Pull on your crash helmets and brace yourself for pain. New York’s new day will still come this summer but, on the evidence of the Knicks’ four games this week, the remainder of this NBA season is going to be hard to watch.
Gutted by Donnie Walsh’s trades to bring about free agent nirvana this summer, Mike D’Antoni’s new-look roster seems incapable of competing with even the most mediocre NBA teams for a full 48 minutes. With no Jared Jeffries marshalling their already below-average interior defence, the Knicks have become easier to score on than a female contestant in the Jersey Shore.
None of this is unexpected or unique to the Knicks. Salary dumping in preparation for the summer has been de rigour for many NBA teams over the past couple of seasons. Walsh has stuck steadfastly to his oft-stated plan of getting under the salary cap. In the main, Knicks fans have accepted mediocrity in the present in exchange for the promise of future greatness. The play of Tracy McGrady was supposed to sustain Knicks fans through to the summer and, as T-Mac bought the Garden to life in last weekend’s OT loss to the Zombie Sonics, it looked like the remainder of the season, while 99% certain to yield no playoff spot, would be riddled with memorable McGrady moments.
The sad truth was revealed two nights later as McGrady limped up and down the court in a truly horrible home loss to Milwaukee. His rebuilt knee isn’t strong enough to stand up to the rigours of the NBA schedule. His minutes, much like his future contributions, look like being severely limited. Without McGrady, the Knicks aren’t capable of beating many teams. They eked out a road win in Washington against the only NBA team whose roster has been gutted even more viciously than their own. And there’s no glory in beating a team by shooting a meagre 25% in overtime. Overall, the 118-116 turnover-riddled game was awful to watch. But it did end an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks worst run of the season.
The laboured win over the Wizards was the sole bright spot of a truly miserable week for the Knicks where their lack of size was cruelly and repeatedly exposed. In a home loss to Milwaukee, Bucks center Andrew Bogut eased his way to a 24-point, 20-rebound game shooting 80% from the field. On the defensive end, the seven-foot Aussie had five rejections. On Legends night, the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1970 world championship team, the present day Knicks could only 67 points in 48 minutes and lost comfortably by 16 points in a performance that disgraced the legacies of Frazier, Monroe, Debuscherre and Co.
With Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill gone, the Knicks didn’t have anyone capable of even hoping to stop Bogut. That’s fair enough. What’s unacceptable is the stagnant offensive performance. The additions of Sergio Rodriguez and McGrady had D’Antoni murmuring about playing at pace. But this was more stunned-and-glum than run-and-gun. And with Chris Duhon benched for the entire game, the pick and rolls so key to David Lee’s scoring were absent. Lee managed his customary double double (12 and 13) but only took 12 shots in the game.
If Andrew Bogut feasted on the New York’s undersize interior, former Knick Zach Randolph gorged himself when the Memphis Grizzlies came to the Garden. Randolph took everything he wanted in a 31-point, 25-rebound effort that gave the Grizz a 120-109 win. Z-Bo’s partner-in-crime Marc Gasol got his share too with 25 points, 13 boards and eight assists. Both big men were given the freedom of the paint as they scored at will and grabbed second, and sometimes even third, chance points.
The contrast in how the teams got their points was marked. While the Grizzlies big men scored on easy bucket after easy bucket, the Knicks clung to their coattails thanks only to the three-point shooting of Al Harrington and Eddie House. The Knicks actually led by a point with five minutes left but Randolph sparked an 11-0 to seal the deal. Buoyed by his match-winning contribution, Randolph later joked with reporters about returning to New York in 2011 and praised his former teammate Lee, hilariously dubbing him “the white me”. He’ll never score an easier 30 points.
In between being dominated by Messrs Bogut and Randolph, the Knicks travelled to Boston for a reunion with the recently-traded Nate Robinson. Former Celtic Eddie House got a standing ovation from the Celtics fans, as did Robinson when he made his first ever entrance as a Boston player. Neither guard had any real impact on the game and it was left to Ray Allen, now free from the hassle of trade speculation, to claim victory for his team. Mr Shuttlesworth poured in a team-high 24 points but it was a defensive play that swung things Boston’s way. With the Celtics leading by three in the final minute, Wilson Chandler cut to the hoop as the home defence rotated slowly. Allen, who averages 0.3 blocks a game, soared across the lane and made the rejection. The Celtics ultimately prevailed 110-106 with the Knicks wasting a stellar 28-point, 15-rebound effort from Lee.
At 20-38, the Knicks are sinking further into the basement of the Eastern Conference and the threat of them having to give up a high lottery draft pick to the Utah Jazz looms large. The promise of better days come the summer remains in tact but every loss makes that salvation seem a long, long way away. In the mean-time, perhaps the Knicks could branch out as a shelter for battered children because, unlike violent parents, they don’t look likely to beat anyone any time soon.