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This is a low: Knicks season on the sofa week 19 review

Due to broadband failure at Sports Bloke Towers (thanks a million, British Telecom), the first three Knicks games this week were rendered unwatchable to my tired gaze. I’m still trying to work out whether this was a blessing or a bind.

As it turned out, the games against Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto followed a predictable pattern. The Cavs handed out a regulation shellacking to Mike D’Antoni’s men, the woeful Pistons surrendered limply in a high-scoring 24-point beatdown and the Raptors, after three even quarters, relied on superior execution down the stretch to beat New York even though Chris Bosh was unavailable.

In all three games, the Knicks conceded over 100 points. In all three games they played next to no defence. In all three games, David Lee, despite his consistent offensive output, was abused defensively by bigger and stronger players. With the season now over for the Knicks, D’Antoni took the opportunity to take a longer look at some of his new acquisitions, inserting Bill Walker into the starting line-up and switching the inconsistent Tracy McGrady to the point guard slot. Sergio Rodriguez got extended minutes running the point backing up McGrady.

While these moves arguably made the Knicks more fluid in attack, they bought about absolutely no change on the defensive end. Opposition guards continued to drive the lane with impunity while the likes of Jonas Jerebko and Antawn Jamison recorded double figure rebounding games as they outmuscled the paper-thin, over-matched Knicks interior.

Regardless of how hard it is to watch this struggling Knicks team at present, we all know the reasons for their travails. With this season consigned to the garbage bin, the roster, recently gutted in preparation for the Summer of Lebron (or more likely the Summer of Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh), is imbalanced and undersized. Losing 11 of the last 13 games and conceding an average of 112 points in the process is woeful – but it ultimately doesn’t matter if Donnie Walsh fulfils his promise of big name signings in the off-season. The patience of the majority of Knicks fans, severely tested over the past decade, means these recent performances are (at best) tolerated for now.

But then the Knicks found themselves on the receiving end of a 20-point blowout at home to a local rival who had previously won just six of their 61 games.

Last night’s defeat to the lowly New Jersey Nets was simply unacceptable. The boos that rang out through Madison Square Garden from the second quarter onwards were absolutely justified as the Knicks wasted an excellent opening spell, blewing a 16-point lead and were then outscored by 30 points over the game’s final three quarters. McGrady managed a meagre two points in 23 minutes of play. Rodriguez, for all his perpetual motion and fluid passing, was roundly abused by the speed of Devin Harris and Courtney Lee for most of the game. Brook Lopez and Terence Williams dominated David Lee on the boards.

Predictably, the Knicks couldn’t defend the paint. Neither could they defend the three-point line. The Nets, averaging a paltry 4 made three per game, made 14 of 24 shots from downtown. For a time, it seemed like Courtney Lee, Harris and Kenyon Dooling couldn’t miss. In contrast, the Knicks hit none (I repeat, NONE) of their 18 attempts from beyond the arc ensuring they were not only blown out by the league’s worst team, but also managed to set a truly embarrassing record in the process.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Knicks’ 18 missed 3-pointers sets an NBA record for most attempts without a make. How many times do the Knicks have to go the extra mile to become a league-wide punchline? Off the top of my head, fans have had to endure the heaviest regular season defeat in a nationally televised game (scoring 58 points against Boston on TNT) and having the league’s highest payroll only to finish a season with 24 wins alone. Then there’s all the individual embarrassments: Kobe turning MSG into his own personal playground while torching the Knicks for 61 points; the team recording less blocks combined than Dwight Howard managed on his own over the course of a season; Nate shooting into his own basket; the brawl against Denver. And I haven’t even mentioned Marbury, Eddy Curry or Isiah yet!

D’Antoni reflected on the Nets loss, the Knicks 41st of the season, as follows: “We gotta do a better job, we got to somehow get these guys together and play well and get the year over with and then go on to other things. It’s tough for everybody right now. Obviously, we don’t have the answer now, but we’ll keep looking for it.” These sentiments have become the Cliff Claven-lookalike’s mantra since the early days of the season. But when are we going to see them put into practice on the court?

The Knicks show flashes of coherence that they never sustain. This isn’t a new problem. Save for a consistent stretch in December, it has plagued them throughout the year. They don’t raise their game for the elite teams. They don’t play down to the few lesser opponents they face. They seem to collectively bring the effort when they feel like it. And for a team whose roster has changed and devolved through the season, the coach must take some of the blame.

D’Antoni’s stubbornness is becoming the stuff of legend in New York but it’s his logic that leaves me baffled. He was hellbent on Chris Duhon becoming his NY version of Steve Nash despite the obvious gulf in class between the two. He preached his seven second or less philosophy despite knowing he didn’t have the quality of players to execute it. He let down rookies Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas by eventually giving them minutes and then returning them to the bench before the got a proper run in the rotation.

Most crucially, his constant line-up changes suggest (at best) a coach grasping for answers or (at worst) a coach without a clue. D’Antoni’s reputation is one of being a players’ coach but his two years in New York suggest he can only handle players of a certain quality. He has no answers when stuck with a roster of limited ability.

At least D’Antoni (like the rest of us) only has to suffer for 20 more games. Walsh’s trades have opened the door, albeit at great risk, to a brighter future. The pain of recent losses will eventually subside. Even the debacle against the Nets will fade from memory given time. The onus remains on Walsh to deliver the players that can implement D’Antoni’s plan. I was apoplectic in the aftermath of last night’s game. Twelve hours later, I look at the bigger picture and remain hopeful for next season. But when things do improve, it will be tough to convince me that D’Antoni deserves any credit. When things get better, it will be down to Walsh’s patient franchise fixing and the players he is able to acquire.


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New hope and big decisions: Knicks season on the sofa week 4

Despite the pain of depriving myself of sleep in order to watch the Knicks slump to their worst ever start to an NBA season, week 4 gave me reason for hope. Why? Well, the Knicks only had two games on their schedule meaning, even if they lost both, their streak of losing three games every week would definitely come to an end.

As it turned out, the Knicks beat both the Indiana Pacers and the lowly New Jersey Nets on the road to creep towards the cusp of semi-respectability with a less-embarrassing-than-we-are-used-to three wins and nine losses.

The key to victory in Indiana was so clear even I, watching bleary-eyed in London at 2am, was able to spot it. Trailing by 19 points in the third quarter, the Knicks finally started to play consistent defence and make some shots.

In a picture-perfect reversal of their loss to the Pacers on November 4, the Knicks sparked a heartening rally, outscoring their hosts 27-7 in the final seven minutes 30 secnds of fourth quarter to record a much-needed 110-103 win. They forced the Pacers to shoot a miserable 25% in the game’s final stanza, stifling and frustrating Danny Granger to such a degree that the Pacers’ chief scorer fouled out.

On the offensive end, the Knicks bench outscored Indiana’s second unit 65-22 with Al Harrington firing a team-high 26 points, including three fourth quarter 3-pointers that instigated the game-winning comeback. Larry Hughes’ player of the game performance featured 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

The Indiana victory also marked the return of troubled center Eddy Curry who, having shed 50 pounds, literally looked like a shadow of himself. I’m not wholly convinced it was actually Curry on the court.

The slimmed-down big man claiming to Curry looked exactly like Eddy Curry except for the addition of a thin goatee on his chin. It reminded me of Bender’s nemesis Flexo in Futurama, a robot who looked identical to his rival save for a tiny piece of chin-hair. Either way Curry/Flexo Curry looked surprisingly good in a 12-minute cameo that yielded 10 points and four rebounds. The big man has a long way to go to get back to maximum match fitness but , after all his problems, it was good to see him back and looking able to provide an inside scoring punch.

The three-day gap between the Pacers and Nets games was filled with speculation surrounding the potential signing of free agent Allen Iverson. After an initial flirtation, Donnie Walsh surprised most observers by passing on the former MVP. It’s a good job he did this. After preaching patience and the need to development his core of young players, the addition of AI would not only have robbed the likes of Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas of minutes and shots but would have made Walsh look indecisive, panic-ridden and, at worst, a hypocrite.

Saying no to The Answer allowed Walsh to stick steadfastly to his long-term plan and show a degree of faith in his young stars. Iverson bringing his me-first ball-hog act to the Garden may have given the Knicks a handful of extra wins this year but the potential for locker room disruption – as witnessed in Memphis – would have been huge. To my mind, Walsh made the right choice.

When a team is on a historically bad losing streak, no-one wants to be their first victim. That fear placed pressure on the Knicks as they faced the 0-12 New Jersey Nets, who were boosted by the return of their best player Devin Harris. With a West Coast swing looming, playing the Knicks at home offered the Nets their best chance of recording a victory before they approach 0-17, the league’s worst ever start held, somewhat predictably, by the 1998 LA Clippers.

The usual deathly silence of the Izod Center was replaced by some relatively raucous travelling Knicks fans who witnessed a fairly comfortable win for their team.

The Knicks shot 45% to lead 52-43 at the half. The offence was balanced with Harrington, Danilo Gallinari and Larry Hughes mixing drives to the hoop with outside shooting. It wasn’t such a good night for Nate Robinson who raised the ire of Mike D’Antoni by jacking up a three point towards his own basket at the end of the first quarter. With only half a second left on the clock, Nate launched the shot just after the buzzer. The shot swished home and a beaming Nate returned to the bench. The smile was wiped off his face by a raging D’Antoni who, after berating Robinson, benched him for the rest of the game. Was it an overreaction from the coach or a way to instill the need to focus into all his players? Probably both.

The Knicks extended their lead to 15 points by the middle of the third and, save for a Chris Douglas-Roberts-inspired fourth quarter 16-2 rally that bought the Nets within two, held on fairly comfortably for a 98-91 win. A 3-point dagger from Harrington, who seems to save his best performances for games against the Nets, sealed the deal. David Lee, who combined with Chris Duhon for some crucial baskets down the stretch, finished with 16 points and 12 boards.

A record of three and nine certainly isn’t anything to boast about but, with a home match-up against Boston and road games in Los Angeles and Denver coming up, winning  both games this week provides D’Antoni’s men with a much needed boost. They’ll need all the confidence and luck they can muster over the next seven days.

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