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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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Swept by the best, swept by the rest: Season on the sofa Knicks week five review

Having the wind knocked out of their sails in a heartbreaking home loss proved to be the worst possible preparation for the Knicks’ West Coast swing against the Lakers, Kings and Nuggets.

Facing Boston at home after two successive wins (likely to be the longest such streak of the season), the Knicks fell to a Kevin Garnett buzzer beater in overtime that cost them a victory they probably deserved. It was a cruel ending for Mike D’Antoni’s men who, after falling behind in the first quarter, rode the hot hands of Al Harrington and Nate Robinson (in his best performance of the season to date) to lead by five going into the fourth quarter. The Garden crowd began to come alive.

With Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett out of sorts, the Celtics scoring load fell on the shoulders of Paul Pierce who, with 33 points, revived his team as the Knicks struggled to score down the stretch. The lack of a reliable fourth quarter threat probably had some wishing Donnie Walsh had signed up Allen Iverson just days before.

Eddy Curry made his first home apperance since early 2008 and struggled thanks to his colleagues’ collective inability to throw him good entry passes into the post. In his 15 minutes on the court, Curry battled down low with Garnett and Kendrick Perkins and his frustration boiled over late in the fourth quarter when, battling for a rebound, he launched a cheapshot push-cum-punch that sent Rajan Rondo sprawling. The resulting flagrant foul caused a three-point swing that fuelled the Celtics’ hope.

With time running out in OT and the score tied at 105, David Lee rotated from KG to double team Pierce, denying Boston’s clutch shooter the opportunity to finish the game. Pierce passed to Garnett who, limping down the court, had an open shot from the top of the key thanks to Harrington’s failure to rotate onto him. Garnett was 3 of 14 for the game but didn’t think twice about taking the shot. He sank the jumper as time expired to inflict a cruel loss on the Knicks, their seventh home defeat in 8 games.

Knowing how brittle this Knicks team can be, the body blow delivered by Garnett had fans immediately fearing the worse for the next game, a road clash with the defedning champion Lakers. To make matters worse, a traffic gridlock meant the team arrived at Staples just 55 minutes before tip-off. In spite of this disruption, the Knicks were competitive for the first half. Sadly, they disintegrated in the third quarter, surrendering 17 points without reply and trailing at one stage by 25 points, before fighting back to semi-respectability after Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant had left the game in the fourth, eventually losing 100-90.

Outrebounded 60 to 36, the Knicks had no answer to a superior Lakers team. Bryant scored 34 points in an efficient 14-for-20 performance from the field. Gasol added 11 points and 16 boards. All five Lakers starters scored in double figures. In contrast, the all-to-familiar shooting woes from Wilson Chandler (5 for 20) and Chris Duhon (2 for 9 including 0 for 5 from beyond the arc) contributed to the Knicks predictable downfall.

One night later, facing a Sacramento Kings team without their star scorer Kevin Martin, the Knicks – in theory, at least, had their best opportunity to earn a W. In typical Knicks fashion, they failed to take it. Playing their fourth game in five days, the Knicks produced a thoroughly listless performance in which they were lit up from downtown and at the rim by the unheralded Donte Greene.

Outscored 19-6 in the opening minutes, the Knicks were unable to make a serious run. They were ragged and, at times, downright lazy. Starting the second half with a 10 point deficit, Nate Robinson allowed Greene to go back door for two and then drain an uncontested three on the Kings’ next possession. Mike D’Antoni immediately called for time and chewed out Robinson like a father who’d just found out his son had disgraced his family name. The Knicks lost 111-97 with a whimper.

I’m willing to bet NBA neutrals allergic to defence really enjoyed the final game of the Knicks’ West Coast road trip in Denver. It was a high-scoring D-free affair and D’Antoni’s men showed great heart in hanging in the game as Carmelo Anthony let fly with a 50-point barrage (a career high) and Chauncey Billups added a further 32.

Buoyed by Al Harrington’s 41 points off the bench and a 23 and 10 effort from David Lee, the Knicks repeatedly dragged themselves back into the game  thanks, in part, to some dubious ticky-tack fouls called on Melo and Kenyon Martin. They led 111-110 with three and a half minutes to go and, even when they fell behind by eight points, fought back in the final seconds and gave themselves a chance to send the game to overtime.

With four seconds remaining, JR Smith missed one of two free throws. The score stood at 128-125. With no timeouts, there was nothing D’Antoni could do except to rely on his players. Characteristically, they struggled to inbound the ball, advanced it up the court in a panicked fashion and ultimately failed to get a shot off before the buzzer. Comparing this haphazard and futile play with Melo’s ice-cold execution down the stretch shows exactly what the Knicks are missing. Anthony may lack the flash of Lebron but he has matured into NBA’s purest hoops classicist, always making the right passes and shots. It was a pleasure to watch him at his best.

As for the Knicks, their performance against the Nuggets highlights their plight. Even when they play close to their best, they still lose. Whether they go with rookies or with experience, they still lose. In a week that yielded four defeats from four games in which they fell to a miserable 3 and 13, the fact that the team’s futility can’t lead to a high pick in the 2010 draft once again instilled depression into the team’s long-suffering fans.

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NBA season on the sofa: opening night live blog

The long wait is finally over, the 2009/10 NBA season is upon us. And if you thought the time difference and having a day job would stop the Sports Bloke from delivering his thoughts on baskteball’s opening night from his London lair, you’d be badly mistaken.

With Lebron, Shaq, KG, Jesus, Paul Pierce, Dirk, Gilbert, Brandon Roy, Boom Dizzle and Kobe and Co all on show, the NBA’s opening night promises much. The only big name absentee will be the Clippers No 1 draft pick Blake Griffin, whose fractured kneecap is likely to keep him off the court for six weeks.

With the clock ticking towards tip-off, it’s time to boot up League Pass and settle in for some high quality hoops. God, I’ve missed the NBA!

11:32pm
League Pass is showing a test card as opposed to player warm-ups. Hmmmmmm

11:36pm
Multi-coloured screen of death is no substitute for hoops. It’s 6-2 Celtics, but I can’t see it.

11:45pm
So, 130 US dollars isn’t enough to persuade the NBA to provide a service that works. Found a less legal stream that works. It’s 19-5 to the Cavs and I have no idea what these Chinese commentators are saying.

11:49pm
League Pass finally trundles into action. We have live and legal hoops but I’ve missed most of the first quarter. 26-17 Cavs. Rasheed Wallace seems to be auditioning for a part in a Kid N Play video with his new haircut.

11:51pm
Enormous block on Rondo by Lebron. That’s his third rejection of the game (as many as the Knicks managed in the whole of last season).

11:58pm
Aside from a smooth Marquis Daniels drive to the hoop, it’s been raining bricks in the final two minutes of the first quarter. Cavs lead 28-21 at the break.

12:01am
Is it me or does Milos in the South West Airlines advert look a lot like Michael Phelps?

12:02am
Woo-hoo! My favourite American advert. I haven’t seen it since the NBA finals. Stay thirsty, my friends!

12:07am
Cavs can’t buy a bucket. And yes, Lebron is on the bench. Haven’t we seen somewhere before? No field goals for five minutes.

12:15am
Sheed drains a rainbow three. 32-32.

12:31am
Humility from Shaq re: not taking LBJ’s spotlight. We’ll see how long that lasts this year. Just ask Penny, Kobe, D-Wade or Nash.

12:38am
Instant replay disallows Lebron’s last basket for a shot clock violation. Are you watching, Bud Selig?

12:41am
Half time. Celts up 51-45. 7 of 9 from three.

12:43am
Away we go in Dallas. No sound – thanks again League Pass. I’m really feeling the value for money right now. Gilbert opens the scoring with two free throws.

12:49am
Looks like Sir Charles has fallen off the diet wagon again. I know how that goes. Still no sound on Wiz vs Mavs. It’s like watching an Oakland Athletics home game.

1:04am
Shaq leathers KG with a hard foul. Lovely reverse from Rondo. 59-47 Celtics.

1:07am
Still trying to recover from Slam’s tweet comparing Kevin McHale to Herman Munster. It’s what we were all thinking.

1:13am
Sloppy play from the Celtics. Cavs get three straight stops. A big Anthony Parker three forces a Doc Rivers time out. Ten point game.

1:14am
Stay thirsty, my friends. Again.

1:19am
Ray Allen takes three and half steps before getting fouled at the rim. The new crackdown on travelling has officially lasted two and a half quarters.

1:29am
Lebron’s heating up now. Gets his fourth block, drains a three then earns an and1 taking it to the hoop. 72-65 Celtics after three quarters.

1:34am
Roadhouse Blues by The Doors. Good work, TNT.

1:42am
Cavs go to their Twin Towers line-up: Shaq and Big Z. 80-71 Celtics.

1:44am
Wizards 10 points up on the Mavs after scoring on 8 straight possessions.

1:52am
Garnett runs the floor, rises up and, erm, blows the dunk. No Boston field goals for almost four minutes. Cavs within five.

1:59am
Just as it seems neither team will ever score again, LBJ ends the collective brick-fest with a glorious three pointer to cu the lead to four. Celtics cold as the worst possible time.

2:03am
With 3:42 left in the game, Shaq gets to the line for the first time. Is this some sort of record?

2:08am
Pierce drains a jumper with 1:08 left – Celts lead by six. Seconds earlier, Rondo performed heroics on the offensive boards but failed to convert.

2:10am
Great replay of Celts GM Danny Ainge calling for the hack-a-Shaq in the final minutes. He is greyer than Desert Orchid.

2:14am
Dagger from Paul Pierce. He did nothing all second half then made two crucial shots in the final minute. Ain’t that The Truth.

2:18am
After a free throw fest in the final seconds, Celtics close out for a 95-89 win. Lebron had 38 but it wasn’t enough. Celts record their first win in Cleveland since 2004. Hold tight for the Lakers ring presentation.

2:25am
Class move from the Lakers. Bringing back legends of the past for the ring ceremony. West, Worthy, Nixon, AC Green and Magic. Big Jack seems to approve.

2.30am
Special congratulations to Marko the Lakers massage therapist. That’s worth a ring is it, mate?

2:32am
Someone should take Adam Morrison’s ring away. It’s not deserved.

2:36am
It’s very rare to see Kobe this happy. He looks in his element, almost bursting with pride.

2:41am
It must kill Charles Barkley to watch Adam Morrison pick up a championship ring.

2:44am
Will the Clippers gatecrash the Lakers’ party or just make up the numbers? I’m leaning towards the latter owing to Mike Dunleavy’s unparalleled ability to demotivate players in any given situation.

2:51am
Blake Griffin in street clothes for six weeks. Will the curse of the Clippers ever cease?

02:56am
Kobe completes an and1 and a sweet fadeaway to hear MVP chants two minutes into the season. I’m guessing that is some sort of record.

2:59am
Ron Artest is sporting a Lakers ‘L’ and other intricate designs on his head. Aside from being called for a soft offensive foul and putting up a rather desperate finger roll, it’s been a quiet start for Ron Ron.

3:06am
Wizards complete a convincing 102-91 win over the Mavericks while Portland are cruising against Houston, leading 46-32 in the second quarter. Andre Miller has stopped sulking long enough to record five assists.

3:08am
Who dresses Craig Sager? Stevie Wonder?

3:22am
Nine turnovers for the Clippers in the first quarter. Great way to start the season. Lakers lead 32-22 after one without really breaking sweat.

3:40am
I’m starting to struggle now – been awake for 22 hours, Anyway, with the Laker starters taking a breather, the Clippers cut the lead to three with an 11-1 run. Kobe’s back on the court unsurprisingly.

3:44am
Another Clippers turnover. Dunleavy squints his disapproval.

3:59am
A last second Bynum bucket makes it 59-49 Lakers at half time.

4:49am
One point game after three quarters. 76-75 Lakers.

5:15am
An 18-6 runs puts away the Clippers. Solid efforts from Kobe and Odom, Final score Lakers 99, Clippers 92. Time for bed. Goodnight all.

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All in the game: sportsmen who could be characters in The Wire

A recent Guardian Football Weekly podcast suggested that The Wire’s Baltimorean drug lord Marlo Stanfield would be adept in the English Premier League owing to his uncanny ability to take corners.

The Wire is, in my humble opinion, the greatest TV show ever made. I love it almost as much as I love the sporting endeavours of Steve Nash, Tim Lincecum and Stuart Broad. So, with props to James Richardson and Co for getting the cogs of my brain to turn, the Sports Bloke presents a list of sportsmen who could be characters in The Wire.

Detective Jimmy McNulty is… Andrew Flintoff
McNulty, a supremely talented murder investigator acknowledged by his peers as “natural po-lice” but with an appetite for booze-based self-destruction. Sounds similar to a certain English cricketer we all know and love? Like McNulty, Flintoff has infuriated his bosses and colleagues at points of his career only to be welcomed back into the fold thanks to some superb individual efforts. Both men also ended up “riding the boat” or, in Fred’s case, a pedalo, after cracking under the pressure of their day jobs.

Avon Barksdale is…  Ricky Ponting
At one point, Avon ruled the Baltimore drug trade. His position was untouchable thanks to the support of Stringer Bell and his enforcers Wee-Bey, Stinkum and Bird. As captain of Australia, Ponting dominated world cricket thanks in part to his cricketing “muscle”. For Bell, Bey, Stinkum and Bird, read Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden. When Barksdale lost his lieutenants, he lost control of the game and was jailed at the conclusion of series three. When Ponting attempted to regain the Ashes without his best players, he came up short too.

Bunny Colvin is…  Isiah Thomas
Colvin created Hamsterdam, a chaotic open drug market in which dealers and hoppers could operate free from the threat of arrest. In the world of sport, only Isiah’s tenure as New York Knicks general manager comes close to matching Colvin’s lunacy. Bad trades, horrific man management, a crippling wage bill and a well-publicised sexual harassment scandal all punctuated Zeke’s time in charge at the Garden. If anything, this comparison is unfair to Bunny Colvin.

Ellis Carver is…   Tony Adams
The Sports Lass is convinced the overriding theme of The Wire is the redemption and evolution of Ellis Carver. When we first meet Carver, he and partner Herc specialise in cracking heads of dealers “the Western District way”. As The Wire develops, so does Carver. Stung by his betrayal of Cedric Daniels in series one, he ultimately discovers a more cerebral approach to policing, softening to the point where he attempts to adopt young Randy Wagstaff in series four. In sport, only ex-gooner Tony Adams can rival such a transformation. In the early 1990s, Adams was a booze hound who spent Christmas in jail. Ten years later, he was quoting philosophy, earning a university degree and learning to play the piano.

Omar Little is…  Kobe Bryant
Prior to being gunned down by young Canard in series five, Omar scratched out a profitable living as a stick-up artist par excellence inhabiting a lonely world somewhere between the police and the street. Like Omar, Kobe is also an outsider. He grew up in Italy and entered the NBA aged 17, unable to relate to the locker room banter and bling. However, his solitary existence has never stopped him from excelling professionally. Omar’s focus in his vengeful pursuit of Avon Barkdale’s crew in series one is eerily reminiscent of Kobe’s cool detachment as he fired the Lakers to NBA championship victory over the Orlando Magic earlier this year.

Proposition Joe Stewart is…  Harry Redknapp
Prop Joe survived the ravaged Baltimore streets thanks to his ability to strike deals to save his skin. His “buy for a dollar, sell for two” ethos echoes that of Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, a man who cuts deals for football players as readily as Joe distributes dope. Like Joe, Redknapp has an ungrateful nephew which means Cheese – played by Staten Island’s streetwise troubadour Method Man – must be Chelsea’s Frank Lampard.

Marlo Stanfield is…  Kevin Garnett
After ousting Avon Barksdale as Baltimore’s drug kingpin, Marlo and his crew ruled the streets with a mix of cold-blooded intensity and instant vengeance. Like Marlo, KG is the most intimidating figure in his arena, instilling fear into opponents and teammates (remember when he made Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis cry on the bench) alike with his demands for 100% loyalty and effort. It’s no stretch to imagine Garnett evoking Marlo’s credo “my name is my name” in response to hecklers in opposition arenas.

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