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Knicks take small steps forward as Lebron slips away

At least we know now. After two years of cap-clearing and mediocre performances, the Knicks failed to hit the home run in the Lebron James sweepstakes. The Chosen One will head to South Beach, tarnished reputation in hand, after the bloated hubris of his multimedia campaign on Twitter, online and on ESPN.

Don’t mistake these words for bitterness. Like every Knicks, fan I would have loved Lebron to come to Madison Square Garden. And while it sounds cruel, I couldn’t care less about his supposed betrayal of his hometown fans. Aside from some recent playoff games, the man played his heart out in Cleveland and, after seven years of service, had every right to make the decision he made.

Landing Lebron would have been akin to hitting a big fly out of the park but, remember, there’s more than one way to round the bases. Donnie Walsh’s Plan B is certainly less spectacular than his Plan A but there’s no doubt the addition of Amare Stoudemire, the trade (however painful to accept) of David Lee and the soon-to-be announced addition of a serviceable point guard in Raymond Felton make the Knicks a better team.

It’s just that Walsh has lined a single rather than launched a franchise-changing home run out of the ball park. Remember too that the Knicks’ salary cap woes are a thing of the past. Walsh now has the financial flexibility to make more moves down the line. That might mean a mid-season arrival in exchange for Eddy Curry’s expiring contract. It might even mean the arrival of Carmelo Anthony, a player truly suited to playing in NYC, in 12 months time.

The Knicks decision to fire the first free agency salvo by locking up Amare Stoudemire to a five-year $99 million contract was an impressively bold, if risky, move. Getting Amare to commit to the franchise was a move partly designed to prove to other free agents, particularly Lebron, that the Knicks were serious. After all, Lebron had reportedly lobbied Cleveland for the Phoenix power forward to join him at the trade deadline last season, a request that owner Dan Gilbert was unable to accommodate.

But Amare is far more than mere Lebron-bait. He was arguably the league’s most dominant big man in the second half of last season. Whether he flipped a switch or merely decided to up his level of play to prove he was worth a max deal is immaterial. He is an asset to any team and knows Mike D’Antoni’s system well. The downside? He rebounds sporadically and plays minimal defence. Scaremongers will also point to his injury history but his rebuilt knee and dodgy eye didn’t seem to bother him as he and Steve Nash propelled the Suns to the Western Conference finals, did they?

Most importantly, Stoudemire has the grapefruits to play in New York City. According to those in Phoenix with understanding of his personal history, the travails of the New York media are nothing compared to what the big man has experienced in his life. Give me a player willing to openly embrace a new city over a superstar willing to hold a country to ransom any day of the week.

Lebron’s decision to join the Miami Heat indirectly meant that Knicks fans were forced to say goodbye to David Lee. With no Lebron to show for his efforts, Donnie Walsh went to Plan B and signed-and-traded the Knicks’ most tradeable asset to the Golden State Warriors for Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azuibuke. There’s no doubt Lee will be missed. With the Knicks in almost perpetual turmoil, he elevated himself from a rebounding rookie role player to 20/10 All Star despite being forced to play out of position most of the time. He’s ultimately become a victim of Isiah Thomas’ cap mismanagement. While I will miss him, I really like the trade.

The key prize in the Lee trade is Randolph. He is long, athletic and there’s no limit on how effective he can be. He’s also a natural fit for the D’Antoni system. In April 2009, I was in Oakland to watch him dominate in a Warriors victory over the New Orleans Hornets. The downside? Like Stoudemire, he has a reputation for being injury prone. He also doesn’t have much of a post game. But the positives undoubtedly outweigh the negatives, especially when you add Turiaf’s shot blocking and Azuibuke’s defence.

As things stand, the Knicks will boast a massive frontcourt next season. With the Golden State three joining Amare, Danilo Gallinari, the Earl of Barron and the freshly acquired Jerome Jordan, Lee’s rebounds shouldn’t be missed and the interior defence should improve.

The final piece of Walsh’s free agency puzzle appears to be the acquisition of Charlotte Bobcats point guard Raymond Felton. Unimpressed with Charlotte’s overtures last summer, Felton, now a free agent, has found a ready suitor in the Knicks, agreeing a three-year $25 million deal expected to be finalised today. Felton occupies the middle tier of NBA point guards. He’s no Nash, Paul or Williams but he’s likely to be a more consistent player than Luke Ridnour, his competition for a spot on the Knicks roster. With Felton in place and Toney Douglas backing him up, the Knicks backcourt suddenly looks a lot tougher than it has been in recent years. The only issue may be outside shooting but Douglas showed improvement from beyond the arc when he made his late-season surge.

Felton, Douglas and Wilson Chandler will be joined in the backcourt by rookie guard Andy Rautins. The Canadian second round draft pick is considered a top long-range shooter. He made 282 threes in his last college season alone. But while Rautins undoubtedly will suit the Knicks offence, his selection ahead of New York native Lance Stephenson did raise some questions.

If there’s ever a right time to give your fan base a boost by drafting a local guy who might be a bit of a risky pick, that time is most likely to be in the middle of the second round. Yes, Stephenson, who like Stephon Marbury attended Lincoln High School in Brookyln, was described as a headcase after being anointed as a high school phenom. But, in addition to a stellar year at the University of Cincinnati, he also lost 30 pounds and was reportedly jumping out of the gym during draft workouts. He even thought the Knicks would draft him.

Why not take the chance? It was the 39th pick, Donnie, no-one would’ve complained if it didn’t work out! Can you imagine the scenes in the Garden if, as a Knick, Stephenson could have repeated his recent college form in the NBA? Now we’ll never know.

Thanks to free agency, the draft and sign-and-trades, next year’s Knicks roster has suddenly taken shape. There’s no point dwelling on Lebron or offering grades every time Walsh and D’Antoni make a move (I’m looking at you Berman!). There was only going to one winner of the James sweepstakes. It was key that the teams left disappointed still found ways to make progress.

The Knicks and Bulls have done this. To my mind, the Nets and the Clippers have not. Next season there will be one dominant team in the East and they won’t be wearing blue and orange. But the moves Walsh has made leave the Knicks as realistic contenders for the sixth, seventh or eighth seeds. And if they can achieve that, acquiring Melo, Tony Parker or Chris Paul in 2011 will be that much easier.

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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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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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Barely worth their place in the NBA: New York Knicks season on the sofa week two review

Knicks fans, fasten your metaphorical crash helmet because, on the evidence of the four games over the last seven days, this season is shaping up to be a true test of faith and loyalty. This season is going to hurt and, most of the time, it is going to be embarassing.

It is two hours after the Knicks walked off the court at the Bradley Center after a truly humiliating 102-87 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks. They conceded 40 first quarter points to a team averaging 87 a game. Their offense was putrid. They turned the ball over repeatedly. The defence was so poor it was inexcusable. In short, the Knicks didn’t even look good enough to be considered an NBA team. They played so badly in this game that Walt Frazier could be heard laughing in disbelief at their collective ineptitude.

The Milwaukee massacre provided a sad end to a week that had begun brightly. Monday night’s game against New Orleans finally gave the Knicks their first win of the season. They appeared to have learned the lessons handed down in their opening three defeats. Gone was the over-reliance on the three, the lack of ball movement and the absence of team defence replaced by Al Harrington slashing his way to the basket, Danilo Gallinari faking threes and creating easy baskets inside for David Lee and, (at times) a swarming defensive effort that forced Chris Paul and Co into bad shots and turnovers. Instead of the sluggish starts that hindered their progress in the season’s opening week, the Knicks came out sharp and slick with Larry Hughes hitting shots propelling the home team into a 12-point lead. When the Hornets made a third quarter run to briefly retake the lead, the Knicks, led by Lee (28 points) and Harrington (24 points), put the game away with a 40-point fourth quarter. They ran out convincing winners 117-111.

Mike D’Antoni described the Knicks’ first win of the season as “a massive step forward” but, as has happened many times, was made to eat his words by his team’s feeble efforts in their next match-up against the Indiana Pacers. A lethargic defensive display and thoroughly anti-clutch 0 for 10 shooting in the game’s final nine minutes resulted in a humbling 101-89 defeat to a severely depleted and previously winless Pacers team playing its second game in two nights. Even though Danny Grainger fouled out with four minutes remaining, the Knicks could not keep up with the Jonses, Dahntay and Solomon.

Fans will accept losing to the likes of the Celtics, the Lakers, the Magic and the Cavs. What will infuriate them is losing badly at home to teams in the bottom halves of their conferences. If the Knicks aspire to respectability, games in the Garden against the likes of the Pacers are games they simply must win.

Being blighted by inconsistency is no way to prepare for the Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The return of the King threatened to be a blow out on paper and so it proved. The game was over was as a contest after one quarter after 19 points from Lebron secured a 40-21 lead. Despite the Knicks playing decent defence in the game’s opening possessions,  the Cavs still started seven for seven. James drained three pointers, created two easy baskets with quality passing, made a buzzer beater and even found time to pat Larry Hughes on the arse after successfully launching a three in his face.

Aside from a couple of mini-runs, the Knicks fell listless for the remainder of the game. Unhappy with the lack of heart and passion shown by his experienced players, Mike D’Antoni gave second quarter minutes to rookie Jordan Hill who made an energetic five-minute cameo during which he made three of five field goals and turned the ball over twice.

As the game meandered to its inevitable conclusion, former Knicks-turned-TV-commentators Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy lamented the Knicks’ ongoing “talent issues” and agreed that their failure to establish a low post and/or pick and roll game was the primary cause of the long periods of offensive stagnation and their field goal and three point shooting percentages. The Knicks reduced the Cavs’ 20 point lead to single figures in the dying minutes of the game to make the final score a semi-respectable 100-91 but that masks how inferior they were to their opponents. James’ 33 point, nine assist, eight rebound performance showed the Knicks everything they are missing. The man is supremely skilled but he is also a fine team mate and leader, revelling in the atmosphere at MSG and enjoying his team mates’ successes. As Chris Rock suggested when he was interviewed courtside, “when Al Harrington is your go-to guy, you know you are in trouble”.

Twenty-four hours later, the Knicks were thoroughly dissected in Milwaukee. After hitting their first four shots, they totally and utterly capitulated to trail the Bucks 66-35 at the half. Don’t bother with the box score for this game. Instead, ask yourself this question. How on earth has D’Antoni avoided criticism for the sad state of his team? His over-hyped, one-dimensional offense only splutters sporadically into life. His team play no defence at all and are regularly out of games by half time. His players amble through increasingly heavier defeats making basic mistakes and looking like they couldn’t care less. There’s no team work, especially on the defensive end.

When is someone going to ask why this team have quit on the coach seven miserable games into a new season? If there’s truth to the rumour that the players are insulted by the New York media’s focus on Lebron and have decided to sleepwalk through the season, that’s as big an indictment on the coach as anything that happened in the Isiah era. And remember, thanks to Mr Thomas, even if the Knicks tank the entire season there’s no draft pick at the end of it. Donnie Walsh will argue that this current Knicks squad have little bearing on his long term vision for the team. Next year’s roster will bear little resemblance to the one currently embarrassing the Big Apple. It is too much to ask the MSG faithful to sit through performances this bad on the promise of a better tomorrow. While everyone expected the Knicks to be mediocre this year, nobody was prepared for them being this poor. If he cannot coax better effort from his team, Mike D’Antoni will need to grow a thick skin if he is to make it to Walsh’s promised land of free agent nirvana in the summer of 2010.

On this week’s evidence, the NBA’s most popular coach is looking more and more like a fraud. On this week’s evidence, the Knicks are still a total mess. On this week’s evidence, there’s no way Lebron James will be caught dead in a blue and orange uniform next season.

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What we’ve learned from the first week of the NBA season

After just three nights of action, it might be a little too early for experts to draw too many conclusions pertaining to the new NBA season. Fortunately, the Sports Bloke isn’t an expert and is more than happy to pontificate on the games he’s watched so far.

It’s all just a little bit of history repeating Part 1
Anyone under the misapprehension that the addition of Shaquille O’Neal would propel the Cavaliers to that elusive first championship will surely feel chastened after Cleveland, despite two titanic performances from Lebron James, lost their opening two games to Boston and Toronto.
The Cavs were made to look lumbering as they were outfought by the Celtics and outpaced by the Raptors. Their shortlived attempt to evoke the 1986 Houston Rockets’ Twin Towers offence using Shaq and Big Z was truly horrible and quickly ditched. Even worse, in the crucial moments in the Celtics game, “coach” Mike Brown reverted to the “give it to Lebron and stand aside” ploy that drew so much criticism in last season’s playoffs. Despite signing a rash of free agents and hyping their chances for the year, it seems the Cavs have left LBJ bereft of the second and third wheels he so desperately needs.

The wisdom of NBA scouts shines through again
Two words. Dejuan Blair. The Spurs rookie might not have any ACLs but, judging by his double-double against the Hornets (14 points and 11 boards on 7-of-10 shooting), he’s got just about everything else. Conventional scouting wisdom over Blair’s slim chances of a long-term career caused team after team to pass on him in the draft. He slipped down into the second round where he was picked up by the Spurs whose point surely was: even if his career lasts three years, at least we get three years of low cost, high production from the guy so why not sign him? Why not, indeed?

Kevin McHale has the worst posture in television history
International League Pass used TNT’s coverage of opening night which meant viewers from all around the world got to see the ever-excellent banter between EJ, Kenny Smith and Sir Charles at half time and after the games. I was looking forward to this until, inexplicably, TNT returned to the studio for a segment where, rather than being sat behind their desks, the team, replete with new addition Kevin McHale, did a segment where they were standing on the studio floor. Look, I know basketball players are tall, but McHale loomed over Ernie Johnson in a manner akin to Herman Munster. I was glad to see the Celtics legend back behind a desk for Thursday’s coverage.

SVG not impressed by pre-game hoopla
The Orlando Magic were playing there first home game of the season, also their first since becoming Eastern Conference champions. The fans were in fine voice, the players buzzing for their first meaningful action and the PA announcer doing his level best to hype things to the absolute maximum. After introducing Howard, Nelson, Carter and Co, the announcer got to Stan Van Gundy. Cue a close-up of the portly porn star coach looking about as interested as a teenage son being taught how to rewire a plug by his father. C’mon Stan, it’s the first week of the season, stop killing our buzz.

It’s all just a little bit of history repeating Part 2
It may be unfair to draw conclusions after just one game, but the Knicks blowout at the hands of the Miami Heat suggested that Mike (No D’) Antoni has again failed to address the defensive issues that made his team an entertaining liability for the whole of last season. Things didn’t look too bad for two quarters with Jared “Mr Fumbles” Jeffries switching to guard Mario Chalmers. Sadly for the Knicks, the Heat worked out D’Antoni’s scheme after a quarter and a half and, with no Plan B, the Knicks subsided to an all-too-familiar 20 point road defeat.

The return of the Dos Equis advert
Yes, the most interesting man in the world is back, occasionally experiencing moments of self-doubt and living vicariously through himself. I live in the UK and this advert had been sadly missing from my life since the League Pass coverage of the NBA finals. In these five months, I have found out that Dos Equis is available in one place in London (a Mexican restaurant in Covent Garden). For me, the Dos Equis ad is inexorably associated with watching basketball and seeing it again was like meeting up with an old friend. It was the icing on the cake of the end of basketball’s tedious summer drought. Stay thirsty, my friends.

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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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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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