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When shots drop, the Knicks look top: Knicks season on the sofa week 20 review

Regardless of their numerous shortcomings and the fact that teams from the top, middle and lower tiers of the league have easily exposed these flaws throughout the NBA season, one simple grain of truth about this New York Knicks team remains: when they make shots, they are dangerous and capable of beating anybody – including a team on a 13-game winning streak.

Granted, over the last two months the inconsistent Knicks have been more Hyde  than Jekyll, setting embarrasing records for terrible three point shooting in the process. Yet, in a week where fans feared defeat in all four of the team’s games, the Knicks shot the lights out twice and beat two of the league’s best squads. Better yet, both wins were built on the play of unheralded stars likely to form part of New York’s future.

The Atlanta Hawks must be sick of the sight of the Knicks after losing to them for the third time in four games. 27 points from Danilo Gallinari and 10 for 15 team shooting from downtown were the bedrock of the Knicks win. Despite this, poor execution in the final minutes (yet again) allowed the Hawks to almost eradicate a 10-point deficit down the stretch.

Leading 99-98 in the dying seconds, Toney Douglas committed a potentially game-choking turnover as he dribbled up the court. Former Knicks (and Sixth Man of the Year candidate) Jamal Crawford recovered the ball, drove and fed Josh Smith who went airborne for the winning dunk but was denied by Wilson Chandler’s game-saving block.

The drama didn’t end there as Al Horford gathered the loose ball, fired it at the basket and sunk the shot on a friendly roll. Horford thought he’d won the game but instant replay showed time had expired milli-seconds before the ball left his fingers.

Would Chandler’s athletic defensive play re-invigorate the Knicks’ desire to play strong interior defence for the remainder of the season? Of course not.

Two nights later, the Knicks faced the San Antonio Spurs in the first of three road games against strong South West division opponents. Out-muscled and out-sized inside, Tim Duncan effortlessly cruised to an 18 and 9 night while fellow veteran big man Antonio McDyess had 10 point and 12 rebounds. A resurgent Manu Ginobili drove to the hoop with impunity on his way to a game-high 28 points. The total rebounding numbers told the whole story: 53 to 34 in the Spurs’ favour.

Not that the Knicks gave this one up without a fight. After the Spurs went scoreless for six third quarter minutes, Mike D’Antoni’s men whittled a 15-point lead down to just one. But 83-82 was as close as they would get. Ginobili came back into the game to ice proceedings as the Knicks struggled to execute in the closing minutes.

The really significant aspect of the Spurs defeat was that it was the Knicks’ 42nd of the season. The loss condemned them to a ninth successive losing season, another unwanted franchise record.

Next up came the Memphis Grizzlies who, with the twin towers of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, are a match-up nightmare for the Knicks. The game was effectively over by half-time as the Grizz shot 55% and built up a 29-point lead. Critics of David Lee’s defence were given more ammunition as Gasol executed a fine baseline spin move and dunk that made the Knicks’ all star look weak and leaden-footed.

You’ve heard the story of this game numerous times this season. A sluggish start made worse by no defence and poor shooting from beyond the arc. With the game gone, the Knicks woke up and ate into the lead, pulling within five with a minute left but getting no closer. The final 119-112 scoreline was more respectable than the Knicks’ performance deserved.

Conventional wisdom probably states that the last thing you’d want the night after such a poor performance would be to face the league’s hottest team on their home court after they’d had two days of rest.

But conventional wisdom didn’t take into account this maddening, inconsistent Knicks team would turn up and make 16 or their 30 three-pointers. Against all expectations, the Knicks torched Dallas 128-94 and ended the Mavs’ 13-game winning streak.

The unexpected rout was triggered by Bill Walker and Toney Douglas. Rookie Douglas replaced Sergio Rodgriguez at starting point guard and set the tone of the game. Douglas provides the consistent scoring threat essential to the successful running of the pick and roll. He scored 18 points of 8 for 10 shooting and dished out eight assists to boot. The Knicks looked organised and poised with Douglas at the point and he should start for the remainder of the season.

Walker continued his excellent recent form pouring in a game-high (and personal best) 23 points in just 25 minutes. In his previous outings, he had shown good athleticism and the ability to cut and get to the rim. In Dallas, Walker showed off his perimiter game, making five of his eight three-pointers. The former Celtic looks more and more like a keeper with each game he plays.

While the Knicks young guns stole the show, their veterans also had a say in the outcome. Al Harrington gave his best performance in some time, reining in his spotty outside shooting in favour of driving and spinning to the hoop. Tracy McGrady showed flashes of the brilliance that made him a premier player in the NBA. In one third quarter stretch, he blocked a gimme lay-up and trotted up court to effortlessly drain a three. Minutes later, he backed up Dirk Nowitzki, changed direction in the blink of an eye and swished an arcing mid range jump shot. I remain torn as to whether T-Mac is shot or halfway down the road to becoming his old self (albeit with heavily reduced athleticism). Only time will tell.

While this excellent Knicks performance came out of the blue, the 50-point shellacking they received on their home court at the hands of the Mavericks in late January must have provided some motivation. Hoots of derision poured from the stands in the second half and, for once, they weren’t directed at the players in orange and blue. In this painful and infuriating season, the illogical Knicks can give you reason to smile, typically of their character, at the moment when you least expect it.

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Season on the sofa: NBA All Star 2010 game diary

According to legend, everything’s bigger in Texas – even the NBA All Star game. Which is why, after foregoing sleep for the last two nights in exchange for a thoroughly underwhelming Dunk Contest and a high scoring but tedious Rookie/Sophomore game, the Sports Bloke has re-charged his batteries for the third and final night of the All Star weekend. What better way of covering this glorified exhibition game/annual spectacular (delete as appropriate) than with a special All Star season on the sofa diary of the game not quite live and direct from the UK.

11:38pm Only 22 minutes of Valentine’s Day left. The Sports Lass is sound asleep. I’m ready for the All Star game. Excited to see a Knick on the East roster for the first time in nine years. Even more excited to see how Mark Cuban and Jerry Jones are going to pull off a basketball game in front of 100,000 people.

11:40pm No basketball yet. Watching the Winter Olympics luge instead. Torn between whether I’d like to try a luge run or if it would be terrifying. Maybe Bobsleigh is a safer option. The Skeleton is not an option.

11:57pm Just realised League Pass coverage doesn’t start until 1am UK time. Isn’t the game tipping off at 12:45am? I want some build up. Good old P2P, never lets you down. There go the Men In Black. Time for EJ, Chuck and the Jet.

12:02am Good lord, Cowboys Stadium is huuuuuuuuuuuuuge. Hope the people in the nosebleed seats brought their telescopes and binoculars.

12:05am Here comes the Thunderbirds flyover. Barkley looks perturbed. And cold. In other news, One Republic suck. Bland, mediocre major label pseudo indie rock. Get out.

12:15am It’s Kobe doing his “reasonable human being” act. TNT host slurps accordingly.

12:19am Someone should tell that guy with the broom to stop walking across the shot. Good job Christian Bale isn’t on the TNT panel.

12:27am Is this the first sporting event where the scoreboard is bigger than the playing area?

12:43am This pre-game show is starting to drag. Even Mark Cuban can’t save it.

12:57am Is there any league commissioner more polished than David Stern? The man can deflect anything.

1:04am The West players take to the court. I’m buying a ticket for the Dirkus Circus for MVP. How can he fail with J-Kidd and Nash feeding him all night? I also expect Durantula to announce himself to the world tonight (it’s not possible for British people to use the phrase “Coming out party”, too many non-sporting connotations).

1:08am You can’t blame Craig Sager for doing his Nash interview introduction twice. He does have to carry the can for his tie though. Who dresses this man? Stevie Wonder?

1:21am How many Taco Bell five buck boxes has Chuck gone through this weekend? Over under must be around 15.

1:26am Derrick Rose gets a huge pop from the Dallas crowd. As does Chris Bosh in his home state. The starters then come up through the floor with Kevin Garnett proving once again he is the coolest man in the league.

1:30am The organisers of English football’s Charity Shield should take some notes on how to put on a showcase event. They’d have to book someone less totally overrrated than Usher though.

1:32am Dallas erupts for Kobe, who looks resplendent in his grey cardigan. Chris Kaman looks utterly overrawed. Z-Bo looks all business. Huge pops for Kevin Durant amd Jason Kidd. Nothing compares to the ovation for Dirk though. The player introductions have been better than the whole dunk contest.

1:44am West starting backcourt is Nash and Nowitzki. This could be very interesting.

1:51am Two sweet jumpers from Dirk to open the scoring.

1:55am Nash orchestrating things beautifully. Easy baskets for the West. Lots of jumpers from the East. 16-9 West.

1:56am Dwight Howard drains a three. Seriously. Still nowhere near as awesome as the Cowboys Stadium organ.

1:58am Time out, time for Stan van Gundy (SVG) to chew out his players (possibly)

2:01am Did Lebron really just argue a no-call in the All Star game?

2:07am Devastating putback dunk from Chris Bosh. 29-28 East. Aside from one KG block, no D in Dallas tonight.

2:14am Wow, Zach Randolph just fed Pau Gasol a bounce pass for a lay-in. Is that his first assist of the season? First quarter ends with East leading 37-34.

2:20am David Lee enters the game at the start of the second quarter. He immediately feeds Wade for an easy hoop.

2:23am Deron Williams sparks a run of more traditional all star plays as he creates an alley-oop and hammers home a dunk of his own. East respond with a D-Wade alley oop. West lead 51-47.

2:30am Lee on the board with a dunk.

2:34am Lee guarding former Knick Randolph. Can’t say I ever thought I’d see that in an All Star game.

2:41am Lebron starting to percolate. A circus shot, a cross-court assist and a monster block on Melo.

2:43am Half time. East leads 76-69. Melo leads all scorers with 17. Bosh and Horford having very nice games off the bench.

2:54am Shakira’s songs may be shit but she has a chart-topping caboose. Props to the TNT cameraman for helping me to notice this important fact.

3:05am Is this Alicia Keys song sending a subtle message to Lebron re this summer? It’s probably the only hope for Walsh and D’Antoni.

3:15am An epic 35 minute half time (and counting). Thank Christ I’m not at work until Tuesday.

3:24am PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE restart the game. Boredom is making me tired.

3:25am Looks like someone should take hold of Chuck’s car keys.

3:27am Howard goes coast to coast and finishes with a dunk. East starting to showboat. 84-71.

3:32am Lebron throws up an ugly air ball. Reggie Miller blames it on the sight lines. I blame bad shot selection.

3:34am Savage baseline alley oop – D-Wade to Lebron. East leads 97-88.

3:49am Lots of scoring but the West can’t get any closer. 115-106 to the East. Bosh continues to fill it up.

3:52am Billups loses his dribble but Durant recovers the ball and nails a long distance three at the buzzer. End of the third. 113-104 to the East.

3:55am Mark Cuban announces the attendance: a whopping 108,713. Biggest crowd to ever watch a basketball game.

3:58am West start quickly in the fourth. Three from Billups. A drive to the hoop from Z-Bo. Fast break finished by trailing Gasol. Two point game.

4:01am 120-119 with nine minutes to go. Things should get serious now.

4:07am Wade hammered by Williams and Randolph. That’s more like it.

4:10am East getting aggressive defensively. Steal by Rondo who then sets up Wade with an alley oop. East lead 128-124.

4:15am West offence stagnating. Lebron hits a long two then Bosh converts an And 1. A steal by Wade leads to a big dunk. The lead goes to nine with four minutes left.

4:17am Blown dunk by Amare. That’s gotta be embarrassing in front of 108,000 people

4:20am Beginning to feel worn down by seeing the same five commercials at every ad break

4:23am Lebron throws up another brick but redeems himself with a steal and a dunk. Billups answers with a three and Dirk hits two free throws. West hanging in down by two. 1:46 remaining.

4:26am Blown alley oop by Bosh. Billups ties the game at 137. Minute to go. West sensing victory.

4:29am Williams stripped then compounds his error by fouling when he had no need to. Wade on the line. Makes both. 139-137 East with 12 seconds left. Bet George Karl wishes Kobe wasn’t out injured now. In his absence, the ball’s going to go to Dirk to be the hometwon hero.

4:32am Ball does indeed go to Dirk who mugs Howard with a pump fake. Nowitzki makes both free throws. We’re tied again at 139. Seven seconds left. Time out East.

4:34am Bosh fouled driving the baseline. He makes both free throws. East by two. Five seconds on the clock.

4:37am Carmelo looks for a three to win it but can only throw up an off balance air ball. Game over. East win 141-139. Wade would be my MVP but it doesn’t really matter. Time for the Sports Bloke to retire to bed. Out.

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The full spectrum of losing: Knicks season on the sofa week 13 review

Knicks fans are well acquainted with losing. So much so, that they’ll be able tell you there’s no set way to lose a game. Sometimes you can compete with a strong team for three and a half quarters only to fall with honour down the stretch. On other occasions, a bone-headed play can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (see Al Harrington hanging on the rim against the Clippers last season). Sometimes, a great player will sink a buzzer beater to extinguish an arena-shaking comeback (KG at the Garden in December). And sometimes, your team can turn in a performance so dismal that they make opposing rookie players look like all stars and get blown out by 50 points.

In a span of 48 hours, the New York Knicks lost two games in which they managed to span the full spectrum of defeat. Against the Lakers, they fell with honour, losing 115-105 after matching the defending champions basket for basket and stop for stop for 40 minutes. Two days later, they were bruised, battered, dissected, destroyed and stomped by a Dallas Mavericks team missing Jason Kidd in a 128-78 blowout that, if it is ever released on DVD, will rank alongside The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a bona fide video nasty.

The omens for the Knicks’ meeting with the Lakers were not good. The game was played on the four year anniversary of Kobe Bryant dropping 81 points on the Toronto Raptors on the court where, 12 months ago, he’d unleashed his famous 61-point burst on the Knicks. As it turned out, these omens counted for nothing as Kobe, inhibited by a broken index finger, was content to play primarily as a facilitator. And, much to Bryant’s irritation, the very players he wanted to feed, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, seemed unwilling to assert their size and strength advantages in the post. This, coupled with stellar offence from David Lee (31 points) and Wilson Chandler (a season-high 28 points) allowed the Knicks to maintain parity throughout the first half and edge a single point lead at the end of the third.

Urged by Bryant, Gasol finally woke up down the stretch. He and Kobe combined for 23 of the Lakers’ 31 points in the final quarter to ensure the visitors had the last word. Simply put, as one of the NBA’s elite teams, the Lakers possessed a higher gear that the Knicks couldn’t match. The Knicks lost the defensive intensity that characterised their efforts in the first half. And where Lee had outbattled bigger opponents to control the boards early on, Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom eventually asserted themselves under the basket.

On the offensive end, energy from the bench dissipated when Nate Robinson left the game through injury and Jordan Hill couldn’t match his eight point, seven rebound first half cameo. To make matters even more difficult, the Lakers chose this night to shoot the lights out from beyond the arc, hitting 52.2% from downtown.

The Knicks played their hearts out but, against a team possessing superior talent and experience, they lost. But they went down fighting and could walk off the court with their heads held high. The same could not be said after Sunday’s game against Dallas.

It’s hard to pinpoint where things went wrong against the Mavericks. The Knicks were so poor in so many areas that, 24 hours later, it’s still impossible to cite one specific reason for the loss. The offence was stagnant, the defence non-existant. When Jared Jeffries is your leading scorer, you know something has gone badly wrong although, in fairness, the man many (ok, just me) are dubbing The Big Intangible turned in a strong first half performance, scoring 14 points to keep the Knicks in touch early.

Nobody else contributed much. Chris Duhon and Danilo Gallinari couldn’t make a shot. Lee battled hard on the boards but was outmuscled by Drew Gooden. Harrington offered next to nothing off the bench and Chandler had one of those anonymous games that were commonplace earlier in the season.

The breaking point probably came in the second quarter when Mavs rookie Rodrigue Beaubois torched the Knicks with 11 points including three three pointers and Jason Terry poured in 15 points to give their team a 16-point cushion at half-time. In the second half, the Knicks were bereft of energy and heart as Dirk Nowitzki added 13 of his 20 points. Unchallenged shots were par for the course. Terry and JJ Barea were given the freedom of the paint.

Benches were emptied as the lead swelled to 53 points, the largest lead in any NBA game this season. Boos rained down from the upper reaches of the Garden. I switched off League Pass to watch the AFC Championship game instead.

While Mike D’Antoni may be happy trotting out his trademark “flush it down the toilet” line after such a heavy defeat, it is a fact that the Knicks are now struggling and the losses are stacking up. After looking like genuine playoff contenders at the turn of the year, they have lost six of their last eight games. A chance for redemption comes quickly as the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves come to MSG tomorrow night, a game that now takes on must-win status. How D’Antoni’s men respond to the record-breaking beating handed down by the Mavs may well determine the course of the remainder of the season.

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