Porzingod have mercy on our souls. A back-to-back coming out of the All Star break is something you’ll live with in the grand scheme of things, but you’d also assume that the time off would result in some sort of renewed resolve and a clean slate from the losing on the other side of the vacation. Nah. When you employ the inept gaggle of guards the Knicks do, things don’t really look up. I hate to say it. The team managed to play very resolute, effective basketball for the bulk of the season, but collapsed into a heap of doo doo about a dozen games ago. It’s not the offense, really. The team can score, although there are significant droughts in every game. Last night is was a 20-2 run in the third quarter. That kind of thing can happen, but it necessitates a stronger defensive posture to limit the damage. Teams will go into dry spells, but limiting them to 8-0 runs keeps you in games. Allowing the opposition to continue to score at will while you’ve gone cold will put even the best team in a 15-20 point deficit. The thing is, the best teams are the best teams because they almost never let such a thing happen. They get stops. At least a few….
It’s easy to keep beating that dead horse. At this point, there’s nothing left to do. The problem is the same. Jose Calderon and Arron Afflalo can’t stop anyone. Ever. I marvel at the number of mid-range shots other teams can against the Knicks. On the surface, it seems like every team that shows up suddenly can’t miss a mid-range jumper. You get this feeling, “Why the hell can Igor Jackassovic suddenly shoot 80% on jump shots against us?” The next game it’s Andrew Dilworth. Then it’s Bobby Acme. It doesn’t matter. It used to be called the “Mike Dunleavy” phenomenon, named for the maddening tendency for the Knicks to give up career games to random bench dudes. At least Mike Dunleavy is a brand name role player. The current Knicks are giving up career nights to D-League guys, and the featured players in “Who He Play For?” The reason seems simple if you watch things closely.
Calderon and/or Afflalo allow their man to beat them off the dribble or run them off a screen. Bobby Acme then has a free-throw-line-extended-wide-open jumper as Porzingis streaks forward to challenge the shot. Even his arms aren’t long enough. Any decent skill player on an NBA roster will hit most of his wide open shots. You see them at practice and warm ups hitting 8-9-10 shots in a row. I once sat courtside at MSG while Oakley and Anthony Mason warmed up before a Pacers game. Oak was hitting dozens of three pointers, almost never missing. I once sat in the stands at the Meadowlands and watched Rex Walters hit something like 60 shots in a row several hours before a Nets game. He ended up hitting something absurd like 96 out of 100. I was counting. Even in a game situation, with action unfolding around them, a decent NBA guard will hit the open shot at a pretty good clip. Once the Knicks get burned on that play 4-5 possessions in a row, they’re forced to adjust and send a big or a wing at the shooter to contest, there’s an open pass for a three or a dunk and game over. There’s no way to win if that’s how you’re going to play defense.
Jimmer Fredette is going to be signed, which oddly sounds like good news. At least when defenders are beating him, there’s a prayer that he might do something back to them at the other end. Remember, Hail Marys are prayers. He won’t be with the team for tonight’s game, but I’m pleased to see Dancing Jimmer get his shot with the big club. He has a lot of pride and it’s probably been difficult for him to spend time in the D-League. He made the most of it, did everything that could be humanly asked of a guy in his position, and I think it’s very good form for the Knicks to use their D-League team to reward guys who buy in, play hard, and pay some dues. All you get is a shot. You have to do the rest to stick in the NBA, but giving guys a shot is good mojo. I’m rooting for the guy. There’a a meme that says, “Stop Trying to Make Jimmer Happen.” I’ve probably shared it a couple of times in my life. I want him to “happen.” It would be cool. I’m also not delusional….at least about this.
The Timberwolves are a good looking bunch of young players. I feel like they should be much, much better. Having such a young roster, it’s not outlandish that the club is out of the playoff picture, but the fact that they’re 17-38 is mind-boggling to me. They have Ricky Rubio, Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Gorgui Dieng. Those aren’t perfect players, to say the least, but I’d be happy if the Knicks put that fivesome out on the floor every night. It’s amazing that they might be able to hit the lottery again this year, and then look out. Whatever the reason for their dismal record, the Knicks need to kick their ass in the worst way. Yes, the Knicks took a beating in Brooklyn just last night. Yes, they had to get on a plane and fly out to Minneapolis in the middle of the night. It doesn’t matter. Go beat them. They’re 17-38 for goodness sakes.
The sexy matchup is, of course, Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis. That’s one of the promising rivalries that could emerge for the next 15 years. Porzingis was getting the better of the matchup throughout the bulk of the first contest between these clubs…many moons ago, but KAT came on late to do some very funky things to the Knicks, staging a little comeback that ultimately fell short. Kristaps won the defensive battle, shooting poorly, but blocking 7 shots. KAT won the offensive battle, dropping 25 with 10 boards. Melo was really excellent in that game, scoring 20, grabbing 15 boards, and dishing 9 assists. Afflalo managed to score 29 points in the Garden that game, which is something I’d be thrilled to see again. It’s the least he can do.
What do I expect tonight? Who the hell knows. On the optimistic side, I’ll say I believe the Knicks will win this game. Porzingis is going to play much better than 4-14, 11 points, and 6 rebounds. He was in the middle of his worst stretch of the season back in December, folding during a rough West Coast swing. The Timberwolves met them in New York on their way back from afar, and Kristaps was still in a funk. KP is still prone to some off shooting nights, but he’s been getting more minutes and shots over the last 4 games or so. In those games he’s averaging just under 35 minutes per game, .469 FG%, 1.8 threes on .368 3P%, 19 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks. That’s a small sample size, to be sure, but the minutes over that short span suggest that he’s going to be on the court a lot down the stretch. For the season, he’s been at around 27-28 minutes per game. His per-36 numbers are very good. Per-36, Kristaps is around 18 and 10 with 2.5 blocks and 1.4 threes made. His recent stretch looks less like an outlier when you consider that his rates are only slightly elevated during that time.
Can the guards stop anyone? The pessimistic side says, “No.” It also cackles wildly and makes that obnoxious “suck it” gesture at its groin. I hate the pessimistic side. Fortunately, Ricky Rubio can’t shoot. Unfortunately, Zach Lavine seems to have a lot of confidence coming out of the All Star festivities, and I expect him to drop 30 on us. Rubio will assist all of them and then some and break the NBA record with 31.
Knicks 108, Timberwolves 105….Porzingis with a buzzer beating 3. Book it.