Wizards 111, Knicks 108: Same As It Ever Was

Hello, Friends.

if you’ve seen any of the last eleven games, you know what happened. The new coach smell was still lingering in the rafters, but they got out (yet another) atrocious start, struggling mightily and grinding the shot clock down to the nubbin just to be able to get up a difficult, contested two point mid-range jumper, Meanwhile, the Wizards pushed off of each and every miss and/or turnover, racing out to wide open layups and wide open threes. By all that is holy and good, even freaking Marcin Gortat rumbled down the court to greedily gobble all the cherries.

They were down 15-6, against a DC squad that came into the evening 19th in offensive rating, finishing with a 35-21 lead at the end of the first on 13-20 shooting, including 4-5 from downtown.

And then, things got ugly. Yes, the Knicks came out all full of piss and vinegar to start the second stanza, going on a 12-3 run. But Melo. Would. Not. Leave. The Game. He played the first 16 freaking minutes. On a gimpy knee. When he’s been complaining of intermittent pain. Forget that they’ve gone 0-7 when he sits out, all the stern-jawed talk about the playoffs being a necessary and achievable goal leads to unfathomably dumb ish like this.

You know, we were warned that Rambis was not just a terrible coach, but a pound-nails-into-the-floor-with-your-forehead, so nightmarishly awful you really need to experience it first hand to truly comprehend the Lovecraft-ian madness-level bad. A “Makes Byron Scott look okay by comparison” bad. Our T-Wolves Friends, if nothing else ,have been there before. You can practically feel them shaking their heads as a fresh new fan base recoils in abject horror.

For all the complaints we’ve had when it comes to Fisher’s rotations, I don’t think he, or any sentient, carbon-based life form would purposely try to pound Melo’s knees till they resembled mofongo, or give Sasha Vujacic way more minutes than Lance Thomas. I contemplated hauling ass down to MSG, kidnapping Kristaps and shoving him in an hermetically-sealed hyperbaric chamber, just to protect him from this deranged, Cool Dad-ish madman that was now ostensibly in charge of the final twenty-odd games of his rookie year.

Then, of course, Kristaps reached his giant, Giacometti-like arms, and took us in his warm embrace and all was right in the world. Really, at this point, you give me one or two reality-smashing sequences from the Porzingawd and the rest of the game fades into a druggy, barely-remembered haze.

In the third, our Man from Latvia straight went off. 14 points on eight shots. Two delicious, twine-tickling threes to start, followed hard upon by a Duncan-esque banker over Dudley, (SIDE NOTE: if Dudley is roasting the Knicks in a small ball lineup, going five for freaking five in the first half, why the eff would you wait until the third to take advantage of the fact that he’s trying to guard a dude that’s at least eight inches taller? Because Knicks, that’s why. Let’s get back to the orgasmic KP montage.) and a pretty running hook off the dribble from he elbow. When the Knicks let Kristaps be Kristaps, I unleash incomprehensible, sub-mammalian sounds.

Let’s watch. WARNING: Time itself may stand still.

And they clawed all the way back, tying it at 83-all heading into the final stanza, when things got both deeply weird and yet frighteningly familiar. A back and worth game ballooned to 10 with 1:36 to go after John Wall went to work. I mean, given this team’s FARTDOG-y tendencies, it was more or less a given that Wall was going to have himself quite a night but this was something else. Step back jumpers, a trey over both Porzingis and Carmelo, a kick out in semi-transition to a wide open Beal on the wing (we’ll get back to this in a bit). And they still came back, dangling the thought of a nice, pre-All Star break win over our heads like a cruel brute taunting a starving puppy by holding a t-bone steak just beyond its reach.

After a slew of botched free throws and a head-scratching overturning of an and-one for Afflalo, Gallo found himself with a chance to tie, and…

Le sigh. We’re all with you, Gallo. How you separate this loss from the Memphis game or the Detroit game or the Denver game or any one of the gut-wrenching, deeply agonizing and yet wholly predictable ten losses over the last eleven games is beyond me. This team looks battered, both physically and emotionally. Everyone take a break. Play some vidyuh games. Catch up on that stack of Harper’s that are taking up space in the living room that you’ve really been meaning to plow through. Psychically reload.

Anyhoo, a few notes and we’ll get outta Dodge.

* They need to find a different way to guard the 1-4 and -5. high pick and roll. I lost track of the number of times that Calderon (or whomever) would help from the weak side, leaving a wide open Beal/Dudley/Porter. Wally and Hahn were scratching their heads at this, throughout the postgame post-mortem, but there’s a serious strategic error here, especially when they don’t have nearly enough athletic wings to be able to recover and contest the shot.

* Speaking of Rambis things that are going to make me claw out chunks of my eyeballs, it seems that Jerian Grant is (for now) out of the rotation. If one of the strikes against Fish was his inability to develop the non-KP kids, for fuck’s sake; just let him roll. Sasha Vujacic does have the benefit of cutting with a purpose, but it’s pointless because it’s Sasha Vujacic. You’ll happily let him crank out bricktastic shots whenever he pleases.

* More Rambis fun from Friends-of-the-Blog, William Bohl.

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* On Galloway’s last heave, check out Afflalo’s full-on pout. Maybe he felt he should have been the one to catch iron, but he’s sulking even before the ball is in the air. That’s not a good vibe, even if, yes, he’s without a doubt far more frustrated by this ugly streak than any of us could possibly imagine.

* Reports suggested that one reason Phil canned Fisher was that he strayed from the triangle-qua-triangle. We saw this again tonight, where in the second half they seemed to ditch it in favor of a spread attack, many of which featured Melo as the ballhandler. Speaking of which, he had another nifty game, and those one-handed whip passes off the dribble are purty as heck. This is neither the time and place to really get into it, but Chris Herring has some dandy thoughts here.

* Hi Coach.
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* One final note, and this is going to stray a bit from hoops, so feel free to jump to the end, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about a passel of unfettered thoughts that Phil Jackson banged out on his iPad and unleashed upon ye olde social media this afternoon.

Ostensibly, this brief bit of prose is meant to offer clues as to which clipboard-clutching savant might end up taking Fish’s place. Of course, in a totally Phil Jackson-y way, it doesn’t really do that at all, save the suggestion that it might be a dude from his coaching shrub or it might not, as long as it in some way adheres to a system that leads to self-actualization. The problem is, the trendy 60’s pop psychology–namely Maslow and Rogers–that Phil references don’t really hold up because they can’t be empirically tested or even defined. Maslow and Rogers aren’t really “major” figures either, save that they were super popular right around the time Phil was starting to nosedive deep into his own spiritual quest. Plus, you can see how a nifty chart like this…

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds.svg

…might slot in quite nicely with Phil’s predilection for both geometrically-shaped offenses. and of course John Wooden’s very own pyramid-based self-actualization chart.

PyramidThinkingSuccess

That’s not to put the kibosh on what boils down to, Phil- and Psych-101-wise, as basically good common sense/sound advice. Granted, it’s more mushy, quasi-spiritual/philosophical than actual psychological theory, if a broadly appealing and uplifting one, particularly if, you know, said mystical quest has a very specific, non-theoretical, secular goal: winning as many basketball gamesas possible. It’s not bullshit, is what I’m saying.

But reading Jackson’s screed, I couldn’t help but recall a moment from my own life. I was struggling like a mofo during my first few weeks at a graduate acting program, and I couldn’t understand nor did I have much faith at all in the pedagogy. The things my teachers were asking to do were totally at odds with the techniques and skills that I had mastered (or, to my somewhat deluded 20-something self, thought I’d mastered), watching my classmates not only succeed and receive praise, but somehow take pleasure in even when they too ostensibly “failed.”

An older actor and teacher of mine was in town, and I offered to take him to lunch. Yes, I wanted to see him and whatnot, but I really wanted a friendly ear to rant and rave to, someone that knew what the hell I was talking about and would tell me that I was right, goddamn it.

So we got together at a cafe and before the menus dropped I started kvetching and moaning, shaking my tiny impotent fist at the unfairness of it all and the basic wrongness of everyone around me. He sat there, listening patiently and saying nothing for about twenty minutes, until I’d plumb tuckered myself out and totally emptied my spleen.

There was a brief pause, and then he said, “Huh. Bob, have you ever read about the 10,000 Year Clock? I was reading about this on the in flight magazine. There are some scientists that want to build a clock that will last 10,000 years, because the Atomic Clock, you see, loses a second every fifty years. Scientists want to build the a better clock, one that will keep perfect time for the next 10,000 years. Not just to see if they can pull it off, mind you, but because the environmental movement didn’t kick into gear until after the first pictures of the planet earth came back from space, and people thought, ‘Wow. That’s awesome. Maybe we should try to conserve this thing.'”

“Right,” I said, having no idea where he was going with this.

“You see, Bob. The idea is that if we have a clock that’s keeping absolutely perfect time for 10,000 years, maybe humanity will do everything in its power to still exist 10,000 years from now, just so a living person might be around to see what time it is.”

“And I think it’s the same way for acting. You have this art form that started, really, 5,000 before you, Bob, showed up, and, knock on wood, should be around for 5,000 years after you’re nothing but dust.”

“Okay.”

“So, Bob. Every time an actor steps on stage, any stage—a rehearsal, a performance, or even a classroom exercise—he’s carrying ten thousand years of history. All the incalculable number of performances that came before and the untold billions that hopefully are stlll to come wrapped around him. That’s real power. That’s a performance that exists beyond time.”

“But the only way to do that is if you realize, Bob, that it’s not about you. Because if it’s about you, you kill 10,000 years of history. You know what I mean?”

He was and is right. And it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.

The queston that I have is, does Phil know that? Because riffing on obscure psychologists as a follow-up to the fluffily obtuse statements he gave in the first presser about who he’ll hire feels like so much ego, or at least Phil pointing to his own degree of self-actualization and/or enlightenment out of vanity and narcissistic, intellectual self-flattery.

There’s no need to spew the Cliff Notes version of his overarching hoops philosophy on social media not when he’s already done so in what, eight books? Not that he shouldn’t be attempting to impart these lessons to his team. Like I said (see above) it’s absolutely valuable, it does work. and like any struggle against the tyranny of self, it’s a lifelong struggle. But publish it? On freaking Twitter? Why? Phil’s under no obligation to give any more hints about whom he’ll hire, and in all likelihood, he doesn’t actually know who that person will be. This scans like something else. Long story short (too late), when Phil pulls stunts like these I’m not sure that he always knows that it’s not about him.

And that’ll do it. Always nice to be recapping again, fellow Knickerbloggeristas. In closing, let’s watch Bernie Sanders drain a few from midrange.

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Robert Silverman

Hey, did you know that in addition to banging the keys here and occasionally for the NY Times and at ESPN, Robert is a playwright, an actor and a wand'ring mendicant/gadfly? He also once wrestled a bear...and lost.

19 thoughts to “Wizards 111, Knicks 108: Same As It Ever Was”

  1. in these trying times, all we have to lift our spirits are Jim and Robert’s recaps

    and KP, of course

  2. Great stuff, Robert!

    Boy, that Afflalo pout…that was some weird shit. Dude was pouting before the shot was even taken!! By the way, how awfully did the Wizards play that? Why in the world were they pressuring the passer and leaving the three-point shooter open!?

  3. Ideal outcome this year could be to bottom out and hope that makes Melo requests a trade. If we could trade him for any asset, like literally anything, I’d be fine just building around Kristaps since we’d have our picks the following years.

  4. While I will preface this by saying that Melo is never leaving, I will concede that one of the only ways I could possibly see him leaving is if that is exactly what happens, if they just bottom out this year. He would have to at least consider leaving at that point. But then, that’s the rub, right? Jackson is categorically against bottoming out with this team, so it will never happen. They’ll always be just good enough for Melo to never want to leave.

  5. Well, we have lost 10 of the last 11 and we don’t have any ways to improve significantly at the trade deadline. Whether or not Jackson is against bottoming, it will happen if we keep playing like we have been.

  6. I mean, Zach Lowe wrote just like five months ago that the Knicks were “getting closer” to trading Melo. If PJ convinced Melo that the Knicks were the place for him after he very nearly left in summer 2014, then he should be able to convince him that if he wants to truly self-actualize, the next step of his journey is not in New York.

  7. Yeah I think if we miss the playoffs completely Melo will request a trade. At that point when the cap goes up he only has 3 years left on his contract and will be pretty easy to move for something.

    I’ve always liked Melo. Its shame we wasted his best years because I do believe at his peak he could have been the guy on a championship team that had a great defensive center and a good PG. He just wasn’t smart enough to see that Amare wasn’t going to be his robin and that Amare’s contract was a ticking time bomb. Using the amnesty on billups to get chandler was the nail in the coffin really. They did their best in 2012 and got pretty close with Kidd and the old vets letting Melo be the man while everyone bombed 3s. Maybe if Sheed doesn’t get hurt and Kidd doesn’t get gassed we win that year. But with no real PG to control the offense and get Melo the ball in the flow, Melo always had to work too hard to get his and there weren’t enough role players.

    Oh Melo! If you’d only been smart and either waited till Free Agency in 2010 so the Knicks could have signed you and kept their assets or traded them for the help you needed (cp3). Or if you’d just said you only would take a trade to the Knicks and left the nets out of it, we could have had the leverage to not give up everyone to get you. Alas, you wanted it all and you can’t have it all.

  8. The one thing I always ask myself in these trading-Melo-discussions is if you guys are aware that we’d have to replace him with another max player, most probably.

    Which player, realistically would make us a championship contender, ceteris paribus?

    Even though I’m not the biggest Melo fan, I don’t think he’s the problem. It’s everyone besides KP, Melo, and RoLo.

    To me, the Knicks are the guy at the gym with huge arms and pecs, standing on sticks.

  9. Thanks Rob for a terrific post. You said it better that I could.

    I have been very quiet the past few weeks, in a deep sulk because of how the Knicks season was evaporating before my eyes. The nose-dive was plain to see and as Shane Falco would say “You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”

    But I came here today to talk about how consistent the Knicks have become. They fall far behind at the start of the game. They make a big comeback push when all hope is lost. Then, having gotten back into the game, they cannot find a way to win. They go home with a loss.

    Can we start the official “Fire Rambis” campaign? If I see Calderon trying to guard a guard that is under 50 years old again, I’ll scream. And Sasha over Thomas? WTF? I’m starting to thing that Phil is starting to lose it. That crazy mumbo-jumbo he’s preaching does nothing for modern day players. He promised to try and make a major trade. If a real point guard doesn’t come back in a trade, Phil’s should be the next head on the block.

  10. Melo is not a good player, he’s a great player. You’re right, we never used him right. Pair him up with a good PG in a spread PNR, and he’d be basically unstoppable. He plays decent defense when not working hard to generate the offense, and has always rebounded well; now he has shown he can dish well too. He’s had brief periods where he was paired with someone good, like Kidd or Chauncey, but never for long enough. It’s a shame. (I mean, with Kidd, Melo had his highest TS%, 3PA, 3P%, FG%, def. rebounds, usage (!!) and more as a Knick)

    It’s more like hiring we’ve been spending on benchpressing equipment for that guy at the gym with stick-legs.

  11. The behind by 20ish early, comeback to within a basket or two and then lose was also a staple of the Isaiah Knicks, in particular during the era of Nate the great. Is it really just what bad teams do or is this something peculiar to the Knicks?

  12. If anyone was participating in the game thread last night, you’d know I became utterly despondent in the middle of the 2Q. A certain hopelessness has seeped into me after the firing, and it’s sad because like many of you, KP has given me hope and this has been a fun season. But something about the sight of watching Kurt Rambis yanking Porzingis, and watching Seraphin and Vujevic get extended playing time while Grant continues to be glued to the bench made me want to give up.

    After a night’s sleep, I’ve figured it out. Remember when we all thought the whole Fisher firing seemed like Dolan? In the end, I almost wish it was. We know now it was a pure Phil move. And the fact that a Phil move can seem like such a Dolan move is the most depressing thing to happen to this franchise in the last two years.

    The triangle might be our new Isiah. Dolan let his infatuation with the latter tear us down, Phil just might do the same with the former.

  13. Phenomenal recap Robert. In particular the last section gets at a lot of feelings I’ve been having about Phil’s tenure but haven’t been able to express nearly as well as you did. I think for basically the last 20+ years now Phil has felt under siege from critics who said that most of his coaching success was more about the talent on his teams than anything he did. As a guy who clearly has an ego on him, that surely hurt him, and I think over time more and more the “Zen Master” stuff has really been his way of fighting back against that.

    It seems to me that in the version of events he tells himself, the talent of those teams is secondary to the way he was able to use transformational leadership to help the group work towards self-actualization and achieving their higher nature (or whatever…that stuff is 99% mumbo jumbo to me). That’s no shocker as all of us have a tendency to make ourselves into the main characters of our stories, but I do think as you say Phil may have come to believe that it is (and was) all about him, when in reality the players on the floor will always be the most important thing. Consistently throughout his Knicks tenure he has seemed to be under the impression that the teams he has put together are capable of achieving more than conventional wisdom thinks is possible. He has been wrong about that every time. In my personal opinion, the key to the team improving has more to do with finding guys better than Sasha and Serpahin and less to do with some pop-psychology from the 60’s than Phil seems to think.

  14. George Will:baseball::Phil Jackson:basketball

    Terrific write-up Robert – I’ve managed to get a hold of part of an 8 page missive Jax wrote to Fish from a friend in the MSG IT department which reinforces some of what you wrote.

    **************************
    Dearest Derek,

    I’m penning this correspondence in the hope you will reconsider Mr Vujacic’s minutes. As a veteran of the league and Triangle, Sasha is far along the path of self-actualization and will provide the bread crumbs for his teammates to guide their journeys along that same path. Nobody gets the difference between the transformational and the transactional better than Sasha. He subtly adds strands of fibers to a delicate circular spoked web which is far greater than any single strand. Tis not his face that our opponents embrace – his willingness to literally take it on the chin so often for the team is the ultimate in group dynamic causal realization. His selflessness in missing 3s at such a high rate allows his teammates to self-actualize by getting more offensive rebounds. His boyish face, infectious energy and exuberance as he buzzes about the court making bee-line cuts adds to the hive of a transcendent team experience teeming with joy and camaraderie.

    Derek I’m so happy to impart to you some insights from a book I’ve just read titled Cooperative Learning Structures for Teambuilding.The author starts by making what I’m sure you’ll find to be a fascinating reference to Bernice Neugarten’s theory of differential teleologies……..

    ******************************

    It’s been reported that Phil was upset by Fish’s terse response to his communications. My friend told me that Fish indeed responded “Got It” to this email as reported. What my friend was also able to reveal was that Fisher initially typed SGTM but then deleted it and added 20% more characters in choosing “Got It”.

  15. What a well written, thoughtful and enjoyable recap. Really great stuff, Robert, this recap made me think of a ton of different things.

    Loved the interview with your teacher, made a lot of sense and tied in nicely to Phil’s self-promoting brand of achieving Nirvana.

    The foot-stomping, man-card removing, girl-stealing evisceration of Rambis was hilarious. The chart made me effing howl.

    And the thoughts on the game itself, the Kristaps wind-it-up dunk and the ultimate stomach writhing defeat made me angry at the last few minutes yet again. As in so many Knicks games this year, watching them crumble into a mush that makes a bowl of Flea Bottom Brown look like prime rib made me throw a mini tantrum of turning off the TV immediately and turning on the PlayStation. The kind of game I don’t even want to read about.

    But I’m sure glad I got over it in time to read this recap.

    See everyone after the break!

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