twitter. I didn’t go online, or turn on the TV. I had to work early and was sporting a hefty hangover from the Super Bowl (I’m a University of Tennessee alum, so Peyton Manning is essentially a deity for me and most of my college buddies, and him winning the Super Bowl was cause for great celebration. WAY too much celebration). After work I got home and fell promptly asleep, as my body demanded. So the news of Derek Fisher’s firing didn’t reach me until this morning.

Like all of you who have had a sizable jump on the sports news cycle on me, I’ve read and thought a lot about it today. All the quotes, the Phil Jackson-isms, the comments on both threads on Knickerblogger. At first I thought there wasn’t much to add, so far as original thoughts go, because reading through all the comments reminded me again of how attuned to the organization so many of you are. We all criticized Fisher this year, and Lord knows that he deserved it. I didn’t think he was a long-term solution as head coach, and obviously the season was beginning to slip away, but this just seems so… desperate. Right?

I’ve been as guilty of it as anyone, preaching the importance of getting into the playoffs this year, but is this move really going to salvage the season? The Knicks have been a roller coaster of winning and losing streaks this year, owing to the schedule imbalances mostly, and sure, they’ve been caving lately, but I think the right move is to play out the season and then let Fisher go. Let the chips fall where they may, as the cliche goes. For one, this franchise has been a picture of instability for about 15 years now, and firing a coach mid-season is no way to clear that damaging reputation. Maybe they’re thinking of free agents this summer, guys who quietly went through back channels to criticize Fisher and see if the Knicks might make themselves a more attractive situation by changing the coach. But that couldn’t have waited until April?

I also think it’s a bad message to send to Porzingis. He has been up and down this year like any rookie, but I think when you have a superstar in the making, you have to give them a model for consistency. They can’t be about to hit the All-Star Break and decide, okay, now we’re making a major change. In professional sports, it’s a reality and something Taps will have to acclimate to, but I don’t see why the decision was made right now. It could have waited two months, because let’s be frank here, the Knicks aren’t going anywhere this season. Even if they could salvage a playoff spot, a possibility that grows increasingly unlikely the further along in the season that we get, they have no chance to make a run at the teams at the top of the East.

At least Rambis provides some stability as he slides into the interim coach position, but I still feel like this is all-around a bad idea for Kristaps’ sake. I wonder what he thinks about it, what he really feels about Fisher. Maybe they weren’t getting along, I have no idea, but to me, when you start a new job and your boss is fired a few months later, it can be a culture shock. So many things are likely to change, and this is simply poor timing to ask this team to adjust to a major change. In my mind, the right move was to get through the year, then address Fisher, and work on your cap situation and who may realistically come to New York to improve the team going forward. But now the Knicks are right back to making panic moves, and as Zen as Phil is, it strikes me as an impatient and not completely thought-out move.

Maybe you think I’m completely wrong here and want to defend the decision, and I can see there being a myriad of good reasons to excuse Fisher from duty now instead of later, and I’m sure that Phil isn’t being as near-sighted as I’m accusing him of being because he’s one of the most respected basketball minds to ever walk this Earth, but it seems like a knee-jerk reaction to a poor stretch of games that could have been solved during the All-Star Break, or at least cleaned up a little bit.

This is a fresh start for the team; the post-break schedule softens quite a bit and maybe they can get some confidence back with a decent finish to the year. But I can’t help but sit back and wonder what Carmelo and Kristaps thinks, or RoLo or Afflalo. I mean, it’s easy to see that there are better coaching options out there right now than Fisher, who often looked lost as a head coach. But lost people find their way all the damn time in this world, and maybe giving him the rest of the year as an honest evaluation before making the final decision would have been better for the franchise and the players.

I’m of the mind that good franchises don’t fire head coaches or general managers in-season. I can rarely think of a situation where that worked out well. Pat Riley forcing Van Gundy to step down mid-season when the Heat won the title in 2006? I guess? And that was a fishy (pun SO intended) situation anyways, how that went down, seeing as the Heat were already basically the best team in the East, right there with Detroit at the time. I mean, hell, even the Kings backed off the idea of a mid-season firing, and that franchise is a dumpster fire fueled by wet cow manure.

It’s a strange day in Knicks land. And they have a (winnable) game tonight against the Wizards at home. I’m interested to see how the team reacts, the energy they play with, how the feeling is. It’s going to be very telling to see the body language tonight. I suppose we will see, won’t we?

2015-16 Recap: Knicks 89, Celtics 97

This game had all the makings of a hang-around game in which the Knicks would eventually lose. All the symptoms were there. The lethargic rotations, the 4th-quarter regression; it all conspired to knock the Knicks one notch further out of the 8th playoff spot in the East. And so it did, as the Celtics stormed out of MSG tied for the 3 seed and the Knicks retired to their apartments to regroup and maybe do a Netflix binge or brush up on their 2K skills. No starter for the Knicks played particularly well, and without the much-maligned Jose Calderon, the spacing was an issue against the disciplined Celtics’ defense.

The Knicks’ starters shot 21-59 (36%) from the field against the Celtics, and looking at that stat, it’s amazing to see that the Knicks remained in the game at all. When your starters shoot sub-40%, it’s almost always a recipe for a loss. I’m not sure what the exact numbers are because it’s a tough statistic to find precise information on, but I know that teams that shoot under the 40% mark lose something in the range of 90% of the time, so there’s a sliver of a moral victory here in the way the team competed and kept the score within striking range despite the shooting woes that plagued the Knicks throughout the game. I had to go and look at a bunch of game results to figure this out, and it was late and I had had a couple of drinks and I’m sure there’s another good excuse for why this information could be wrong but I can’t think of what it is, but teams are now 18-30 in games played directly after playing the Warriors. It’s a meaningful stat, because while looking through the day-by-day schedule results, I noticed so many teams played against middle-of-the-pack or worse competition following their scheduled lesson in basketball brutality against the Dubs, and even more interesting, over half of the time teams had two days off or more following a game against the Warriors. It’s a curious scheduling quirk (if you read any of my stuff you’ll know I’m kind of obsessed with how the schedule affects the rise and fall of teams in the NBA standings) and it certainly raised my eyebrows as I cycled through counting up wins and losses.

It was a disappointing result in a big game against a division rival which could have propelled the Knicks into the next stretch with a bit of confidence. Before the All-Star break next weekend, the Knicks play at Detroit, and then have a 3-game homestand with Memphis, Denver and Washington coming to NY before the break. All of these games are winnable, and the Knicks are going to need to win 3 of those 4 to go into the week off feeling confident about where their season is headed. I think the next game at Detroit carries a lot of weight as to how the homestand will go, because the Knicks need a boost to their collective gusto after the (not very close) losses against some of the league’s best. It’s easy to grow disheartened when you get your ass beat by OKC, the Clips, the Raptors and the Warriors over the course of 10 days, because you see what kind of talent is on the playoff caliber teams and maybe you realize you aren’t in that class as you play against them. But beating those teams shouldn’t be a goal for the Knicks this season anyways; beating the teams they are capable of beating and finding a way to get into the 6-8 spot in the East is their attainable goal, and even if they slide into the 8 seed and get swept faster than the parlor post-tea-time at Downton Abbey by the Cavs, it will be a successful run with the current roster before the Knicks can build around what they have and improve it for a more realistic run next year.

It’s the time of year where every game starts to become magnified. There are only 30-ish games left for most teams in the league, and the competition level tends to crank up after the All-Star break as teams begins to jockey for playoff positioning. The NBA season is a long grind, and individual games don’t carry as much weight early in the season because teams play 82 of them, but as the amount of games left begins shrinking every team can look at the standings and their schedule and do the math. The Knicks are in a precarious spot right now, as they’ve been several times this year. They’ve faced down a tough stretch of losses with a streak of wins to rebound and put themselves right back into the playoff conversation several times this year, and they will need to do so again. It must be tiring to dig yourself out of the same pit over and over and then watch the dirt fall back in around you as soon as you’ve made some observable progress, but as the theme of the game thread suggested, Groundhog Day really is kind of the perfect metaphor for this Knicks season.

No matter what, we’ve got Porzingis, everyone. So in the iconic words of Aaron Rodgers, everyone R-E-L-A-X. We’re gonna be fine.

2015-16 Game Thread: Knicks vs Celtics

Then put your little… hand in mine…
There ain’t no hill or mountain… we can’t climb…

6 o'clock

Thus begins Bill Murray’s morning in Groundhog Day when his alarm clock goes off at the Ungodly hour of 6 AM. It being Groundhog Day it seems to fit my new morning routine because we got the bright idea to adopt a puppy. He’s cute, sure. But when they tell you training a new puppy is stressful and takes a lot of work, they are underselling it. It’s a recurring nightmare of reinforcing behaviors that begins every day at 6 AM, with minor improvements each day, just like in the iconic movie named after the Holiday nobody actually celebrates but is legally today.

The song’s lyrics also strike me as metaphorically inspirational to the Knicks before they host the Celtics at MSG tonight. Over the last six games, the Knicks and Celtics have been mirror images of each other. The Celtics are 5-1, losing the second game of a home-and-home to the Magic, and collecting wins over Orlando, Denver, Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago. Not exactly murderer’s row, though the win over the Bulls can’t be disregarded. The Knicks, in contrast, have gone 1-5 in their last six games, their lone win coming against the Suns, and their losses coming against Golden State, Oklahoma City, Toronto, the Clippers and the Hornets. The Hornets loss, like the Celtics win against the Bulls, can’t be disregarded. But that’s a rough stretch of games for the Knicks. This is a classic example of how scheduling can affect mid-season streaks. If you heard the Celtics had won 5 of 6 and the Knicks had lost 5 of 6 and knew nothing else, you could safely assume the Celtics were playing much better basketball. But in fact, the Celtics are benefiting from playing a soft set of games against sub-.500 teams, and four of those Knicks’ losses are to 4 of the top 6 teams in the league. The NBA schedule, man. The brutal stretches can make it seem like Armageddon and the soft ones can make your team look like a juggernaut. So we’ve always got to keep perspective of the schedule when looking at narratives in NBA reporting.

The Knicks and Celtics are also almost identical mirror images of each other in record, with the Celtics coming into the game at 27-22 and the Knicks at 23-27. This puts the Celtics a half game out of the 3 seed, and the Knicks three games out of the 8 spot. The Knicks have been treating the playoff hunt like a hipster does cultural norms, living on the fringes and remaining just out of distance for the last two months. They’ve risen to .500 and come agonizingly close to the 8 seed, only to lose a few games and end up right where they started. It’s like the same cycle keeps repeating itself… kinda like Bill Murray’s purgatory in Groundhog Day.


Groundhog Day

The last time these two teams played was three weeks ago, and the Knicks won 120-114 behind points from Kristaps. He shot a season-high nine 3-pointers in that game, a statistical oddity when you look at box scores as often as I do, and I didn’t get to watch that game so I’m not sure exactly why he was launching so many that night. The Celtics have several slow bigs in their rotation like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, so I’m assuming drawing them out to the perimeter with Taps was by design, and maybe more of that will prove effective against the Celtics tonight.

And as much as I like to heap praise on Kristaps, the rest of the Knicks played very well that night against Boston, with 5 other Knicks scoring in double figures and all contributing a positive +/- rating in the game. The term “team win” is on the Mount Rushmore of sports cliches, right up there with “gave it 100%”, “at the end of the day” and “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”


Martian the Illest

But that game was a team win as evidenced by every statistical measure, and that’s the kind of team the Knicks are capable of being when they’re rolling and their confidence is up. There’s certainly enough talent on this roster to beat the Celtics tonight, but it can be tough to come into a game with confidence after playing Golden State. The Warriors crush hope as effectively as the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office, and teams tend to play poorly the game after playing the Warriors. I think so much energy goes into a game against the Warriors that it can be a bit disheartening to see them outclass you the way that they can. Some teams can take a beating from the Warriors and see how high the bar is raised and want to get there, and others can take the same beating, see where that same bar is, and decide that getting to that bar is impossible.

I don’t think the league is conceding the season, certainly not San Antonio, or the organization stinking of desperation like a balding middle-aged man at a college bar bargaining with a drunk girl to “get her home safe” at last call, the Cavaliers. But the drubbings they both have taken from the Warriors look the same as every other beat-down the Dubs have inflicted on the league. The 2015-16 Warriors are like that kid who matures bizarrely fast and is 6 feet tall and filled out in 5th grade; there are just no realistic rivals until everybody else catches up.

Man, I love gushing about the Warriors. Tough not to right now because they’re on my mind, I’m seeing them play the Wizards in DC tomorrow night with some buddies, so I finally get to see this team live. Don’t let me down Steph, you only scored 13 the other night against the Knicks and I didn’t pay an exorbitant price for this mediocre ticket to see you not hit some 30 foot 3’s like they’re free throws!

Anyways, the Knicks have some schedule relief coming up, and it would be good to get back to winning, just for their confidence and continued belief in this season before the All-Star Break, with a W against the Celtics tonight. Also, one of my best friends is a Celtics fan, and him and his punk ass dog Vino can go fuck themselves for cheering against the Knicks tonight. You guys threw Paul Pierce away like a moldy loaf of bread and you should be ashamed of your Leprechaun agenda-pushing franchise!

Leprebong

That’s the message the Celtics want to give to young people?

I’d rather support a franchise with a little class. Go Knicks!

2015-16 Game Thread: Knicks vs. Clippers

So I currently live near Leesburg, Virginia, which isn’t interesting for the vast majority of the year, but today it definitely is, as we are expecting #SnowtoriousBIG to run up in our club iced out from head to toe to dump 2 feet or more of Cristal (which is what I will call snow from now on) on top of our domes. Shit could get real, ya’ll. With that being said, I’m well-stocked on the necessities (alcohol and fully-charged portable electronic devices), but if my power goes out, be patient on the recap. I might not even get to watch the game live depending on what kind of signal I’m able to get without wifi should the ship go down tonight. I’m optimistic that Snowtorious BIG will be kind enough to leave the lights on, though. Always struck me as the kind of guy who would pistol whip you and take your chain and wallet, but leave you with 20 bucks so you can at least get something to eat and a pint when you wake up.

Snowtorious BIG

He loves it when you call him Big Papa, but he loves it even more when it’s below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Give him the loot.

So when it comes to Mount .500, we’ve reached the summit again. It’s about damn time to get on the other side of this God-forsaken mountain and see the sun rise on an above-.500 Knicks team, am I right? The Knicks are 2-0 since Melo’s return to the lineup in a pair of home games that went to overtime and double overtime respectively. Exciting home wins for sure, and the Knicks now welcome a team from LA right before a weather system wearing a wool cap and torn jacket and never found without a yo-yo and approximately 60 safety pins, Winter Storm Jonas, descends on the area to ask if he can crash on your couch for an indefinite amount of time. This group of referee-trolling punks who flop more than a salmon on a sidewalk may as well stay at the hotel and pray for a swift death, there’s no way these LA boys can survive a winter storm who definitely heard that band’s album before you did.

I make no apologies when I say that I despise the Clippers. They are a team a lot of people don’t like, and they’ve earned it. I would say in the West that nearly every regular playoff team of the last few years unanimously hates the Clippers more than any other team in the conference. Oklahoma City, Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, Memphis and certainly the Dallas Mavericks after the events of the summer all hate their guts. It’s amazing how the Clippers have managed to make themselves such a target of not only those teams, but of referees, coaches, team owners and even agents. Do a Google search for “everyone hates the Clippers” and you’ll get an article from every sports media outlet in the country detailing the reasons for this, so I won’t go too much into it, but they really can get on your nerves. Chris Paul is a great player and will probably eviscerate the Knicks’ guards tonight, but the dude is infuriating to watch go against your team. We will all experience this tonight, “The Clipper Effect”, and it’s not limited to just the human flop machine Chris Paul; the whole team gets in on the act of playing like assholes. Side effects of watching your team play the Clippers include remote destruction, sleepy leg, furrowed brow, screaming heard through the walls, tangle lip, premature sobriety, flop-or-block anxiety disorder and seven years of bad harvests.

The Clippers traded Josh Smith back to Houston this morning for a bruised Granny Smith Apple and an unclear amount of dead crickets in a mason jar, but the Clippers are almost certainly coming out ahead in the trade if the cricket body count exceeds 15. Blake Griffin also won’t play tonight, so that’s a plus, because as talented as he is he has picked up some tricks from Uncle Chris and he does several ref-baiting acting jobs a game as well. But the Clippers are 10-2 since Blake went down with a quadriceps tear, albeit mostly against some of the league’s worst teams, and it is often argued in NBA circles that they are better without Griffin because of the problems with his spacing with DeAndre Jordan. The Clips are on a 2nd night of a BTB, losing to the Cavs last night 115-102. CP3 had 30 points and 9 assists to lead the Clippers, and also led them in minutes with only 33. Doc Rivers is an annoying coach just like his players, but the man was smart to save his team’s legs for tonight, understanding the game against the Knicks was more winnable than the game against the Cavs. I’m guessing Austin “can I stay up late tonight, Dad?” Rivers will be ready to go after an afternoon nap and a glass of Ovaltine, which is a good thing for the Knicks because he already used up his good game for the month.

The Knicks will go to MSG today a half-game out of 8th place in the East, and by the end of the night could slide into the 8 spot. The Clippers pose a lot of problems because of Chris Paul, but the Clippers will have no answer for Porzingis or Melo tonight. Reddick, an often underrated defender in addition to his offensive accumen, can probably make Afflalo a non-factor tonight, but what will be important for the Knicks will be to stop Reddick’s 3’s. The Cavs did a good job of keeping him off the 3-point line last night and limited him to 2-6 shooting beyond the arc. Reddick leads the league in 3pt% at 49.7%, which is an absurd number. If he has space, you can pretty much start etching the 3 points in stone. Afflalo may end up being put on CP3 and if Calderon is “hidden” on Reddick (there’s nowhere to hide Calderon against the Clips, Reddick is one of the best 2-guards in the league and we’re just going to have to hemorrhage points somewhere), he will have to stick to his hip. I would love to see Galloway and Grant get minutes simply for their defensive capabilities on the Clipper guards, which like most backcourts the Knicks encounter, will pose a significant problem.

Aside from Crawford off the bench, yet another Clipper Floposaurus, the Clips don’t have much outside shooting beyond Paul and Reddick. The Knicks have been one of the NBA’s best 3-pt defenses throughout the year, right now sitting at 4th with an OPP 3pt% of 32.4%, and strict attention to the principals of keeping their opponent off the 3-point line will be key tonight. I say never switch any screen with Reddick no matter what action the Clippers try to get him free, and let CP3 do his thing as much as he wants with the P&R jumpers he cans at a crazy efficient rate. The Knicks will have a much better chance of winning the game if CP3 scores 35 and Reddick gets 15 than if they both go for 25. The math is the same, sure, but the Clippers aren’t as good when CP3 has to start playing hero ball every possession because the passing lanes are clogged up.

This is a good time to catch the Clippers, because as a sandwich game between games at Cleveland and Toronto, this is the definition of a trap game, and the Knicks need to take advantage of a hopefully tired and shivering Clippers team tonight and get over .500. It would be a huge mental hurdle for the team, I think, to see more wins than losses in the standings tomorrow morning, and I think they have a great opportunity to do it tonight.

Enjoy the game, you crazy people, and if you get hit by Jonas tonight, just take it in stride and don’t hit him back. He’s not mad at you, he’s mad at his parents. God, they never let him do anything!

2015-16 Recap: Knicks 95, Grizzlies 103

[Erik sent this one in late last night. Sorry we didn’t get it up until now, Erik! – BC]

It was tough to see this game going differently with Melo sitting on the bench in a 3-piece, but the Knicks made believers of us all for 3 quarters on Beale Street. Until a 17-4 run by the Grizzlies in the 4th to extend the lead to 94-79, the game had been largely a back-and-forth affair that the Knicks managed to keep close. Marc Gasol had one of the best scoring nights of his career, going 15-29 for 37 points against a Knicks front line forced to go without Robin Lopez for most of the night due to foul trouble. It was the type of loss we all have become accustomed to: the Knicks kept it close against a good team on the road and ran out of steam in the 4th quarter. The all-too-familiar narrative played itself out again and the Knicks tumbled another few steps down Mount .500, the summit remaining agonizingly within sight but still just a bit higher than the team is capable of reaching.

Similar plot threads to other such losses abound in this game: The Knicks went 5-20 from 3, a stat that nearly always tells the tale of whether they won or lost. Aaron Afflalo was 3-11 from the field and rendered largely ineffective, and though Taps was a sound 7-12 for 17 points, they are simply not up to the challenge without the extra spacing Melo gives them to work within the offense. For all of the bitching and moaning I hear again and again about Melo and what he doesn’t bring to the table, can we all agree that absence makes the heart grow fonder? This team is going nowhere without Melo in the lineup to help open up everyone else’s game. It is a funny thing to admit given my own inclinations to criticize Melo from time to time, and like many of you, to ask whether or not the Knicks should consider trading him, but his “max” contract will only look better going forward the next few years and he has a lot of game left. If anything, Melo has matured into the best version of himself this year, and will be ready to help pass the torch to Kristaps and whoever else ends up being a part of the roster in the next couple of years to transition the Knicks into the next version of themselves.

Memphis is traditionally a difficult place to play, and there is no shame in losing to the Grizzlies on the road without your best player. As much as we praise Kristaps, and rightfully so, this is still Melo’s team, and without the mercurial superstar, the Knicks look a good deal different than they do when he’s in uniform. It would have perhaps been a different affair if RoLo had been able to keep himself on the floor tonight, but the Knicks could not overcome the gruesome twosome of Gasol and Zach Randolph. There is also no crime in being outplayed by what has been one of the best frontcourts in the league this decade, and perhaps it was a good learning experience for Kristaps in how center of gravity can often beat length in this league. After scoring 10 points in the first quarter and getting all Knicks fans in a state of wide-eyed salivation, Taps was rendered largely ineffective for the remainder of the game. Kristapocalypse described what happened:

“They started playing Zach Randolph. He was all over me,” Porzingis said. “He just wasn’t worrying about anything else. Just sticking to me like glue.”

Randolph isn’t often thought of as a defensive stopper, but if you’ve watched him as much as I have, you know how effectively he can bully long and lean players like Zingis. He absolutely took the fight out of LaMarcus Aldridge during the playoffs last year against Portland with his physical defense, and he was able to do much the same against Taps. Randolph is a unique player, in that he always looks like he is the slowest person on the court, but he also always finds a way to be at his spot before the player he guards or the player who guards him. It is like looking at an optical illusion when watching him play. It’s sort of amazing, really, considering how it looks like he would lose a footrace to the fat kid at a third grade field day.

Next up is the 76ers on Monday, who just embarrassed Portland in shocking fashion. All I saw was the final score, and knowing nothing else, I am at a loss for explanation as to how that could happen. Not that Portland is a particularly good team, but still: losing to the 76ers by 25? Wtf, Portland, I know you’re weird, but I didn’t think you were that weird. Put a bird on it.

2015-16 Game Thread: Knicks @ Grizzlies

I’ve spent more time in Memphis’ arena than any other arena but the old Reunion Arena in Dallas, where I grew up and was lucky enough to go to about 10 games a year with my Dad, who would buy one of those wonky half-season passes and split the time between taking me or my Mom or a client. Alas, the Mavericks were garbage during most of those years in the early to mid-90s, and so as a boy I found other teams to root for. Never the front-running type, I fell in love with two teams during those formative years, one from each conference: The Seattle Supersonics, whose green uniforms fit my favorite color, and the New York Knicks, the team that finally beat the Bulls every other kid loved and so I, naturally, hated. Let alone that Michael Jordan was playing baseball that year, as a 9-year-old all i knew was that DING-DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD, and the Bulls were finally not in the NBA Finals in 1994. You all remember the results of that series and it was the topic of my very first Knickerblogger article, so I won’t rehash one of the most painful memories in Knickdom, but that’s how I became a Knicks fan and they became my East team.

I know it’s considered sports blasphemy in some circles to have two teams, though I justify it by them playing in separate conferences. Once the Mavericks were good enough to win more than 12 games in a season, I dumped the Sonics and returned to my roots, and to be fair, if the Mavericks and Knicks ever played in the NBA Finals, I would have no second thoughts about rooting for the Mavericks. But there’s another team I have a soft spot for, because I lived in Tennessee during my high school and college years, attending the University of Tennessee with dreams of a future in sports journalism. That team is of course the only NBA team in the state, the Memphis Grizzlies, and in my many trips to that fabulous and underrated city, going to Grizzlies games has always been the highlight of those little respites from the toils of daily life. Their crowd is legitimately one of the best in the league, their mascot is without a doubt the best in the league, and their team is a call-back to old-school basketball from the 90s, the closest thing to those Knicks teams of old we have in the current NBA.

Grizz Bear

The Knicks were given their 3rd chance since late November to climb over the .500 hump, and failed once again against Brooklyn sans-Melo. I’m not going to call them our cross-town rival because that shitty franchise doesn’t deserve that honor. They might play in an arena close to the Garden, but their geographic proximity is not enough to establish a rivalry. Every time the Knicks get to the precipice of Mount .500, they stagger back a few paces, and tonight could prove to be another set-back if Melo and Kristaps don’t play. Both are considered questionable, but quotes today from Ian Begley on ESPN.com suggest that they will likely not suit up in Memphis.

Kristaps Porzingis isn’t sure exactly how he injured his right shoulder but he was feeling “a little soreness” in the shoulder Friday. Will he suit up vs. Memphis? “Depends on if the doctors let me play or not… if they’re depending only on my decision, I would play tomorrow. So we’ll see what happens,” he said after practice. Porzingis is listed as questionable for the game.

Carmelo Anthony doesn’t seem very optimistic about playing Saturday against the Grizzlies. “(I’m) not where I want to be at this point. It’s only been two days or something like that,” Anthony said after practice Friday. “It’s something I don’t want to linger around if I try to rush it back. If I can go tomorrow, I’ll go. If not, I won’t.” Anthony is listed as questionable. He missed Wednesday’s game against Brooklyn with a sprained right ankle.

This is depressing news in a game the Knicks could really use (and the Mavericks really could use them winning, too), but in a theory popularized by Bill Simmons at the expense of perhaps the greatest Knick ever, Patrick Ewing, the Ewing Theory may be at play. Think of pick-up basketball, or your high school basketball team, when one guy is obviously the best player on your team, and so he ends up taking the majority of the shots. You all want to win, and so you design plays and run the offense through him to give yourselves the best chance. But then he rolls an ankle, or gets a cold, and now you’re playing without him. Sure, on the surface it looks like the team is worse, but for all of you, it means more shots, and thus, more fun. For a game or two, it can be really refreshing to play without a couple of your best players, and the Knicks have a shot at this tonight. Afflalo will almost assuredly be putting on a cape in the locker room tonight in a maniacal effort at hero ball because he knows he is the 1st and 2nd option tonight, but the rest of the guys are going to get a lot more run. Lance Thomas will get to play 30+ and O’Quinn and Gallo will see extended minutes as well. The Ewing Theory is in full play tonight if Melo and Taps don’t go, and from time to time, this is a good thing for the other guys on the team to be able to play more loosely and not have to feed the players that are ostensibly better than them. More shots=more fun, and anyone who plays basketball can attest to that.

This Memphis team has gotten a few very good victories at the hands of Eastern Conference teams we were happy to see them find a way to beat lately, with a 10-point 4th quarter comeback against the Celtics and a game-winner against the Pistons this week. Let’s hope the Knicks can win tonight and not let those L’s by teams jockeying for playoff spots with the Knicks go to waste. We’re only 1.5 games out of the 8 spot as of today, and a win tonight will get us back to .500 with a game against the 76ers all that stands in the way of being over .500 for the first time since a blissful five-day stretch in late November when we first saw signs this team might be more than we thought this year.

2015-16 Recap: Knicks 98, Heat 90

What an immensely satisfying game that was to watch. The Knicks played with the kind of energy I didn’t know if they were capable of after the Atlanta game last night with the starters all playing extended minutes, but several Knicks were not in Miami tonight to lose, most notably Carmelo Anthony. The man went 9-12 for 25 points and I honestly don’t remember any of the misses. It seemed like every time he touched the ball, he made a good decision, be it a smart rotation pass or a great ISO move to make a shot. It was a joy to watch, and I know Melo gets up for Miami games so I’m happy for him. The Knicks have lost 8 straight games to the longtime rival Heat going back to 2014, so this was just a pleasure to watch. Running out of synonyms to describe the experience of watching the game, but I’m sure like most of the fanbase, I am giddy after this improbably 3-game winning streak.

I can’t go another word without giving ROLO a ton of credit tonight. He held Whiteside to 8 points and 8 rebounds, and even if the Heat’s diamond in the rough is a bit hobbled, it was an extremely impressive game from Lopez. And his contributions were not just on the defensive end, as he went 9-12 for 19 points of his own tonight. It may have been his best game of the season, although I don’t have the stats in front of me to prove it, by the (bandage above the) eye test, it was his finest game in a Knicks uniform thus far in this writer’s opinion. If not for his play on both sides of the floor, the Knicks probably lose this game.

Bosh was abusive to Kristaps, who was only 3-10 (though 6-6 from the line) in this game and only collected 4 rebounds. That missed dunk was a big letdown for those of us wanting to see Taps on SportsCenter tonight, and unfortunately we might see him on the Top 10 getting posterized by Bosh or Whiteside, but what’s most important is that his team gets the W. I think Zinger played a solid game against a front line that really outmatches him, especially Bosh (12-22 for 28 tonight), who seems to go after Kristaps as if the young Latvian killed his dog last summer or something. Honestly, Miami seems to take it so personally that Zinger is so well thought of, and I wish I knew the story behind that. I know Bosh and Wade are extremely close with Melo, and my best guess is that has something to do with it, but whatever, the Heat can stare down the Rook all they want while they’re down 15 at home.

The game really turned when the Knicks went on a 15-4 run to end the 2nd quarter, giving them an 8-point lead to begin the 2nd half, which not-so-coincidentally was the same differential at the end of the 4th quarter. It seemed like the team gained a lot of confidence from that run and they never looked back, leading the game the rest of the way and never really getting themselves into significant danger thereafter. To be fair, the Heat missed a ton of shots (2-17 for 3, 11.8%), but shotmaking comes and goes in this league and the Heat should have stopped jacking it up at some point. This was the Knicks’ 4th win in 5 games and was probably their most impressive effort in the stretch, bringing them within a game of .500. San Antonio looms on Friday, which I admit to thinking of as an auto-loss, but after this recent stretch I’m not so sure. It would be ludicrous to predict a win on Friday against the Spurs, who are undefeated at home, but I’m definitely going to be watching with more optimism than I would have last Friday.

Make yourselves a drink, Knicks nation. Watch the Grizz-Thunder game if you’re so inclined, but however you spend the rest of your evening, spend it basking in the glow of victory.