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New season, same old problems for the New York Knicks

The diagnosis nine games into the season? No defence; bullied on the boards; prone to turnovers and making boneheaded plays at vital moments; a oft-stagnating offence with an over-reliance on the three-ball. Welcome to the 2010/11 New York Knicks – a roster of new players seemingly afflicted with exactly the same problems as last year’s vintage.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not if you believed the hype. Upgrades at point guard and power forward. Young players with another year of experience under their belt. A player able to defend multiple positions with limitless upside. Oh yes, and a coach finally with the players he wanted at his disposal.

But instead of revelling in a new look team and their obvious playoff potential, these early season Knicks performances bear an awful similarity to the dross served up in Madison Square Garden over the last 18 months or so.

Opposing players enjoying record-breaking nights courtesy of an uncommitted and porous defence. Bad shooters jacking up 25 plus threes every night and (apart from in Chicago) missing most of them. And, worst of all, an inability to make plays when they matter most – in the final moments of a game.

Face it, if you heard Kevin Love had recorded the NBA’s first 30 point, 30 board game in 28 years but didn’t know the schedule well enough to know who Minnesota’s opponents were, would it have taken you more than two guesses to identify the rebound-allergic Knicks as the team on the receiving end?

Let’s try another. If you were told an NBA team’s first three home losses of the season each came in games in which they held the lead with less than five minutes left, how long would it take you to identify the hapless team in question as the New York Knicks. Yeah, thought so.

This particular statistic is the reality for anyone happy that, unlike last year, the Knicks “are in every game they play”. Last time I checked, the standings don’t have a column for ‘moral victories’. And losing, it seems, is a harder habit to break than the off-season optimism suggested.

I won’t pretend I haven’t been scarred by the turgid performances on the road at Minnesota and Milwaukee. But not to the point where I’ve been blinded to (the admittedly few) positives the Knicks have shown to this point.

So here’s another question. If the San Antonio Spurs had drafted Landry Fields in the second round and the young rookie had earned a place as a starter with his characteristcally efficient play, how long would it take the NBA cogniscenti to hail Gregg Popovich a genius once again?

Fields looks to be an excellent all-round player. He’s athletic, he’s selective and (apart from fouling three point shooters) he’s intelligent. His consistency is at odds with the hot and cold nature of the Knicks but his willingness to do the little things well at least provides Mike D’Antoni with a bona fide building block in his starting five.

Another plus point has been the presence of Rony Turiaf. I say presence, rather than play, because the Frenchman’s court time has been limited by injury. Is there any other layer in this league who so obviously enjoys the succcess of his team mates as much as Turiaf?

That might seem like an insignificant thing but, during a long season with as many ups and downs as the Knicks are bound to have, a locker room presence as strong as that provided by Turiaf could be crucial to team harmony.

And don’t think I didn’t notice his on-court contributions helping the Knicks to become the league’s leading shot blocking team. Yes, it hasn’t actually made any major difference in terms of wins but after what seemed like a block-free 2009/10 season, seeing some regular swats is a welcome sight.

Not that Fields or the injured Turiaf could do anything to stop the Knicks sliding to four successive losses after a decent 3-2 start. The buck stops with Mike D’Antoni.

Even if he hadn’t coached Amare Stoudemire for five years in Phoenix, you’d think acquiring a $100 million player would mean you’d have some idea of how best to use his talents. Stoudemire is at his best in the pick and roll or in the high post. He needs the ball on the move or with space to work. Dumping the ball down to him in the low post where he is STAT-ic absolutely kills the Knicks.

If Amare has no room to work, the ball invariably ends up being passed around the perimeter before a poor trey is launched at the basket. The result? The offensive stagnation that has blighted the Knicks for full quarters at a time in virtually every game they have played. No wonder teams have started to employ the zone against them.

Stoudemire’s problems have also led to him leading the league in turnovers. Dribbling balls off his feet and throwing ridiculous passes when faced with defensive pressure is one reason. The failure of Stoudemire and Raymond Felton to click in the pick and roll is the other. D’Antoni must know Stoudemire is at his best in the pick and roll. Why this wasn’t made a point of emphasis in pre-season fails me.

Felton is a tough and solid player and I expected him and Amare to click on the pick and roll right away. I mean, even Chris Duhon was able to do this with David Lee. This play should be the Knicks’ biggest weapon and, right now, their principal players can’t run it consistently well. And without it, shooters like Danilo Gallinari struggle to get into the game.

D’Antoni’s “we’re working on it, it’ll get better” mantra isn’t providing much comfort. From memory, both Fields and Gallo have hooked up Stoudemire in the pick and roll at points – maybe that’s the way forward, especially in the closing minutes of games – if Felton can’t get it done.

Ultimately, the Knicks offence remains an undeniable mess. And D’Antoni, the once universally acknowledged offensive genius, can’t deny it. He has the ‘athletic’ players he wanted to implement his schemes – there are no excuses.

With nine games played, there’s obviously lots of time to rectify what has turned into a disappointing start. Making a desperation move for the freshly divorced Steve Nash isn’t going to do it. It’s down to the coach. D’Antoni has to do a better job – starting tonight at home against Houston.

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Two steps forward, three steps back: Knicks season on the sofa week 22 review

With just two games, as Fighting Talk legend Greg Brady would say, on the docket, the last seven days have been relatively short on excitement in Knick-land. As has become customary this season, momentum built in an excellent, if ultimately fortunate home win over the Denver Nuggets was halted almost immediately by a heavy road loss to the Phoenix Suns.

As this stuttering season draws to its conclusion, the real stars of the year once again stood tall. I’m not talking about David Lee, Danilo Gallinari or the rising Toney Douglas. I’m referring to the Madison Square Garden crowd. Against Denver, in another ultimately meaningless game, the Garden crowd created yet another play-off like atmosphere as the Knicks overcame 36 points from the NBA’s purest scorer Carmelo Anthony to pull out an unlikely 109-104 win.

Hours after going on the record with his desire to regularly guard the opposition’s best player, Gallinari backed up his bravado as his third quarter scoring burst allowed the Knicks to take control of proceedings. Gallo’s duel with Melo was the feature of the game. The pair traded huge shots, jawed at each other and ended the game with obvious mutual respect. Anthony’s 36 points suggested he won their individual battle, but the final score proved The Rooster won the war.

If David Lee ever decides to quit basketball, he may find alternative employment in legal circles. With under three minutes left, the Knicks all star was called for a blocking foul, his sixth of the game. Somehow, he was able to convince the officials his feet were outside the restricted area under the basket. He wasn’t. But the officials believed him and overturned the call. It was a crucial turning point in the game. Had Lee fouled out, a characteristic final minute meltdown may have ensued as the Nuggets tightened the screw. Lee remained on the court and marshalled the Knicks to the win.

While Gallo vs Melo stole the headlines, rookie Toney Douglas again demonstrated why he is a 2010/11 keeper. He had three fouls and no points at the half but, as is becoming customary, did not let his head drop. Douglas bounced back with gusto in the second half, pouring in 16 points and handing out seven assists. Once again he overcame individual problems to play a key role in a team win.

Any satisfaction Mike D’Antoni took from the Denver victory was summarily erased by his former players when the Knicks travelled to Phoenix for the first match-up of a five game Western conference road trip. It was a brutal night as Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and company took revenge for the shellacking they received at Madison Square Garden last December.

The Suns started off with a 14-3 burst that effectively ended the game as a contest. The Suns scored 30+ points in every quarter and outscored their opponents by 10+ points in three of the four stanzas. The Knicks mailed it in to such an extent that Channing Frye, the former Knick widely regarded as the softest player in the league after Eddy Curry, pulled down 11 rebounds, Nash and STAT only had to play for 27 minutes and Goran Dragic dished out 10 assists. The Suns were allowed to shoot 55% from the floor and outrebounded New York 56 to 38.

The sadness in a performance as poor as this is that it’s not even surprising. The game was a carbon copy of the week road effort against the Celtics a couple of weeks ago. We know the Knicks are undersized and over-matched by the league’s better team but surrendering by 36 points when you’re facing four more touch road games in quick succession is unacceptable.

With Utah and Portland up next, it’s hard to see how D’Antoni will lift his team to a level approaching respectable effort. The only meagre positive for these games is that the Knicks trademark inconsistency means they might raise their game at the time we least expect it. At least this Friday’s game at the equally defence-less Golden State should be a rollicking, entertaining score-fest for people of all ages to enjoy.

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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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The Sports Bloke’s Top 10 sporting moments of the decade

As the noughties (officially the worst decade name EVER) draw to a close, it’s the perfect time to consider the most magical, unforgettable, outstanding moments of the last 10 years.

It’s a given there will be a rash of these lists in newspapers and online and there’ll no doubt be a a vague consensus as to which moments are the most memorable. You can expect Kelly Holmes’ golden Olympic double, Lennox Lewis’ knockout of a faded Mike Tyson and Liverpool’s Champions League final comeback to feature prominently. None of these moments make my list, and here’s why.

When I thought about the most personally compelling sporting moments of the last decade, I was drawn to memories of utterly unbridled joy, sadness or exhilaration. With the three examples above, I didn’t see Kelly Holmes’ wins live, I don’t care whether Liverpool win or lose and Lewis’ win against Iron Mike was completely one-sided and nowhere near as memorable as his battles with Evander Holyfield. None of these achievements made me scream, shout, punch the air or even exhale with the release of tension.

The moments I’ve chosen are strictly personal. I either witnessed them live in person or was 100% emotionally invested in them when I watched them live on TV. All 10 took my breath away. So, without further ado, here’s the Sports Bloke’s Top 10 sporting moments of the decade.

Cricket: England vs Australia, 2nd Test, Edgbaston, July 2005
It should have been easy. It turned into the most tense, desperate and ultimately joyous conclusion to a test match. England needed two wickets to draw level in the Ashes. Australia needed an unlikely 107 runs for a series-killing 2-0 lead. On the way to the ground we all felt we’d only see half an hour of play. But Shane Warne and fellow tail-ender Brett Lee had other ideas, carving the English bowling to all parts in a desperate effort to reach their unlikely target. When Flintoff forced Warne to tread on his stumps, the target was down to 62. The partisan Edgbaston crowd breathed an epic sigh of relief. Just one wicket to go. But it didn’t come. the confidence of Lee and last man Michael Kasprowicz grew. The target continued to wittle away. Tension enveloped the ground and was made worse by the group of 50 or so Aussie “Fanatics” chanting “(insert number here) runs to go, (insert number here) runs to go” each time a run was scored.

England were going to blow their chance. I had predicted an English Ashes win about six months before the series and started to receive texts from friends blaming me for getting their hopes up. In the ground, people sat with transfixed looks of horror etched on their faces. The target was down to four. Steve Harmison searched for a yorker but produced a full toss. Lee carved it towards the boundary. It should have been the winning runs. But it went straight to the only English fielder in the area for a single. Then came the moment. Kasprowicz gloved a Steve Harmison bouncer. Wicketkeeper Geraint Jones claimed the catch. And oh-so-crucially, umpire Billy Bowden raised his finger. Pandemonium does not describe the crowd reaction accurately enough. Roll unbridled joy, unparalleled relief and emotional exhaustion into one and you might be close. England won by 2 runs and would go on to win the Ashes for the first time in 19 years. Simply the most amazing sporting moment I have ever witnessed in person.

Usain Bolt Olympic 100 metre final, Beijing 2008
If I was totally objective and not obsessed with cricket, Usain Bolt’s devastating performance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics 100 metres final would have been a clear No 1 on this list. Bolt’s effort was, in equal measure, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, supremely arrogant and uniquely entertaining as he effortlessly powered his way to a previously unfathomable world record time of 9.69 seconds. Knowing he had left the rest of the field in his wake, Bolt extended his arms and eased up with around 30 metres to go as if to say “look how easily I can do this”. He emphasized his dominance of the event one year later at the World Championships lowering the world record to 9.58 seconds, a time that had only seemed possible on 1980s video game Track and Field. I was at a wedding on the day of the Olympic 100 metre final and, at the reception, deliberately spilt food over myself to create an excuse to go to my room to get a change of tie whereupon I watched Bolt’s record-shattering race live. There was no way I was going to miss it.

NFL: NY Giants win the Super Bowl
On their way to a perfect 19-0 season, the New England Patriots didn’t even consider the possibility of losing Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants. They’d even printed up 19-0 t-shirts to wear after they’d cruised to victory. But Belicheck, Brady, Moss and Co reckoned without the grit of Big Blue. People will always talk about David Tyree’s amazing one-handed catch or Eli Manning’s Houdini act that help him evade the Pats defence and make the pass to Tyree. For me, Manning’s winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress is the memory that I treaure most. Riveted on a sofa at 3am in London, I saw the pass in slow motion, floating into the end zone with Burress closing in on it and found time to wake up my neighbours by shrieking “CATCH IT, PLAXICO” at the top of my lungs. Plax obliged, the Giants led and there was nothing the Pats could do.

Football: Germany 1 England 5
The result that fooled a nation into thinking Sven Goran-Eriksson was a genius and prompted the classic News of the World headline “Don’t Mention The Score”. An historically emphatic win over Germany shouldn’t have eradicated the pain of losing to them on penalties in Italia 90 and Euro 1996. After all, this was a qualifier and those were semi-finals. The smug Matthaus and Moller were long gone and Germany were a much weaker team then when they dominated international tournament football in the 1990s. But, but, but…… WE BEAT GERMANY FIVE ONE AWAY!!!! Michael Owen’s hat trick, Steven Gerrard’s late first half thunderbolt, Emile Heskey’s golf putt celebration, Sven laughing when the fifth goal went in. Up to this point, I don’t think I’d ever witnessed a sporting event that made me this deliriously happy. In the long run, normal service was resumed. Months later, England were dumped out of the World Cup at the quarter final stage while the German team they thrashed went to the final proving my Dad’s only football mantra: never bet against the Germans.

Boxing: Marco Antonio Barrera vs Erik Morales I
I came very close to including the first Arturo Gatti vs Mickey Ward fight over this but, in terms of excitement, I think Barrera vs Morales I just edges it for me. I had this fight on a video with a Barcelona vs Deportivo la Coruna in La Liga. Depor came from two nil down to win in the Nou Camp in what was one of the best football matches I’ve seen. It was only fitting that Barrera vs Morales I found a home alongside it. The February 2000 showdown was so ferocious it signalled a shift in the focus on boxing from the heavyweights to the little men. I had seen Morales dismantle an opponent in two rounds on the undercard of a Lennox Lewis pay per view in 1999. I knew nothing about Barrera. So what I witnessed in that first fight had elements of surprise and discovery about it.

Fighting for Morales’ WBC Super Bantamweight title, both Mexcian warriors displayed masses of heart and machismo in addition to iron chins concussive punching power. Pride meant neither men would yield the advantage for more than a few seconds. Throughout the fight, they stood toe to toe exchanging haymakers. There was no let-up in the intensity at any point in the 12-round battle. Both men emerged cut and battered after the final bell. Barrera probably edged it on points. Morales won on a split decision. It was voted Ring magazine’s fight of the year. In my mind, it was the fight of the decade.

PDC World Darts Final 2003: John Part vs Phil Taylor
Darts may be criticised for not being a real sport but I would defy anybody holding that opinion to not be utterly enthralled by John Part’s defeat of Phil Taylor in the 2003 PDC final. Darts purists may point to Raymond van Barneveld beating Taylor a few years later as a better match. For me, Part’s win ranks higher because at the time of his victory, Taylor looked utterly invincible. Relying on 100-120-range three dart checkouts, Part built a 4-1 lead before Taylor won 11 straight legs and roared back into 5-4 lead. The Power seemed certain to bully his way to yet another world title but Part sank pressure doubles to retake the lead six sets to five. Taylor broke back to send the final to a deciding set and again looked favourite to win. But Darth Maple again wound up the pressure on Taylor who, for the first time in nearly 10 years, had no response. Part stayed calm, sank his doubles and slayed the giant of darts to win his second world title.

England vs Australia, Rugby World Cup Final 2003
I’m not going to pretend I’m a huge rugby enthusiast. I watch the England internationals and, like most of the country, fell in love with Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Robinson for six weeks at the end of 2003. If you take cycling and rowing out of the equation, English victories in world cups are extremely rare and should be celebrated accordingly. The 2003 rugby world cup final remains memorable as it was the only time in my life I got drunk three times in 24 hours. The night before the game I nervously hit the sauce with my mate Herman. It was only supposed to be a couple of gentle beers but got out of hand.

The next morning we headed to the then Australian enclave of Shepherd’s Bush for 7am and got on the beers in a pub full of Aussies. Watching this game was one of the last times I truly enjoyed watching sport in the boozer. England dominated the game from the scrum but were stymied by some dodgy refereeing. With the game in the dying seconds of extra time and the game poised to be decided on a drop goal shootout, Jonny Wilkinson stepped up and won the game with that drop goal. I remember almost crying and repeating the phrase “we never win anything” over and over again. We then went to Clapham to meet some mates where I ate a fry-up (it was nearly midday by now) and fell asleep in a pub. When I woke up, we drank in celebration of a rare England world cup victory.

Steve Redgrave’s fifth gold medal, Sydney Olympics
This historic moment happened at around midnight UK time. I had the TV on mute and Alan Green’s commentary on Radio Five. I don’t remember much about the race other than Redgrave, Pinsent, Cracknell and the bloke who looked a bit like Emmanuel Petit starting quickly and hanging on for grim death at the end. What lingers in my mind is Green’s manic Irish intonations, urging a nation of listeners to “get up on your feet and salute the greatest Olympian of all time”. I have goose bumps from typing those words. One of the rare times when a commentator dealt with the moment in the most perfect way.

South Africa beat Australia by one wicket, ODI, March 2006
Sometimes, like with Usain Bolt, you watch sport because you know something great is going to happen. Other times, you stumble on great sporting moments by mistake. I’m still not entirely sure why Sky were televising this game but I’m really glad they did. If the 2005 Ashes was the pinnacle of test cricket, this match was definitely the greatest one day international ever played. Ricky Ponting smashed 164 of 105 balls as Australia set a record one day score of 434 of their 50 overs. Surely there was no way back for South Africa.

Undaunted by the mammoth target, Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith set about the Australian bowling. Smith was eventually dismissed ten runs shrt of his hundred but it was Gibbs who ultimately made the impossible possible. He battered 175 runs in just 111 balls and, by the time he was out, had made South Africa favourites for the win. In typical fashion, the Aussies fought back. When Nathan Bracken dismissed Justin Kemp, South Africa needed 77 of the last seven overs. The teams traded wickets and boundaries until, with one wicket left, Mark Boucher struck the winning boundary off the game’s penultimate delivery. 872 runs had been scored off 99.5 overs. That wasn’t the only record set in this match. Aussie bowler Mick Lewis’ 10 over cost him 113 runs, the worst ever figures in a 50-over game.

New York Knicks vs Phoenix Suns, January 2006
This one was very personal to me. It was the best basketball game I’ve ever seen in person pitting my team (New York) against my favourite player (Steve Nash) in my favourite sporting arena (Madison Square Garden). The Suns were (and might still be) the most entertaining team in the NBA at this time. New York were (and still are) mediocre at best. On this night, Stephon Marbury and Co came to compete. Nash turned in a 22-assist performance featuring a handful of alley-oop passes to Shawn Marion. For the Knicks, David Lee had a coming out party, scoring 23 points and hauling down 15 rebounds. Eddy Curry had a 20-10 game too.

The Knicks blew a fourth quarter lead and the game went into overtime. In the end, the Suns wilted in the third extra period and the Knicks, led to Marbury’s 32 points, eventually prevailed 140-133. What stays with me about this game is the way that the play of boths teams bought the MSG crowd to life. By the third overtime, people all over the arena were utterly sucked in to what, in the grand scheme of things, was just another regular season game. My favourite player battling my favourite team in a triple overtime classic at the world’s most famous arena with a sold-out crowd going out of their minds. This was the day I properly gave my heart to basketball.

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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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Wake up and smell the despair: Knicks season on the sofa week three review

Three games, three defeats, shifting starting line-ups and an incomprehensibly bungled rotation. Oh, and the worst start to a season in franchise history. Just another desperate week in the life of the New York Knicks.

Home defeats to Utah, Atlanta and (unbelievably) Golden State laid the Knicks’ frailties bare for all to see. They are an outside shooting team that can’t shoot well. A run and gun team that can’t always be bothered to run. And, of course, a team that cannot defend to save its life and lets most opponents shoot above 60 per cent in first quarters.

The Utah game followed the pattern of most of the Knicks losses to date. Down by 21 points in the third quarter, the Knicks mounted an ultimately futile comeback propelled by the cut and thrust of rookie Toney Douglas. Having closed the deficit to a single point, they went scoreless for the game’s final 76 seconds and lost 95-93.

Two nights later, the Knicks managed a rare solid start against Atlanta, running up a 14-point first half lead before being outscored 37-23 in the third quarter on the way to a lop-sided 114-101 loss. A sequence of Jared “Mr Fumbles” Jeffries bobbling a pass out of bounds as he tried to make a gimme lay-up and Al Harrington letting the chance of an uncontested dunk literally slip through his fingers sent the MSG diehards to the exits in the fourth quarter.

Last night, the dysfunctional Golden State Warriors thumped the Knicks 121-107, shooting 64 per cent in the first quarter and leading for most of the game. This loss, their sixth straight, reduced the Knicks to a historically terrible 1-9, the worst ever start to a season. With Darko Milicic, Douglas and fellow rookie Jordan Hill in the game, the Knicks briefly paid some D in the third quarter and pulled within six points. Any hopes of a comeback win were immediately extinguished when the Warriors opened the fourth hitting four successive shots, including three three-pointers, to ice the game.

Why is D’Antoni powerless to coax consistent effort from the majority of players on this woeful Knicks team? One theory thrown out this week suggested that a clique of Knicks were sick of the circus surrounding Lebron James and his potential move to New York in 2010. The enormous LBJ billboard outside Madison Square Garden is said to have raised their ire. If there is truth to this story, it is nothing short of a disgrace. There’s been countless unheralded Knicks players who became heroes in MSG (John Starks and Anthony Mason spring to mind) because they earned the respect of the supporters with effort and hard work. So Jared, Al, Chris and whoever else is behind mailing in the entire season, man up and leave it out on the floor. You might even earn yourself a contract for next year (although I seriously doubt it).

Whether or not the players are staging an early season revolt, some questions must be asked of the coach. You wonder if D’Antoni’s reputation as an offensive genius that he forged in Phoenix relied heavily on the quality of players that he had. With Steve Nash as your floor general and leader, how often did D’Antoni have to struggle to motivate his charges? Now, with a squad of vastly inferior players, he looks powerless to stop the Knicks sliding into embarrassment. The constant tinkering of the starting line-up and the desperately muddled rotation during the games suggest, for all his searching, he cannot find a single answer.

Could the “Summer of 2010” hoopla actually be having a legitimate psychological effect? You could argue it is far easier for fans to accept Donnie Walsh’s long-term plan than it is for the players and coaches. Has any NBA coach ever been given a two-year free pass where losing doesn’t really matter that much? Has a group of players ever been brought to (and traded from) a club solely on the basis of when their contracts expire? Does knowing this somehow mentally undermine the people in question (particularly D’Antoni, Harrington and Larry Hughes)? Is it possible to take pride in your performances when everything points to the fact that you are a pawn in a larger, longer game? All fans would answer in the affirmative. Knowing the glaring limitations of this team, they are steeled to accept defeats this year. What they will not tolerate is the consistent lack of effort and heart. Even the dismal, winless New Jersey Nets get total commitment from their depleted roster.

Are there any positives to take from this week of defeat? Surprisingly, yes. Though the jury remains well and truly out on Jordan Hill, the play of Toney Douglas has been worthy of note. The rookie point guard forced D’Antoni into giving him more minutes after single-handedly reviving the Knicks against the Jazz. He’s not afraid to take the ball to the hoop and has, over three short games, established an explosive scoring touch. Douglas’ emergence should also signal the end of Chris Duhon as a Knick. In this losing mire, Duhon has arguably been the worst player on the roster this year. A starting backcourt of Douglas and Larry Hughes might just give the Knicks some defence. With Nate Robinson back from injury to back them up, you have an improved three guard rotation.

Another sign of how desperate the Knicks are for good news came in the drastically smaller shape of Eddy Curry. The troubled big man returned to practice this week and appeared to have made good on his word to get in playing shape. In a post-practice interview, Curry looked chiselled (yes, I said chiselled) confirming stories that he had lost more than 50 pounds. Pinning hopes on Eddy to revive the Knicks’ fortunes may be a bit of a stretch – he’s played 12 minutes in the last 12 months – but getting him on the court must be a good thing. If he can re-establish his low post game, surely that will open up the three point game for Gallinari and Hughes.

The final plus point is the five day break the Knicks have until their next game. In the midst of a slump, time to “go back to the drawing board” is crucial. Perhaps whatever grievances the players have can be aired and rectified. Perhaps D’Antoni can pull some tricks from his magic hat of offence. Perhaps they might settle on a nine man rotation. Perhaps Donnie Walsh has a trade up his sleeve. Perhaps David Lee will stop whinging about every call that goes against him. And perhaps Eddy Curry will suit up when the Knicks travel to Indiana on November 18.

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