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Indefensible defence: Knicks season on the sofa week 18 review

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.

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A new day is coming: Knicks season on the sofa week 17 review

I write this as the new-look New York Knicks take the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Already on a three-game losing streak, the Knicks were gored twice in two nights earlier this week by the Chicago Bulls to continue their slide out of play-off contention. These losses, along with all the other defeats I’ve watched this season, no longer matter. The struggling team that lost those games no longer exists. The team that replaces it will not be fully formed until later this year. But now we know that new team is coming. Thanks to Donnie Walsh, the promise of a new day dawning at Madison Square Garden this summer has become a reality.

Hands up, who actually thought Walsh had any hope of shedding the millstone contract of Jared Jeffries to free up enough cap space to potentially sign two max contract free agents after July 1? Be honest. Yep, me neither. But he did it. After this season, the Knicks will only have Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and the immovable (in so many ways) Eddy Curry on their books. And cap space to woo the league’s best players to the mecca of basketball. Without ceremony or grandstanding, Walsh has delivered exactly what he promised when he took office at MSG almost two years ago, even if he had to surrender what hopefully won’t become crucial draft picks to get there.

In bringing Tracy McGrady and Sergio Rodriguez to New York in exchange for Jared Jeffries, Larry Hughes and Jordan Hill, Walsh also gave up an option to swap 1st round draft picks with Houston (the pick is top 1 protected) in 2011 and a 1st round pick (top 5 protected) the following year. It’s a gamble based on Walsh’s ability to woo the superstars he desires this summer. If he gets them, giving up the picks won’t hurt the Knicks.

Whether you regard the risk Walsh has taken as bold or foolish, his choice is in keeping with his grand masterplan. Walsh preached patience and his focus on the Summer of 2010 free agent sweepstakes. At no point has he wavered from this plan. Walsh has given the Knicks direction. All fans, whether they like it or not, know where they stand. Most teams in the NBA’s cellar make trades that conflict with previous moves as their respective braintrust’s flit from one desperate scheme to another and their problems are compounded.

Under Walsh’s watch, this will not happen again. I hope for Lebron and Bosh this summer. I accept I may end up watching Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire. The key is that getting way, way under the cap ensures the Knicks can finally operate like a functional sports franchise for the first time in almost a decade. With that in place, the allure of Madison Square Garden and the oft-fabled New York market become legitimate tools to attract the players to lift the team out of the doldrums.

So, what of the players that left? I feel for Jared Jeffries. The man I refer to as Mr Intangible won me (and the MSG crowd) over with his hustle, heart and effort after starting the season as an offensive liability and on-court scapegoat. Leading the league in taking charges is the sort of stat that a Knick from the 1990s would be proud of. Houston, full of no-stat all stars like Shane Battier, might be the ideal spot for him. I’d take one JJ over 10 Chris Duhons any day of the week.

While nobody will miss Larry Hughes or Darko Milicic (traded to Minnesota for the hapless Brian Cardinal who was immediately waived by the Knicks), it will be interesting to see how Jordan Hill’s career develops. Thanks to Mike D’Antoni’s obsession with the eight-man rotation, Hill never really got a full run to show his worth as a Knick. The league consensus is that Hill is a ‘project’. If he develops his shooting and understanding of the game to the level where these skills match his obvious athleticism, a tinge of regret may creep into the front office. But, as a necessary chip to complete the trade, Hill had to go.

In what may well have been a present for his coach, Walsh also sent Nate Robinson, fresh from winning the worst slam dunk contest in living memory, to Boston in exchange for Eddie House and benchwarmers/makeweights JR Giddens and Bill Walker.

The little man’s tenure in New York will be remembered far more fondly by the Garden faithful he excited than the coaches he effortlessly seemed to infuri(N)ate. His block on Yao Ming in 2006 remains a favourite moment of mine. This season, his 41-point explosion against Atlanta after riding the pine for 14 games was nothing short of spectacular. On the surface, it seems like, as with Renaldo Balkman, the Knicks got rid of a player D’Antoni didn’t like. That said, the deal did save the Knicks more than one million dollars. House brings a consistent 3-point threat and should be a better offensive fit than Nate in D’Antoni’s system. Getting a draft pick from the Celtics would have made this one a little easier to take.

What about the other new Knicks? Every Knick fan has their fingers crossed that Rodriguez will displace the ever-more-depressing Duhon in the starting line-up within the month. But the real question surrounds McGrady. Are T-Mac’s claims that he’s put his injury woes behind him hot air or realistic?

Judging by the press conference he gave after arriving in New York, he at least knows how to talk the talk. McGrady talked of a fresh start, of having 29 games to show his worth and of his desire to play in New York (for the veteran’s minimum) next season alongside two superstars. There’s been enough big talk (Isiah, Marbury, Francis) that hasn’t come close to being backed up in recent years. This time around though, if McGrady flops, it doesn’t hurt the Knicks one bit. Hands up, who didn’t tune in tonight to see what, if anything, he had left?

As it turned out, McGrady’s MSG debut was better than anyone could have expected. Talk of him as a basketball corpse has been greatly exaggerated. Although he was restricted to limited minutes, McGrady poured in 26 points from all corners of the court against the Thunder, bringing the Garden crowd to its feet as he drained threes, nailed jumpers and attacked the rim. When he rested on the bench, chants of “We want T-Mac” echoed around the arena. His presence and performance created an atmosphere in MSG not felt since the days of Latrell Sprewell and Patrick Ewing.

Ultimately, McGrady’s efforts were wasted as the Knicks imploded in the final minute of regulation, blowing a six point lead when Jeff Green and Kevin Durant rattled in crucial threes to send the game to overtime. Running short of gas, McGrady himself missed two foul shots that would have put New York up by eight and probably iced the game.

McGrady played just 19 seconds in overtime, while Durant played all five minutes and won the game for the Zombie Sonics. After Eddie House hit a jumper off an in-bounds pass from McGrady to give the Knicks a 118-117 lead with 32 seconds remaining, Durant drained a pull-up jumper to give the Thunder a 119-118 edge. He added two foul shots for a 121-118 lead with 10 seconds left. The Knicks blew two chances to tie the game when House rushed a 3-pointer in the final seconds and Gallinari failed to hit a 3 from the corner.

Ordinarily, this loss, the Knicks sixth in a row and one that dropped their record to a dismal 19-35, would have felt like a body blow. After the potentially franchise-changing trades that preceded it, the loss doesn’t feel so bad. Knicks fans now know a new day is coming, that the years of suffering are almost at an end. For the players, the remaining 28 games of the season amount to a tryout for everyone bar the contracted Gallinari, Chandler and Douglas.

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