Game Preview & Thread: Knicks vs. Hawks

A Wednesday night Hawks-Knicks early-season game is typically not a game either Knicks fans or Hawks fans too mark down on their calendars as a must-watch before the season starts. However, Knicks owner James Dolan made things interesting when he guaranteed a Knicks victory over the Hawks after the Knicks were torn apart by the San Antonio Spurs.

The Knicks have lost four of their last five contests and Tyson Chandler is going to miss significant time, but Dolan is confident his team is walking out of Atlanta with a victory. Trying to decipher why Dolan guaranteed a victory over the Hawks Wednesday night is not something I’d personally recommend; Dolan doesn’t have a filter, so all we can do is sit back, enjoy roll our eyes, and not dwell on it — unless you’re Mike Woodson.

Woodson is thinking about changing the starting lineup again and it appears Metta World Peace and J.R. Smith are the front-runners to be inserted into the rotation. I guess Smith’s 1-for-9 display on Sunday really showed Woodson something. Something.

The Hawks are coached by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s long-time assistant Mike Budenholzer, so maybe that’s why Woodson is thinking about adjusting his starting lineup. The Hawks are second in the league in assists per game (28.0), which is something the Knicks have struggled with, averaging just 18.5 (24th). This past offseason the Hawks opted to let Josh Smith walk, replacing him with Paul Millsap. It’s paid off thus far — Millsap is averaging 20.9 points per 36 minutes (highest on the team). More importantly, Millsap is doing it at an efficient 60 percent TS% and 57.9 eFG%. The other Hawks big man, Al Horford, is averaging 20.5 points per 36 minutes.

Horford and Millsap have been great for the Hawks thus far, but the biggest reason why the team has been so good offensively is their point guard Jeff Teague’s progression as a passer. According to the new SportsVU data on NBA.com, Teague is creating 32.1 points per 48 minutes through his assists. Teague is also third in the league in assist opportunities per game averaging 19.0, per NBA.com.

So, if the Dolan’s guarantee of a Knicks victory over the Hawks is to come true it will mostly fall on whether or not the Knicks can stop Teague. If the first six games are any indication, that doesn’t seem to be very likely: Raymond Felton has had a rough start to the season on that front, and with the absence of Tyson Chandler, chances are it’s only going to get harder for Felton to get back on track. Felton has shot his best inside (51.9 percent in the restricted area), but is still shooting roughly four three-pointers a game and only making 24% of them. His counterpart tomorrow night isn’t exactly setting the roof on fire either from behind the three-point line — Teague is shooting 27 percent from three-point land — but he’s getting to the line six times per game and doubles Felton in the assists per 36 minutes (10-5) .

With the state the Knicks current frontcourt is in, the Knicks probably won’t be able to slow down Millsap and Horford Wednesday night, but maybe Woodson’s backcourt rotation choices will ultimately decide if Dolan’s guarantee comes true.

Knicks 88, Pacers 76

Indiana Pacers 76 Final

Recap | Box Score

88 New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, SF 31 MIN | 9-22 FG | 7-8 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 26 PTS | +18

Carmelo continues to provide daily evidence that FG% and efficient offense are not the same thing. 26 points on 22 FGA’s, 8 FTA’s and zero turnovers? Sign for it with a smile. On a day when neither team’s shots were falling, the Knicks won this game with offensive rebounds (Melo had 4) and a +11 turnover margin (Melo had 2 steals and committed 0 turnovers in 25 possessions used). If you don’t bring help he goes to the rim, if you bring help he looks to pass. His defensive effort was there all game, a happening that has become so routine as to barely warrant mention. He has fitted his play to the character of each game this season and ,despite shooting that hasn’t met his normal standard, is the biggest reason this team is 7-1. The biggest reason that they haven’t really been tested in any of the 7 wins. Whether he can be the best player on a legitimate contender is no longer a compelling hypothetical. It’s happening before our eyes.

Ronnie Brewer, SF 23 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | +17

The Knicks’ starting lineup includes 3 players with great handles, vision, and decision-making (Kidd, Felton, and (knock me over with a feather) Carmelo). It also includes two players with a preternatural sense of offensive spacing and when to do what off of the ball (Brewer, Chandler). Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out why lineups work well together. This is not one of those times. Ronnie Brewer was +17 in 23 minutes today. Sometimes single-game +/- stats can be misleading. This is not one of those times.

Tyson Chandler, C 28 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | +8

Throw the stats out, this was his best game of the young season. Start with his incredibly active screening that created lanes for dribble penetration and forced defensive collapses when he rolled to the rim. Next, take Roy Hibbert’s line (a putrid 6/8/1 with 6 turnovers on 3/10 shooting) and stack Ian Mahinmi’s 0-for-6 on top of it for good measure. Finally, get a load of the Pacers overall 2 point shooting (20 for 51, or 39.2%), a reflection of their utter inability to finish in the paint and resulting willingness to settle for a lot of long 2’s, even early in the shot clock. Basketball is about movement above all else — player movement, ball movement, and the ability to prevent free-flowing movement by your opponent. If you’re wondering how Tyson Chandler could possibly be such a valuable NBA player without a jumper or any discernible post moves, that is your answer.

Jason Kidd, PG 23 MIN | 0-3 FG | 3-3 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 3 PTS | +12

A quiet outing after intentionally-drawn contact on a long jumper (a Kidd specialty) drew blood and birthed a new Twitter account. He was +12 in 23 minutes but didn’t touch the ball much.

Raymond Felton, PG 29 MIN | 5-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 8 AST | 11 PTS | +11

Uneven but ultimately effective outing from Ray. Still a few too many shots but since none of them were really forced I don’t think that’s really on him. Teams are looking to make sure that Felton jumpers are the best looks the Knicks get; it’s the coach’s job to make adjustments that get him more help. Sub-par shooting aside, 8 assists without a turnover is great and he did a nice job contesting looks from a very confused Indiana backcourt. Good but not great.

Rasheed Wallace, PF 17 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | +7

Has thus far provided the steadiest (!) alternative to Carmelo when he needs a rest. Today’s effort was particularly encouraging because it was effective for a bunch of boring, sustainable reasons (7 boards and a block in 17 minutes) instead of dream-sequence-three-point-montage-romantic-puppy-surprise! reasons. Will be interesting to see what happens when Amar’e comes back (he would seem to be in the most danger of losing minutes) but if the playoffs started now and the rotation had to be shortened to 8 or 9 players, he would be safely in it.

Steve Novak, SF 24 MIN | 3-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | -2

It really says a whole lot about Novak’s Super-Mario-with-a-Star 2011-12 season that people have actually been stupefied at the demise of his 3-point shooting so far this year. He was 3 for 8 today (37.5%) and is now shooting 37.8% on the season. Reggie Miller shot 39.5% for his career (with a shorter line). Calm down. His defense has, however, regressed from “surprisingly passable” to “I wish this was baseball so we could DH him.”

Chris Copeland, SF 4 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -7

I think our official victory cigar this year should be Chris Copeland coming into a blowout, getting one clean path to the bucket, dunking, and hanging on the rim long enough to draw a technical foul (Joey Crawford stunningly declined to call it today but, make no mistake, it was there). That way if he hits the 16-tech suspension threshold it will be more a mark of the Knicks’ dominance than anything else. I’m not telling you how to do your job, Woody, just something to think about.

Marcus Camby, C 13 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -3

Apparently still on the team. Seriously, he has a uniform and everything. If you didn’t get teary-eyed seeing him hit the Garden floorboards for a rebound against the Pacers in a 28-24 game in the middle of the 2nd quarter, then I don’t even want to know you. If Woodson plays him in this role (basically the help-defending, rebounding yin to ‘Sheed’s chuck-and-grind yang) our frontcourt rotation starts to look pretty darn adaptable.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 16 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 PTS | +1

I tweeted at the end of the third quarter that it was pretty hard to to play only 6 minutes and look worse than Pridgie had to that point. He then played a somewhat more passable 4th quarter, but against a lineup that would only have looked formidable at a Hansbrough family picnic. His first severe clunker of the year but it’s hard to see him staying in the rotation once Shump comes back (especially given Kidd’s Ponce de Leon act and JR Smith’s startling emergence as an offensive initiator (of which more below)).

James White, SG 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -7

Only 91 days to get your Slam Dunk Contest shopping done!

J.R. Smith, SG 30 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | +5

SHIP CAPTAIN’S LOG: 71 DAYS SINCE THE WRECK

Food supply grows short and fresh water nears utter depletion. If they find this, dear Maisy, know that I have loved you and always shall. I have held out hope long enough that a passing freighter would see the bonfire that still rages on the beach but to no avail. Noises from the brush grow ever louder and stranger, though I fear I must face whatever awaits me therein or starve to death. Hunger and scurvy have driven me to near-delirium, I awake cold and sweaty from fevered dream of J.R. Smith creating efficient offense for himself and his teammates, defending with vigor, emerging as the third most important player on a 7-1 NBA team. The madness shall not claim me — I shall live by this island’s bounty and return to you, Maisy, or I shall die bravely facing its horrors.

Kurt Thomas, PF DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | PTS |

Probably has to be either him or Camby unless someone gets injured. Today it was Camby. Maybe they can each play about half the games and stay fresh.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Thought this was a game that the Knicks needed to put their stamp on to nip any concerns that the Memphis loss may have exposed some fundamental flaw in their team construction. Despite sloppy shooting, I thought they generally succeeded to this end. David West had an efficient game but was confined to a minor role in the offense (10 shots in 34 minutes) thanks to Chandler’s one-man zone defense and Melo’s willingness to front him and ball-deny. Super-sized frontlines like those in Memphis and (to some extent) San Antonio are a bad matchup for the Knicks preferred lineup and probably will be all year. But that doesn’t mean any team with a post threat can exploit them (witness West’s low usage and the ongoing disaster that was Roy Hibbert’s afternoon) and I thought it was important for them to state that resoundingly today. Mission accomplished.
  2. Corollary to #1: just because Tony Parker and Mike Conley can get into the lane at will doesn’t mean your perimeter defense isn’t good. Paul George, George Hill, and Lance Stephenson were a combined 4/16 on two-point attempts in this game; Hill attempted only one shot in the paint. The early scouting report on the Knicks defense is that their perimeter switching and interior ball denial is good and that the best way to beat them is with a super-quick dribble penetrator and/or a strong, skilled post presence that can receive the ball high and muscle his way toward the basket. To that end, the Spurs/Grizzlies back-to-back might have been the single most difficult test their defense will face all year. And they went 1-1.
  3. The Knicks most effective offensive weapon last year — especially evident during Linsanity but also one of the bright spots of Douglistlessness — was any set that started with Chandler setting a high screen and diving to the rim. This maneuver had been mostly invisible to start this season, even as the Knicks sprinted to a 6-1 record. It was back today, producing it’s trademark blend of easy finishes, fouls, and shooters abandoned by collapsing defenders. That’s good. If they can implement it effectively with Carmelo or JR Smith as the ball-handler and Novak lurking in the shadows? That’s scary.
  4. The Knicks had a major offensive lull in the second quarter when they went away from the Felton-Kidd-Brewer-Melo-Chandler lineup in favor of a bigger look. Right now, most iterations of the big lineup only score when ‘Sheed is hot and the opposition’s respect for his outside shot is creating space for Felton/Prigioni/Melo/whoever to penetrate. When he’s cold it gets stilted and ineffective. Through 8 games, this looks like the biggest area that a healthy Amar’e might be able to really help out.
  5. The final point is the most important. The Knicks’ starting lineup (Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler) was on the court together for 15 minutes today (tip-off until 8:48 of the first quarter; 5:39 of the second quarter until halftime; start of the third quarter until 5:58 of the third quarter). In those 15 minutes, each team had 27 possessions on which the Knicks scored 40 points (1.48 per possession) and the Pacers scored 24 (0.89 per possession). This is astonishingly good but basically an exaggeration of what they’ve done all year so far (1.18 per possession, 0.90 allowed per possession coming into today). That’s not simply great, it’s cartoonish. It’s happened against champions and also-rans, contenders and minnows. It’s happened against big teams and small. It’s happened at home and on the road.

    It’s real.

    I hope Amar’e and Shumpert come back. I hope they play great and serve to add two more elements to a team whose depth and diversity has been it’s most endearing feature. I couldn’t care less who is on the court when the game starts and I care only marginally more who is on the court when it ends. But if that lineup — those five players who have played against other teams’ starting lineups and absolutely trounced them — does not spend a significant portion of every game in which they are all healthy on the court together, then I simply have no idea what we’re even trying to do here.

Carmelo Through the Years

Historically, statistics suggest Carmelo Anthony has not always impeded ball movement or prevented offensive flow. Over the course of his eight-year career, Anthony has primarily played with three point guards – Andre Miller, Allen Iverson, and Chauncey Billups. When Melo is paired with a point guard able to control the offense, the numbers prove he is not simply a stop-and-hold isolation player.

In Carmelo’s Rookie year (03-04), with Miller running the point, the Nuggets finished 9th in the league in assists per game. ‘Dre averaged 8.5 assists per 48 minutes – not a stellar number, but a solid one.  60% of the Nuggets FG’s were assisted, a number that held true regardless of whether or not Anthony was on the floor. In total, 55% of his baskets were assisted. The offense wasn’t just dumping it off and watching, but rather finding him in easy-to-score situations. Additionally, Anthony averaged 4asts/48 – an excellent number for a “shoot-first” rookie.

The Nuggets only improved in Anthony’s next two years, finishing second and third in the league in assists, respectively, with Miller averaging 10asts/48min. Even more impressive, 63% of Carmelo’s makes were off assists, including 64% of his jumpers. Clearly, he was not solely settling for contested shots. It helped tremendously, though, to have a pass-first guard orchestrating the offense, allowing Anthony to play to his strengths: getting position and scoring.

When “The Answer” (a true shoot-first guard) took over the reins on offense in 2006, Anthony only improved his contribution, averaging 5asts/48min and when he was on the floor. Meanwhile, 62% of the Nuggets FG’s were assisted – while off, this number dropped to 57%. Anthony, it should be noted, had a stellar offensive season, averaging 29ppg.

With Chauncey Billups at the helm in 2008-2010, the Nuggets fell to 18th in the league in assists. Billups averaged under 8 assists per 48 minutes (the lowest of any PG Anthony had played with, including Iverson), and thus Melo’s isolation habits began to show. 64% of his FGA’s were jumpers, as opposed to his usual number somewhere in the mid 50s.  Even more shocking, his scoring was only assisted 42% of the time, a far-cry from the 60% he was used to.

This year, playing without any semblance of a point guard thus far, Carmelo’s stats paint an ugly picture: Only 30% of his FG’s have been assisted, and his 42 eFG% similarly marks a career low. A whopping 77% of his shots have been jumpers – a 20% increase over years past — while a mere 1% have been dunks. Currently, the Knicks are 20th in the league in assists. Needless to say, however, it seems as though help has finally arrived.

In terms of guards, Anthony will soon be playing with arguably the best pure passer he’s ever called a teammate in Jeremy Lin, with the second year Harvard man averaging 14asts/48. As such, the perennial All-Star won’t be forced into point-guard duties – as he was for much of this season’s first stretch – and the ball movement won’t start with him. Now, Melo’s main concern will be moving without the ball, running the pick and roll, finding open spaces, and finishing at the rim.

Jeremy Lin has proven he will reward hustle and persistence.  Statistics prove Carmelo performed well in an up-tempo, fluid offense in Denver. Since his pairing with Billups, the isolations have drastically increased. Now, with a smart, young point guard, it’s time to prove everyone wrong.

Jeremy Lin, By The Books

Jeremy Lin is your textbook point guard. He focuses on penetrating into the lane, keeping his dribble until an option presents itself, and making the safe pass to the open man. He appears poised at times, but that doesn’t prevent him from playing an energetic brand of basketball. Lin is averaging 1.7 stl/36 and is able to run the fast break.

The Knicks, lately devoid of Melo and STAT, are on a three-game win streak since D’Antoni inserted Lin into the lineup during the Nets game. Perhaps it’s because Lin fits the Knicks better than the other point guards on the roster. Douglas and Bibby frequently pick up their dribble and prefer to stay outside the arc instead of “wetting” their feet in the paint.

Like Steve Nash or Jason Kidd, Lin weaves in and out of the paint, continuing his dribble even through crowds of defenders. Once he’s near the basket, he has an innate ability to assess the defense. If it’s one-on-one, he can finish at the rim and has the knack for drawing the and-1 foul, as seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5vKayhN2Ug. If he is double-teamed, he either kicks it out to a shooter, or finds a big man rolling to the hoop, like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5B3MRqMwh54.

In the last three games, Jeremy is shooting 59% from the field, 80% from the line, and averaging 25 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds in 39 minutes per game. His shot still needs work, but the form looks good. Most of his jumpers so far have fallen short, which would indicate his legs aren’t in “basketball shape.” Thus far Lin has faced some of the league’s weaker teams. As the season progresses opponents will prepare better for him by crowding the middle, taking away his right hand, and forcing him to take more jump shots. The Lakers on Friday will be his toughest challenge to date.

Jeremy Lin is a Harvard grad who went undrafted in 2010. His game may be elementary, but Lin seems to be excelling where other players from big name schools have failed.

Preseason Thoughts

Sitting here on Christmas Eve – 24 hours before the Knicks tip off their season – my thoughts fluctuate between excitement, anxiousness, and fear – excited at the chances of a Championship, anxious from the lockout, and fearful of injuries. Here are my final thoughts (and feel-good YouTube clips) before the Knicks dive headfirst into 2011-2012.

STAT has been too passive thus far. Since ‘Melo joined the team, Amar’e hasn’t been the same. In the first half of last season, he would dominate teams in and out of the paint on the offensive end. Now, the offense moves completely through Anthony and he gets every big shot. Amar’e shoots a better TS% and eFG than Carmelo, and needs to be given the ball more in clutch situations – otherwise he will never regain the confidence a team leader needs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C93i_KFetdw

Toney Douglas looks just as he did last year, if not worse. This must be pretty evident to the Knicks front office as well. Iman has started practicing with the first team, and Baron Davis is the plan at point guard in the near future. Toney just does not have a high basketball IQ. He has a ton of raw talent and plenty of athleticism, but besides a few streaks of three pointers, his play has been uninspiring. He seems wholly unsure on offense and a bit slow on defense. I like him as a backup two – able to handle the ball well and provide some scoring. Let’s hope he can do this again – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2jvQvNiegs

– The Knicks’ defense is above average and Tyson is the main reason.  In the second preseason game against the Nets, Chandler personally altered about five or six shots in the paint – all misses. Most games the team lost last year were only by a few points. If Chandler can save 6-10 points a game, New York’s record could dramatically improve. I don’t think they have a top-ten defense, but I think the Knicks will finish top 15 (last year 21st) in defensive efficiency – good enough to contend for a title. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm4pXT0ar8E

Carmelo Anthony at PG may be the best option right now. Until Davis is healthy or Douglas can pass, I don’t see many other choices. His ball handling is great; he draws the double team constantly, and is able to find the open man. He also can pull up from three. The only issue is he will be outmatched in speed, so he couldn’t drive by opposing point guards.  Still, he could play a point forward position, and matchup with other small forwards. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7k8R-Yei_Y

Iman Shumpert has a real shot at being legit. He is confident, aggressive, and fundamentally sound. His ball-handling is great, his shooting form is excellent, and his defense, with some work, could eventually stop anyone in this league.  I think his ceiling is a solid, all-around All-Star who can deliver about 18pts and 6asts per game – a far-shot from the disgust expressed by many when we first drafted him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWBZaajteXU

Balkman and Harrellson deserve a shot. Both provided quality hustle minutes off the bench, and didn’t make too many mistakes. Josh missed a few shots, but that’s to be expected. Balkman was scoring easily and grabbing a bunch of boards. I expect each to get maybe 5 or 10 minutes off the bench for at least the first few games. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9NPhWY664Q

– Overall I predict great improvement with room left to perfect the chemistry. I think this squad can ultimately win a Championship. This year, the Knicks go 38 – 28 and make it to the second round of the playoffs. Happy holidays and a healthy New Year!

Put On For Your City

My whole perspective on the lockout, and the NBA in general, changed today when my friend asked, “Will anyone really care about Kobe’s Denver Citibank Armadillos vs. Lebron’s Akron MetLife Wildcats?” He was referencing Amar’e Stoudemire’s recent suggestion of the players creating their own league with its own season. “No,” I responded, “No one would.” Up until this summer, I always thought the players were the only focus in the NBA. Now, I am realizing the heart of the league lies much deeper.

It dawned on me that real fans, like myself, yearn for the league and the game, not necessarily the stars. Throughout the summer we have all watched or heard of Durant, LeBron, ‘Melo, Wade, and others hoop it up across the country. For an hour or two, these games provide entertainment and discussion, but they are simply a façade of the real deal.  I get the feeling stars think all we want is to see them put on a show – throw down uncontested dunks on one end while playing matador D’ on the other.

Truth is, I don’t have nearly the same attachment to Melo as he shoots in a Miami exhibition as I do when he is wearing a New York jersey shooting against the 76’ers. I don’t check Amare’s stats when he is playing for “Wade’s” team, but after any Knicks game, I scour the box score for hours.  During the lockout, I have become detached from the players and more attached to my team – the Knicks.

Real fans don’t invest their love in the players so much as the city and the franchise. This is why Amare’s proposal of a player-run league does not excite me. Sure, it would be fun, in a way. But, if the stars think we are content with just seeing them in any uniform, they are sorely mistaken.  There are those out there who would LOVE Stoudemire’s idea.  Unfortunately, many of them are similar to the guy sitting next to me at the home opener last year. He wore an Anthony jersey, was decked in Knicks gear from head to toe, but shouted several times “who is number 23?!?”

Real fans love getting behind their team and representing them as best they can. The perfect example is the hatred towards LeBron by Knicks fans (again, including me) just moments after the “decision.” In the days, months, and years leading up to this, we were begging him to come to New York. We didn’t actually care about LeBron – we cared about the Knicks regaining power in the East.

The All-Stars have it wrong.  We are here to watch our team as a whole, from the end of the bench to the starters.  I will have more respect for Carmelo, or any player on the Knicks,  if he fights to bring basketball back to NY, rather than put up 45 against LeBron in an exhibition. We don’t want you to set up charity games. We want you to show the same desperation and urgency that Knicks fans have in starting the regular season. NBA players should stop worrying about playing overseas and, instead, fight for their team back in this country. At the end of the day, we all just want to see our team play and represent our city, no matter what shape or form.  The NBA is not only about the players, and they will be the last ones to realize.

Robert And His Dad Watch The Game.

This is the second in a (hopefully ongoing) series of entries in which your intrepid journalist watches the Knickerbockers and provides a (mostly) unedited Hunter S. Thompson/Bill Simmons-esque Gonzo running diary of the evening’s events. Here’s the first installment.

Because I have neither the time, financial wherewithal or media clout to schlep to Bahh-stin to attend this titanic tilt in person, I’m instead making a hajji to a friendly cul-de-sac/brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where my parents have resided since the early 70’s (The UWS back in the day was a rough-and-tumble part of town. For serious). Now, one might assume that an evening of father and son getting together in the United States of America to watch a sporting event might make for a bucolic, almost Norman Rockwell-worthy scene. There’s a hitch though…

Though neither or I nor anyone in my extended family take much stock in any mystical/religious explanations for daily events, we’ve got reams of empirical data showing that my Pops, by his mere presence in front of the TV during a ‘Bockers game, makes bad things happen. He’s like a b-ball specific version of William H. Macy’s character in the Indie flick, “The Cooler.” I’m not kidding. Literally, when he turns on the game, big leads vanish, wide-open shots clang off the rim, and passes mysteriously sail out of bounds. He stops watching and the team returns to playing decent ball. This does seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon, however, as he’s been a die-hard Nix fanatic since the late 60’s (and like any fan who actually watched Frazier et al. spin live, no NY unit will ever live up to the myth/mythos of that squad).

This year, he’s mainly taken to self-imposed exile in his studio between 7 and 10pm and then watching the worst-edited show in Christendom, “Knicks in 60” thus avoiding unleashing his awful, hoops-negating powers. So while we’re not sure what God or Gods he’s offended to bring this awful curse upon his head, like the Knicks charging into enemy territory and taking on the hated Celts (cough, and the refs, cough), we’re laughing in the face of predestination and superhuman forces and in no uncertain terms, daring them to rain whatever plague of frogs or locusts or Big Babies or Rajon Rondos they might visit on us by watching the entire affair tonight, together, in the comfort and safety of my childhood home.

(But if the Knicks get killed tonight, no need revisit the “Fire D’Antoni!” chant/mantra. Y’all know who’s really to blame.)

6:55 – Arrival. No sooner am I through the door and my Pops informs me that Bennett Effing Salvatore AND Joey Crawford are working tonight’s game. Sweet fancy Moses, I’ve been cursing Salvatore’s name for thirty years! There’s no bigger “homer” in all of Ref-dom and he’s the king of the dubious “make-up call” as well. Somehow the  fact that we merely thought about watching the game together has disturbed the powers that be. We’re boned.

7:00 – We’re both avoiding the pre-game show. I’m cooking up some in-game treats. (Mini Pizzas w/tortillas for dough and homemade sauce. Cooked in a frying pan in lieu of a pizza oven. Yum-o!) As an aside, I really like cooking. Mainly because, you know how in life, you can plan something (work, a relationship, an evening out, etc.) to the Nth degree and think you’ve every last detail locked down tight, but then a completely random/unpredictable glitch lands in your lap and the whole magilla falls to pieces? Well, when you’re cooking, if you have good ingredients and a good recipe things generally turn out the way one would expect and everyone’s happy that you did it. It’s a wonderful, almost Zen exercise in the glory of probable cause and resultant effect. Whoops…game’s starting!

7:10 – It’s on. Dad’s got Hi-Def cable, woo! After watching the majority of this year’s games on my laptop via live-streaming (stolen) websites, it’s like being in a gallery and going from a Georges Seurat to an early-period Chuck Close.

7:11 – A foul actually called on a Landry Fields drive to the basket. What a concept! Two misses though. Bad omen, says Pop.

7:12 – There must be a lid on the basket. Dad says, “I think I’m affecting everybody.”

7:15 – Toney Douglas has a little Charles Oakley in him. He tends to fall down unnecessarily. He also picks up an early whistle. If Tone’s going to pull an Amar’e after he gets in foul trouble, we’re in for a long night.

7:21 – Rondo’s got 9 of Boston’s 11 points, pretty much all by beating the Nix down the floor. Celts up 11-9. And just as Dad and I were bemoaning DWTDD’s matador D, trying to avoid a 2nd whistle, he gets flagged. Anthony Carter time. Dad remarks that he likes DWTDD and mentions Dean Meminger as a point (pun intended) of comparison. I concur, even though I’ve never seen the latter play

7:26 – Celts up 16-11. Through grinding teeth, Dad grumbles, “Get back on D! Killing them so far! Call timeout!  when are they going to learn? Yep, that’s my team, they never learn. If the Knicks go another minute or two without scoring, I’m leaving to clean brushes.” Walker blows a dunk Rondo gets his 14th point followed by two missed free throws from STAT and there goes Dad.  He leaves and Melo gets the board for a Jared Jeffries?! layup. I’m not kidding about this curse stuff.

7:35 –  Knicks go on a 10-3 run with Dad gone. I’m screaming updates to him in his studio.

7:41 – End of the Ist quarter, down by two.  Dad comes back down, brushes in tow. We return to out ongoing debate about the relative merits of room light/darkness while watching a game. Basically, he likes a pitch black frame surrounding the set thus improving the clarity of the image on the screnn. , which makes sense from a color theory standpoint. While I like to see the faces of people I’m talking to. We debate. His crib. We sit in the darkness

7:43 – Jared Jeffries?! hits another tough shot and the Knicks are down by one. Pops describes JJ as, “The world’s ugliest sex doll.” I say he’s a giraffe on roller skates. Thoughts?

7:45 – Tie game, early 2nd quarter. Jeff Green gets called for a blocking fall on Billy Walker. Dad wonders what the right proper Bostonians are booing about — he was clearly in the lane! Dad says, “Screw Boston. They’ve got awful galleries.” Now that’s the kind of commentary you only get at Knickerblogger.

7:47 –  Knotted up at 28, at the timeout, we switch to the Mets to visit our bad Mojo on them. They’re down, 1-0 in the 4th inning. Natch

7:50 – Clyde describes Amar’e as, “Pounding on Big Baby.” Maybe I’m immature, but that sounds like a euphemism for mastubation. Dad concurs.

7:51 – The Moms enters and wonders what’s for dinner. Dad uses this as an excuse to leave so of course, Stat hits his first shot of the night. We should probably sacrifice a goat and/or virgin to shake the evil spirits. Maybe The Moms would enjoy that for supper.

7:55 – Celts 38. Knicks 37 and Garnett’s barking at his fellow charges like R. Lee Ermey. I know the general consensus is that KG’s “intensity” is genuine, but I know bad acting when I see it. I don’t buy it. Not one jot.

7:58 – “Toney!” I bellow as he picks up his 3rd foul with 3:21 to go in the half.  Of greater import, though, is STAT’s injury. On cue, Tina Cervasio announces he’s doubtful for the rest of the game. “That’s it,” Says Pop, “Too much to overcome.” He’s not really an optimist, if you haven’t gleaned that particular factoid already.

8:06 – Ladies and Gentlemen, your 4th string point guard, Roger Mason. Not sure why Anthony Carter’s in the doghouse, other than the fact that you really can’t have AC and Turiaf/Jeffries on the floor at the same time for any extended stretches or else you’re playing 3 on 5 on the offensive end (Sorry about the Hubie Brown 2nd-person analysis there). Pouring over STAT’s wikipedia page, it doesn’t look like among his numerous injuries, he’s ever suffered from back spasms before. Is it the Silverman curse? Should I change my name to “Bob Icarus?” It’s Melo or bupkis from here on out.

8:11 – Knicks up one at the half. This is exhausting.  I’d forgotten what the Nix-Heat wars were like. It was a truly gut wrenching experience because every shot or rebound or loose ball counted so darned much. Considering they’re without two of their best three players, it’s utterly remarkable how well the boys are playing. I mean, Jared Jeffries?! is 2nd in scoring and they’re winning. That’s enough to make anyone rethink their entire ideological/philosophical weltanschauung. I need a break and twelve cigarettes. Back in a few…

8:21 – Back from smoking. Pop  comments on the quality and density of Bernard King’s hair. He’s right. That’s a damned fine head of hair for a 50+ year old. Although I think there’s some “Just for Men” involved. After all, no play for Mister Gray!

8:32 –  Speaking of hairdos, I really don’t like the cutaways to Ray Allen’s Mom every time her progeny sinks a shot. There’s no particular reason, but it just peeves me.

8:34 – Carmelo’s our point guard tonight. That’s a smart move. Frazier’s worried about conditioning/fatigue, but it’s back to the, “Give the rock to Bernard and pray” offense of the mid 80’s.

8:37 – I’m getting scared. Melo’s gassed. The whole team’s in a general state of disarray.  Melo airballs a three, and just like that, the Knicks are down by five. You can feel these things coming. It’s a vibe in the air. I’ve said before and I’ll say again, basketball games are all more or less the same and when a teams about to go on a run, you can just sense it. The problem is they’re trying to redesign their offense on the fly in the middle of a playoff game. An uptempo team that normally suffers from a serious case of haliaphobia is dominating the glass but has ZERO fastbreak points in the game (and I think the series) so far. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but get Jared Jeffries?! in there, tout suite.

8:44 – Starting to get really chippy out there. Love it. Just love it. I love the fight and the hustle of this team – especially for a group that was accused of ‘not caring’ post all-star break

8:46 – Melo reloads or consumes Amar’e’s life-force or something because he’s just taking this game over. He hits a three to tie it at 59 but alas, Bill Walker gets called for a tech after the shot. Dad shakes his head. “This game is going to come down to FT’s. You give a team like Boston on the road a free point and you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Mark my words…” Words duly marked.

8:47 – Jesus Shuttlesworth is 4-4 on 3’s. I got a nutty idea. Don’t overplay/go for the steal when possibly the best jump shooter of the modern era is wide open on the left elbow. After all, that was the play that cost y’all game one, right Bill Walker? Nah, I’m just talkin’ crazy.

8:53 – Nix down by 4 and Stoudemire is officially declared out for the rest of the game. Honestly, that’s the smart move. This’d be a tough game to win even with a fully healthy STAT. Better to save your bullets for Friday night/The Friday Night Knicks Robert Randolph Family Band Curse (As opposed to tonight’s, “Robert Silverman Family Band Curse”).

8:55 – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player like Rajon Rondo before. They’re literally ignoring him unless he’s a foot from the basket and the lil’ spud still finds a way to be devastating.

8:56 – Mason airballs a 3 and they’re down 7.  I emit a gutteral yawp. Dad laughs. he’s seen too many of these. His chuckle hangs in the air as Pierce nails 2 more mid-range jumpers. “That’s it for me,” says Dad, exiting. He permanently banishes himself to the other room to watch the other semi-pointless familial obsession — the trails and travails of the so-called Left in this country via the Rachel Maddow Show. We’re both cursing our ill fortune, but for wholly dissimilar reasons.

8:59. Like clockwork, no Dad and the Knicks cut it to a manageable 7 at the end of the 3rd.Can they actually win this game? I mean, it’s doable, but HIGHLY unlikely that they pull this out. I hate moral victories, but staying with these guys sans two huge pieces would certainly qualify. I’d give a kidney for an immoral victory at this point.

(NOTE: As the tension mounted in this game, my writing became less and less coherent. I’m going to leave it in its original form because I think it gives a far better impression of my overall emotional/physical state than any polishing could. For those who think I gave the computer over to a drug-addled, babbling fiend/overstimulated chimpanzee, you’re not far off. )

9:05 – Ok – my first official ref gripe – how was that not a foul on Davis shoving JJ out of bounds? Gives PP another shot. Just a killer, But boy, has Melo channeled his inner King tonight.

9:09 – Give Carmelo a 2 minute breather NOW.

9:10 – Turnovers. Guys falling on the floor for loose balls. Seriously ugly basketball but I LOVE IT. Melo could play for Riley’s guys any day, right down to the silly/stupid “kung fu fighting” as Clyde’d say.

9:16 – I’m just screaming. Nothing coherent to say. This is not how objective journalists react. This is how FANS react. Like I said, I want to win because there’s no reason they should win. GIMME IMMORAL VICTORIES!

9:21 – a common B. Salvatore trait – in the 4th calls get weird/makeup-ish..and on cue, Melo gets fouled, loses it out of bounds. No call but gave the Knicks the ball anyway.

9:25 – Melo w/the LJ-like 3! Up 3! 2:30 to go. CLENCHED FIST OF TENSION. MUST SMOKE. MELO RULES. I take back everything I said about the Gallo trade! Melo = Bernard w/three point range!!!

9:32. Oh god…not again. Celts back up 1. Haven’t scored in two minutes. Boston WILL NOT LET MELO shoot. Someone else has to hit one. I’d put on Extra E for Jared here, just to open the floor. Go offense/defense.

9:35 – I’m stunned. I’m literally speechless. JJ hits a tough layup. unreal…Nix by one.

9:37 – Garnett hook puts celts up one. I disagree with Clyde. Don’t double – Garnett hasn’t done sh*t all game…here we go…

9:39 – You can’t go to Jared twice. Ow. It hurts.

9:55 – Well, I’m certainly not nearly as angry as I was after Sunday. They lost, but at least it was on the up and up. Considering the refs, I’m semi-shocked. Dad comes back. By the various tones and timbre of my grunts, he’s aware that the Knicks lost. “It’s ok,” he says, “I was watching the demise of American Democracy on Maddow.” So there’s that.

I won’t delve into the intricacies of this loss — Should Jeffries have been on the floor, what the heck happened to Melo’s/everyone’s brain on the inbound to West with 4 seconds left, the fact that they went toe to toe with the defending Eastern Conference champs with a non-Melo 4th quarter lineup of Jared Jeffries?!, Toney Douglas, Roger Mason and Billy Walker (possibly the worst quartet to take the floor for any playoff team in a long, long time), what’s happened to the artist formerly known as Landry Fields — that’s for wiser, less enervated folks than I to handle.

“Did the Walker tech end up being the difference like I said?” Dad asks.

“Yeah. Sort of. They’d have been tied at the end instead of relying on Jared Jeffries?! to give them the lead. Boston would have had to hit a shot with 4 seconds left instead of merely stalling. Could have been overtime. Who knows.”

“Tough loss,” he says putting a hand on my shoulder. “We’ll get ’em next game.”

Maybe so. Maybe so. I’m impressed how well he’s taking this one. Then again, he’s 83 and (on certain subjects) has mellowed with age. Don’t get him started on the effing Democratic party, though. One part of this story I failed to recount is my father is an artist (the best damn draughtsman alive, if you ask me. But I’m not exactly what you’d call impartial). He’s commemorated our evening together with a drawing. So as a closer, here’s a picture that’s certainly worth 3000 or so of my words.

Take that, Norman Rockwell! See you for game three, lads.