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.