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