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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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NBA elite breach Fortress MSG: Knicks season on the sofa week 9 review

With the Knicks in the middle of a Christmas home stand and and having reeled off five successive home wins, Mike D’Antoni’s men were surely hoping Santa would leave them three more MSG victories to bring them closer to an Eastern Conference play-off berth. What they actually ended up with was one scraped win and two lessons handed down from two of the league’s best teams.

The Knicks hosted Chicago 24 hours after the Bulls had blown a 35-point lead in a loss to the Sacramento Kings. With their opponent’s confidence at a low ebb, the Knicks produced one of their best halves of the season to storm to a 53-31 half-time lead. To the Bulls’ credit, they refused to roll over and chipped away at the lead (and the Knicks’ confidence) in the third and fourth quarters and cut the lead to a single point in the final minute. And then they were undone by the ineptitude of their coach. Only Vinny del Negro will know why he elected to call an alley oop play as his team returned to the court after a timeout. The plan backfired spectacularly and resulted in a turnover. Eventually, David Lee iced the game with a pair of crucial free throws.

While NBA games are full of swings and runs, it was the Knicks’ inability to do the basics that stopped them from putting their foot on the throat of the Bulls and closing this game early. Turnovers, missed free throws (I’m looking squarely at you, Mr Duhon), woeful three point shooting (5 from 20) and general offensive stagnation in the second half allowed the Bulls to creep back into this game. They deserved the win but came too close to throwing it away.

Next up for the Knicks was a Christmas Day match-up with the Miami Heat. Four hundred miles away from my laptop, I was forced to follow this game on NBA Game Time Lite on my iPhone. The word Lite is the crucial one here. You get no audio and the only way to stay in touch is to stare blankly at a slow-to-update box score. Such is the luck of the British NBA fan. Post-game investigation revealed the Heat took away the Knicks pick and roll game, filling the lane and forcing them to shot jump shots. The Knicks inability to hit open shots, combined with the superstar play of Dwyane Wade (30 points, nine rebounds), gave the Heat control of the game. They stifled the home side throughout the second and third quarters, maintained a comfortable lead and, despite a couple of Knicks runs, cruised to a 93-87 win, the Knicks first home loss in seven games.

If you had to create the ideal situation to play against the San Antonio Spurs, you’d want to face them on your court, with your team rested and with them playing the second of back-to-back road games. This was the exact situation in which the Knicks faced the Spurs on December 27. With everything in their favour, the Knicks stuck with their more capable opponents throughout the game. However, when crunch time came, they had no answer to the wit, guile and experience of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. While the Spurs’ big three kept the scoreboard ticking over, the Knicks struggled to buy a hoop. Chris Duhon was forced to take too many (often bad) shots as the Knicks fell from being tied at 82 with four minutes left to losing 95-88. In the process, they wasted an exceptional performance from David Lee who went 28 and 10 and kept Duncan in check for large parts of the game.

The losses to the Heat and the Spurs showed up two crucial things the Knicks currently lack. Wade’s Christmas Day performance again highlighted the absence of a go-to scorer when opponents crack up the defensive pressure. Veterans Al Harrington and Larry Hughes occasionally step up to fill this role but they do it all too inconsistently. Although he doesn’t seem that vocal on the court, Wade’s consistent all-round excellence leads his team mates by example. How he continues to be so (relatively) underrated is a mystery to me. The lesson handed down by the Spurs was one of execution and professionalism. The Spurs were nowhere near their best but they kept the game close despite resting Duncan for long stretches. When it came time to decide the game, Duncan made predictable but unstoppable scores, Parker made steals and Ginobili made a huge jumper and then glided to the basket to finish a fast breaks. In the space of a minute, a scoreline of 84-84 had become 91-84 and the game was over. You might not want to watch the Spurs every night but you sure as hell respect them.

The two losses reduce the Knicks to 11-19 but, thanks to the overall weakness of the East beyond the top five teams, they are still well and truly in the hunt for the eighth seed. D’Antoni would do well to heed the lessons of these defeats but, unlike earlier in the season, neither loss was the result of abysmal defence or lack of effort. The Knicks are progressing, especially on the defensive end. In their last 12 games, they are conceding a respectable 96 points per game, 13 less than the opening 18 games. The offense has been slowed to suit the skills of the players available. Despite the setbacks this week, the Knicks are well placed to continue in the right direction after the turn of the year.

With D’Antoni’s rotation now settled with eight men receiving regular playing time, Eddy Curry has joined Nate Robinson as a voice of dissent on the Knicks bench. During games, Nate’s conduct has been exemplary. He continues to support his team mates in that infectious, enthusiastic way. Off the court, he even contradicted his agent’s trade demands and said he wanted to stay in New York. I sympathise with Nate’s predicament. I can’t say the same for Curry. How, after the Knicks have backed him up for years over his personal troubles, legal issues (who will ever forget the immortal phrase “Do you want to touch it, Dave?) and weight problems, can he have the nerve to complain after five successive DNPs (while still taking home his 11 million dollars regardless) and keep a straight face? I expect both Curry and Robinson’s tenure at the Garden to end in buy-outs. There was no market for Nate in the summer and even Memphis GM Chris Wallace isn’t stupid enough to take on Curry’s contract.

The main source of Curry’s frustration stems from the fact that he has been supplanted by Jonathan Bender in the Knicks rotation. After bursting back into action in his first two games, Bender’s play has levelled off this week. He wasn’t helped by picking up a hip injury against the Bulls but the signs of rust from his four-year NBA exile now appear clearly. His play this week has been turnover-prone and his shot has deserted him. He has, however, shown far more in two weeks than Curry has shown in two years and deserves his minutes. If he can stay injury-free and shed his rust, Bender’s bench-scoring and blocking ability could still prove vital.

David Lee continues to impress everyone who regularly watches him. His numbers this week were superb (18 and 21, 19 and 16, 28 and 10) and he is definitely playing his way into all-star contention. What catches the eye the most about Lee is the way he has worked to add the mid-range jump shot to his game. Last year, defenders would give him open Js along the baseline or from the top of the key and he would hesitate before clanging a short shot off the front of the rim. This season, with a summer of practice behind him, he is taking and making these shots as well as doing his trademark blue collar board-cleaning work. With more teams looking to take away the Knicks’ vaunted pick and roll game, Lee’s ability to shoot from mid-range will be critical as the team look to maintain their play-off push.

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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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Wake up and smell the despair: Knicks season on the sofa week three review

Three games, three defeats, shifting starting line-ups and an incomprehensibly bungled rotation. Oh, and the worst start to a season in franchise history. Just another desperate week in the life of the New York Knicks.

Home defeats to Utah, Atlanta and (unbelievably) Golden State laid the Knicks’ frailties bare for all to see. They are an outside shooting team that can’t shoot well. A run and gun team that can’t always be bothered to run. And, of course, a team that cannot defend to save its life and lets most opponents shoot above 60 per cent in first quarters.

The Utah game followed the pattern of most of the Knicks losses to date. Down by 21 points in the third quarter, the Knicks mounted an ultimately futile comeback propelled by the cut and thrust of rookie Toney Douglas. Having closed the deficit to a single point, they went scoreless for the game’s final 76 seconds and lost 95-93.

Two nights later, the Knicks managed a rare solid start against Atlanta, running up a 14-point first half lead before being outscored 37-23 in the third quarter on the way to a lop-sided 114-101 loss. A sequence of Jared “Mr Fumbles” Jeffries bobbling a pass out of bounds as he tried to make a gimme lay-up and Al Harrington letting the chance of an uncontested dunk literally slip through his fingers sent the MSG diehards to the exits in the fourth quarter.

Last night, the dysfunctional Golden State Warriors thumped the Knicks 121-107, shooting 64 per cent in the first quarter and leading for most of the game. This loss, their sixth straight, reduced the Knicks to a historically terrible 1-9, the worst ever start to a season. With Darko Milicic, Douglas and fellow rookie Jordan Hill in the game, the Knicks briefly paid some D in the third quarter and pulled within six points. Any hopes of a comeback win were immediately extinguished when the Warriors opened the fourth hitting four successive shots, including three three-pointers, to ice the game.

Why is D’Antoni powerless to coax consistent effort from the majority of players on this woeful Knicks team? One theory thrown out this week suggested that a clique of Knicks were sick of the circus surrounding Lebron James and his potential move to New York in 2010. The enormous LBJ billboard outside Madison Square Garden is said to have raised their ire. If there is truth to this story, it is nothing short of a disgrace. There’s been countless unheralded Knicks players who became heroes in MSG (John Starks and Anthony Mason spring to mind) because they earned the respect of the supporters with effort and hard work. So Jared, Al, Chris and whoever else is behind mailing in the entire season, man up and leave it out on the floor. You might even earn yourself a contract for next year (although I seriously doubt it).

Whether or not the players are staging an early season revolt, some questions must be asked of the coach. You wonder if D’Antoni’s reputation as an offensive genius that he forged in Phoenix relied heavily on the quality of players that he had. With Steve Nash as your floor general and leader, how often did D’Antoni have to struggle to motivate his charges? Now, with a squad of vastly inferior players, he looks powerless to stop the Knicks sliding into embarrassment. The constant tinkering of the starting line-up and the desperately muddled rotation during the games suggest, for all his searching, he cannot find a single answer.

Could the “Summer of 2010” hoopla actually be having a legitimate psychological effect? You could argue it is far easier for fans to accept Donnie Walsh’s long-term plan than it is for the players and coaches. Has any NBA coach ever been given a two-year free pass where losing doesn’t really matter that much? Has a group of players ever been brought to (and traded from) a club solely on the basis of when their contracts expire? Does knowing this somehow mentally undermine the people in question (particularly D’Antoni, Harrington and Larry Hughes)? Is it possible to take pride in your performances when everything points to the fact that you are a pawn in a larger, longer game? All fans would answer in the affirmative. Knowing the glaring limitations of this team, they are steeled to accept defeats this year. What they will not tolerate is the consistent lack of effort and heart. Even the dismal, winless New Jersey Nets get total commitment from their depleted roster.

Are there any positives to take from this week of defeat? Surprisingly, yes. Though the jury remains well and truly out on Jordan Hill, the play of Toney Douglas has been worthy of note. The rookie point guard forced D’Antoni into giving him more minutes after single-handedly reviving the Knicks against the Jazz. He’s not afraid to take the ball to the hoop and has, over three short games, established an explosive scoring touch. Douglas’ emergence should also signal the end of Chris Duhon as a Knick. In this losing mire, Duhon has arguably been the worst player on the roster this year. A starting backcourt of Douglas and Larry Hughes might just give the Knicks some defence. With Nate Robinson back from injury to back them up, you have an improved three guard rotation.

Another sign of how desperate the Knicks are for good news came in the drastically smaller shape of Eddy Curry. The troubled big man returned to practice this week and appeared to have made good on his word to get in playing shape. In a post-practice interview, Curry looked chiselled (yes, I said chiselled) confirming stories that he had lost more than 50 pounds. Pinning hopes on Eddy to revive the Knicks’ fortunes may be a bit of a stretch – he’s played 12 minutes in the last 12 months – but getting him on the court must be a good thing. If he can re-establish his low post game, surely that will open up the three point game for Gallinari and Hughes.

The final plus point is the five day break the Knicks have until their next game. In the midst of a slump, time to “go back to the drawing board” is crucial. Perhaps whatever grievances the players have can be aired and rectified. Perhaps D’Antoni can pull some tricks from his magic hat of offence. Perhaps they might settle on a nine man rotation. Perhaps Donnie Walsh has a trade up his sleeve. Perhaps David Lee will stop whinging about every call that goes against him. And perhaps Eddy Curry will suit up when the Knicks travel to Indiana on November 18.

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Expectations in check for the Knicks’ Seinfeld season

Seinfield was famously described as a “show about nothing” by its co-creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Thanks to the Seinfeld reunion story in the current season of David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, the greatest sitcom of the 1990s is firmly back in people’s minds.

I was thinking about what I could look forward to from the New York Knicks in the upcoming NBA season when I realised the Seinfeld connection. For the Knicks, the 2009/10 season is, on the surface, a “season about nothing”.

Knicks GM Donnie Walsh, eyeing Lebron James and/or Joe Johnson, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire or Chris Bosh in the 2010 ‘Summer of Free Agency’, has remained in a holding pattern through the summer and stuck to his pragmatic policy of not making any roster additions that will impact on team salary after the 2009/10 season.

After a seemingly neverending stalemate, blue collar double-double machine David Lee was signed to a one year deal. Sixth man Nate Robinson followed suit. Prior to that, Walsh acquired the, erm, enigmatic Darko Milicic for Quentin Richardson and picked up raw rebounder Jordan Hill and the apparently defence-orientated Toney Douglas in the draft.

From these moves, it’s hard to see how the Knicks will improve from last season. They might earn 35 wins. They may or may not play better defence. They might even block a few more shots. But they won’t make the playoffs.

Since he arrived at Madison Square Garden, Walsh has been totally upfront about focussing on the long-term goals of getting under the salary cap and being a major player in 2010 free agency. Last season, Knicks fans were
effectively asked to write off the year when top scorers Jamal Crawford and the black hole formerly known as Zach Randolph were traded in November 2008. This time around, we have the “season about nothing”, a mildly diverting stretch of 82 games before the real battle (the fight for marquee free agents) begins in the off-season.

Has a fan base ever been asked to be as patient for such a length of time? It’s a sign of how bad things got under the stewardship of Isiah ‘Doubt Him’ Thomas that the majority of Knicks fans (of which I am one, albeit one living in the UK) are willing to accept it, all the while keeping every body part crossed in the hope that Lebron will come to the Big Apple when his contract expires.

But I don’t want to debate whether the Knicks management care about the 2009/10 season or not. As a fan, I want to find reasons to look forward to watching my team. It’s not been easy, but here are five reasons to look forward to the Knicks’ “season about nothing”.

1) Guaranteed uptempo basketball
Maybe Donnie Walsh’s only big name signing was a master stroke in his plan to keep ticket holders patient until the Summer of 2010. With Mike D’Antoni as coach, Knicks games remain guaranteed to be score-fests with three pointers raining down from everywhere. In 2008/09, the Knicks were far more watchable than in the Isiah era. I was in the Garden last November when they beat the Jazz and the buzz that went around the arena when the Knicks began to outhustle the visitors in the third quarter was undeniable. The lesson for the 2009/10 season: embrace the moments of inspiration but accept the fact that the Knicks will continue to take a shellacking from the league’s better teams.

2) Make or break for Danilo Gallinari
On the evidence of the 28 games he played last season, Gallinari has many of the tools to succeed in the NBA. Whether his body allows him to realise his potential is another question entirely. Gallo, recently described by D’Antoni as “the best shooter I’ve ever seen”, has recovered from his back problems but has been disappointing in the pre-season games to date. He remains a huge question mark. If injuries curtail his second season in the league, can he ever hope to make a real impact? If he’s at 100 per cent for most of the season, we might get to see just how special he can be as a shooter, defender and facilitator.

3) Showcasing Eddy Curry
Freeing up extra cap space for 2010 by trading Eddy Curry could be the difference between signing one or two marquee free agents for next season. That’s if, and it’s a huge if, two marquee free agents decide they want to play in New York. The only way to get Curry’s contract off the roster is to make another team want him. Which means D’Antoni will have to feature the lumbering center into his quickfire system. Curry has reportedly shed 40lbs of ‘excess baggage’ but is now injured yet again. He has had a tragic time in his personal life and deserves some joy on the court. If he could be incorporated successfully into the system and play well for a month, it might be enough to move him before the trade deadline. And if that fails, there’s always a chance he could end up in Memphis with the rest of the league’s rejects.

4) A season of cohesion
The departure of Stephon Marbury signalled the end of the Knicks as the biggest soap opera in sports. What can the Knicks achieve without controversy and disharmony dragging them down? Probably 35 wins with this roster, but that’s not the point. The Knicks are now a young team. Chandler, Gallo, Hill and Douglas will be Knicks in the 2010/11 season. Lee might be. They will develop together, enjoy each other’s success and form a unit that will be the Knicks’ foundation, regardless of which free agents get signed next summer. Watching them take their first steps together this season will be interesting. If one were to show signs of the genuine leadership the Knicks sorely lack, that would be a huge bonus.

5) The continuing story of Mr Fumbles
This one is personal. Given his inabaility to regularly catch and control even the most basic of passes, I coined the nickname Mr Fumbles for Jared Jeffries. Yes, I know he can defend multiple positions but his offensive game is truly dire. My particular favourite Jeffries move is when he claims a defensive rebound and attempts to drive the length of the floor in transition. I lost count of the number of times he tried this last season. Once he crosses half court and the opposition gets reorganised, a steal or fumble is an inevitably. Everyone in the arena knows this – except Jared. I was keeping tabs on the Knicks pre-season against the Nets a week or so ago and was shocked to see Jeffries scored 11 points in the first half including two treys. Had he been hypnotised into believing he was an offensive threat? If so, watching him this season might be the year’s biggest surprise.

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