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It’s not a kind of Magic: Knicks season on the sofa week 6 review part 1

Hands up who expected the Knicks to be swept by Orlando and Phoenix in their first three games of the week? Yep, me too. And, true to form, the Knicks got nowhere near the Magic in two attempts, even though Stan Van Gundy’s team sleep-walked their way through the first two quarters of Sunday’s matinee match-up at Madison Square Garden.

Superior shooting from Rashard Lewis sparked a 14-4 third quarter run that the Knicks from which the Knicks could not recover. A one-man fourth quarter rally from Nate Robinson got New York within six points at 92-86 but the Magic’s depth ultimately told and a 114-102 final score didn’t flatter Stan Van Gundy’s men.

The teams faced off again four nights later, this time in Orlando, and the outcome was all too familiar. The Knicks were already trailing when Lewis and Michael Pietrus each drained four 3-pointers in the third quarter to extend the Magic’s lead to 22. Six Magic players scored in double figures including former Maverick Brandon Bass, who had a season-high 17 points. The Magic shot 55% for the game and cruised to a comfortable 118-104 win.

Aside from 20-point games from Danilo Gallinari and (at long last) Wilson Chandler, the only other story of note for the Knicks was Mike D’Antoni’s decision to leave Nate Robinson on the bench for the whole game. The embattled coach cited a “search for consistency” as the reason for Robinson’s omission in the post-game presser but did not elaborate further.

In between twin beating at the hands of the Magic, the Knicks surprised everyone with a stellar performance at Madison Square Garden against the Phoenix Suns. With shots falling and a concerted team defensive effort, the struggling Knicks transformed themselves into an entertaining fluid force as they handed the Suns a shocking 126-99 beatdown. It probably helped that the Suns turned in a performance flatter than roadkill and played next to no defence. The loss ended the Suns’ four-game winning streak and was the first time all season they’d been kept to under 100 points.

Stand-out performances for the Knicks included David Lee’s 24 points (10-13) and Gallinari’s 27 points which included six sweet threes. The much-maligned Jared Jeffries filled the box score with a 25-minute burst that comprised 10 points, four blocks, four asssists, five rebounds, a steal and, most amazingly, no turnovers. Jeffries best moment came when he faked out a charging Amare Stoudemire and drove baseline to score at the hoop. He also guarded Steve Nash for much of the game and kept the free-scoring playmaker in check. Maybe it’s just Jared’s bad luck that he, as a more-than-servicable defensive player, finds himself stuck on an offensively-obsessed team in a system that hardly ever showcases the things he does well.

For most struggling teams, this win would have been hailed as a turning point in the season. However, the Suns were so insipid that not even Mike D’Antoni would label it as such. Combine that with the Knicks’ developing trend for only putting in the required effort once a week (last week it was the road game in Denver, the week before it was the home game against Boston) and you can see why no-one was getting too excited. As it turned out, in view of their loss to Orlando 24 hours later, it was wise to keep the hyperbole in check.

Short of jumping back into Doc Brown’s DeLorean and bringing the Garden greats back to the future, it’s tough to see how the Knicks can change things until July 1, 2010. The team is so used to losing at this stage that every rare win threatens to take on greater significance than it actually has.

The Sports Bloke’s jury is still out on D’Antoni. When he was flying high with Phoenix, nobody stopped to wonder whether his system needed elite players to work. Now, with Chris Duhon and Larry Hughes running the show instead of Nash, it doesn’t look anywhere near as effective. The truly worrying thing is that, deified as an offensive genius, D’Antoni has failed to come up with any alternatives more suitable to the inferior talent on his current roster. Or maybe he, like everyone else, has decided to switch off and see what gifts Donnie Walsh brings him next summer.

Note: this week’s season on the sofa is split in two parts as the Sports Bloke will be away at All Tomorrow’s Parties watching My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Primal Scream this weekend. Part two will follow on Monday

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Filed under Basketball, nba, New York Knicks, Season on the sofa

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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Filed under Basketball, nba, Season on the sofa