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When shots drop, the Knicks look top: Knicks season on the sofa week 20 review

Regardless of their numerous shortcomings and the fact that teams from the top, middle and lower tiers of the league have easily exposed these flaws throughout the NBA season, one simple grain of truth about this New York Knicks team remains: when they make shots, they are dangerous and capable of beating anybody – including a team on a 13-game winning streak.

Granted, over the last two months the inconsistent Knicks have been more Hyde  than Jekyll, setting embarrasing records for terrible three point shooting in the process. Yet, in a week where fans feared defeat in all four of the team’s games, the Knicks shot the lights out twice and beat two of the league’s best squads. Better yet, both wins were built on the play of unheralded stars likely to form part of New York’s future.

The Atlanta Hawks must be sick of the sight of the Knicks after losing to them for the third time in four games. 27 points from Danilo Gallinari and 10 for 15 team shooting from downtown were the bedrock of the Knicks win. Despite this, poor execution in the final minutes (yet again) allowed the Hawks to almost eradicate a 10-point deficit down the stretch.

Leading 99-98 in the dying seconds, Toney Douglas committed a potentially game-choking turnover as he dribbled up the court. Former Knicks (and Sixth Man of the Year candidate) Jamal Crawford recovered the ball, drove and fed Josh Smith who went airborne for the winning dunk but was denied by Wilson Chandler’s game-saving block.

The drama didn’t end there as Al Horford gathered the loose ball, fired it at the basket and sunk the shot on a friendly roll. Horford thought he’d won the game but instant replay showed time had expired milli-seconds before the ball left his fingers.

Would Chandler’s athletic defensive play re-invigorate the Knicks’ desire to play strong interior defence for the remainder of the season? Of course not.

Two nights later, the Knicks faced the San Antonio Spurs in the first of three road games against strong South West division opponents. Out-muscled and out-sized inside, Tim Duncan effortlessly cruised to an 18 and 9 night while fellow veteran big man Antonio McDyess had 10 point and 12 rebounds. A resurgent Manu Ginobili drove to the hoop with impunity on his way to a game-high 28 points. The total rebounding numbers told the whole story: 53 to 34 in the Spurs’ favour.

Not that the Knicks gave this one up without a fight. After the Spurs went scoreless for six third quarter minutes, Mike D’Antoni’s men whittled a 15-point lead down to just one. But 83-82 was as close as they would get. Ginobili came back into the game to ice proceedings as the Knicks struggled to execute in the closing minutes.

The really significant aspect of the Spurs defeat was that it was the Knicks’ 42nd of the season. The loss condemned them to a ninth successive losing season, another unwanted franchise record.

Next up came the Memphis Grizzlies who, with the twin towers of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, are a match-up nightmare for the Knicks. The game was effectively over by half-time as the Grizz shot 55% and built up a 29-point lead. Critics of David Lee’s defence were given more ammunition as Gasol executed a fine baseline spin move and dunk that made the Knicks’ all star look weak and leaden-footed.

You’ve heard the story of this game numerous times this season. A sluggish start made worse by no defence and poor shooting from beyond the arc. With the game gone, the Knicks woke up and ate into the lead, pulling within five with a minute left but getting no closer. The final 119-112 scoreline was more respectable than the Knicks’ performance deserved.

Conventional wisdom probably states that the last thing you’d want the night after such a poor performance would be to face the league’s hottest team on their home court after they’d had two days of rest.

But conventional wisdom didn’t take into account this maddening, inconsistent Knicks team would turn up and make 16 or their 30 three-pointers. Against all expectations, the Knicks torched Dallas 128-94 and ended the Mavs’ 13-game winning streak.

The unexpected rout was triggered by Bill Walker and Toney Douglas. Rookie Douglas replaced Sergio Rodgriguez at starting point guard and set the tone of the game. Douglas provides the consistent scoring threat essential to the successful running of the pick and roll. He scored 18 points of 8 for 10 shooting and dished out eight assists to boot. The Knicks looked organised and poised with Douglas at the point and he should start for the remainder of the season.

Walker continued his excellent recent form pouring in a game-high (and personal best) 23 points in just 25 minutes. In his previous outings, he had shown good athleticism and the ability to cut and get to the rim. In Dallas, Walker showed off his perimiter game, making five of his eight three-pointers. The former Celtic looks more and more like a keeper with each game he plays.

While the Knicks young guns stole the show, their veterans also had a say in the outcome. Al Harrington gave his best performance in some time, reining in his spotty outside shooting in favour of driving and spinning to the hoop. Tracy McGrady showed flashes of the brilliance that made him a premier player in the NBA. In one third quarter stretch, he blocked a gimme lay-up and trotted up court to effortlessly drain a three. Minutes later, he backed up Dirk Nowitzki, changed direction in the blink of an eye and swished an arcing mid range jump shot. I remain torn as to whether T-Mac is shot or halfway down the road to becoming his old self (albeit with heavily reduced athleticism). Only time will tell.

While this excellent Knicks performance came out of the blue, the 50-point shellacking they received on their home court at the hands of the Mavericks in late January must have provided some motivation. Hoots of derision poured from the stands in the second half and, for once, they weren’t directed at the players in orange and blue. In this painful and infuriating season, the illogical Knicks can give you reason to smile, typically of their character, at the moment when you least expect it.

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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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Indefensible defence: Knicks season on the sofa week 18 review

Pull on your crash helmets and brace yourself for pain. New York’s new day will still come this summer but, on the evidence of the Knicks’ four games this week, the remainder of this NBA season is going to be hard to watch.

Gutted by Donnie Walsh’s trades to bring about free agent nirvana this summer, Mike D’Antoni’s new-look roster seems incapable of competing with even the most mediocre NBA teams for a full 48 minutes. With no Jared Jeffries marshalling their already below-average interior defence, the Knicks have become easier to score on than a female contestant in the Jersey Shore.

None of this is unexpected or unique to the Knicks. Salary dumping in preparation for the summer has been de rigour for many NBA teams over the past couple of seasons. Walsh has stuck steadfastly to his oft-stated plan of getting under the salary cap. In the main, Knicks fans have accepted mediocrity in the present in exchange for the promise of future greatness. The play of Tracy McGrady was supposed to sustain Knicks fans through to the summer and, as T-Mac bought the Garden to life in last weekend’s OT loss to the Zombie Sonics, it looked like the remainder of the season, while 99% certain to yield no playoff spot, would be riddled with memorable McGrady moments.

The sad truth was revealed two nights later as McGrady limped up and down the court in a truly horrible home loss to Milwaukee. His rebuilt knee isn’t strong enough to stand up to the rigours of the NBA schedule. His minutes, much like his future contributions, look like being severely limited. Without McGrady, the Knicks aren’t capable of beating many teams. They eked out a road win in Washington against the only NBA team whose roster has been gutted even more viciously than their own. And there’s no glory in beating a team by shooting a meagre 25% in overtime. Overall, the 118-116 turnover-riddled game was awful to watch. But it did end an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks worst run of the season.

The laboured win over the Wizards was the sole bright spot of a truly miserable week for the Knicks where their lack of size was cruelly and repeatedly exposed. In a home loss to Milwaukee, Bucks center Andrew Bogut eased his way to a 24-point, 20-rebound game shooting 80% from the field. On the defensive end, the seven-foot Aussie had five rejections. On Legends night, the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1970 world championship team, the present day Knicks could only 67 points in 48 minutes and lost comfortably by 16 points in a performance that disgraced the legacies of Frazier, Monroe, Debuscherre and Co.

With Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill gone, the Knicks didn’t have anyone capable of even hoping to stop Bogut. That’s fair enough. What’s unacceptable is the stagnant offensive performance. The additions of Sergio Rodriguez and McGrady had D’Antoni murmuring about playing at pace. But this was more stunned-and-glum than run-and-gun. And with Chris Duhon benched for the entire game, the pick and rolls so key to David Lee’s scoring were absent. Lee managed his customary double double (12 and 13) but only took 12 shots in the game.

If Andrew Bogut feasted on the New York’s undersize interior, former Knick Zach Randolph gorged himself when the Memphis Grizzlies came to the Garden. Randolph took everything he wanted in a 31-point, 25-rebound effort that gave the Grizz a 120-109 win. Z-Bo’s partner-in-crime Marc Gasol got his share too with 25 points, 13 boards and eight assists. Both big men were given the freedom of the paint as they scored at will and grabbed second, and sometimes even third, chance points.

The contrast in how the teams got their points was marked. While the Grizzlies big men scored on easy bucket after easy bucket, the Knicks clung to their coattails thanks only to the three-point shooting of Al Harrington and Eddie House. The Knicks actually led by a point with five minutes left but Randolph sparked an 11-0 to seal the deal. Buoyed by his match-winning contribution, Randolph later joked with reporters about returning to New York in 2011 and praised his former teammate Lee, hilariously dubbing him “the white me”. He’ll never score an easier 30 points.

In between being dominated by Messrs Bogut and Randolph, the Knicks travelled to Boston for a reunion with the recently-traded Nate Robinson. Former Celtic Eddie House got a standing ovation from the Celtics fans, as did Robinson when he made his first ever entrance as a Boston player. Neither guard had any real impact on the game and it was left to Ray Allen, now free from the hassle of trade speculation, to claim victory for his team. Mr Shuttlesworth poured in a team-high 24 points but it was a defensive play that swung things Boston’s way. With the Celtics leading by three in the final minute, Wilson Chandler cut to the hoop as the home defence rotated slowly. Allen, who averages 0.3 blocks a game, soared across the lane and made the rejection. The Celtics ultimately prevailed 110-106 with the Knicks wasting a stellar 28-point, 15-rebound effort from Lee.

At 20-38, the Knicks are sinking further into the basement of the Eastern Conference and the threat of them having to give up a high lottery draft pick to the Utah Jazz looms large. The promise of better days come the summer remains in tact but every loss makes that salvation seem a long, long way away. In the mean-time, perhaps the Knicks could branch out as a shelter for battered children because, unlike violent parents, they don’t look likely to beat anyone any time soon.

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A new day is coming: Knicks season on the sofa week 17 review

I write this as the new-look New York Knicks take the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Already on a three-game losing streak, the Knicks were gored twice in two nights earlier this week by the Chicago Bulls to continue their slide out of play-off contention. These losses, along with all the other defeats I’ve watched this season, no longer matter. The struggling team that lost those games no longer exists. The team that replaces it will not be fully formed until later this year. But now we know that new team is coming. Thanks to Donnie Walsh, the promise of a new day dawning at Madison Square Garden this summer has become a reality.

Hands up, who actually thought Walsh had any hope of shedding the millstone contract of Jared Jeffries to free up enough cap space to potentially sign two max contract free agents after July 1? Be honest. Yep, me neither. But he did it. After this season, the Knicks will only have Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and the immovable (in so many ways) Eddy Curry on their books. And cap space to woo the league’s best players to the mecca of basketball. Without ceremony or grandstanding, Walsh has delivered exactly what he promised when he took office at MSG almost two years ago, even if he had to surrender what hopefully won’t become crucial draft picks to get there.

In bringing Tracy McGrady and Sergio Rodriguez to New York in exchange for Jared Jeffries, Larry Hughes and Jordan Hill, Walsh also gave up an option to swap 1st round draft picks with Houston (the pick is top 1 protected) in 2011 and a 1st round pick (top 5 protected) the following year. It’s a gamble based on Walsh’s ability to woo the superstars he desires this summer. If he gets them, giving up the picks won’t hurt the Knicks.

Whether you regard the risk Walsh has taken as bold or foolish, his choice is in keeping with his grand masterplan. Walsh preached patience and his focus on the Summer of 2010 free agent sweepstakes. At no point has he wavered from this plan. Walsh has given the Knicks direction. All fans, whether they like it or not, know where they stand. Most teams in the NBA’s cellar make trades that conflict with previous moves as their respective braintrust’s flit from one desperate scheme to another and their problems are compounded.

Under Walsh’s watch, this will not happen again. I hope for Lebron and Bosh this summer. I accept I may end up watching Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire. The key is that getting way, way under the cap ensures the Knicks can finally operate like a functional sports franchise for the first time in almost a decade. With that in place, the allure of Madison Square Garden and the oft-fabled New York market become legitimate tools to attract the players to lift the team out of the doldrums.

So, what of the players that left? I feel for Jared Jeffries. The man I refer to as Mr Intangible won me (and the MSG crowd) over with his hustle, heart and effort after starting the season as an offensive liability and on-court scapegoat. Leading the league in taking charges is the sort of stat that a Knick from the 1990s would be proud of. Houston, full of no-stat all stars like Shane Battier, might be the ideal spot for him. I’d take one JJ over 10 Chris Duhons any day of the week.

While nobody will miss Larry Hughes or Darko Milicic (traded to Minnesota for the hapless Brian Cardinal who was immediately waived by the Knicks), it will be interesting to see how Jordan Hill’s career develops. Thanks to Mike D’Antoni’s obsession with the eight-man rotation, Hill never really got a full run to show his worth as a Knick. The league consensus is that Hill is a ‘project’. If he develops his shooting and understanding of the game to the level where these skills match his obvious athleticism, a tinge of regret may creep into the front office. But, as a necessary chip to complete the trade, Hill had to go.

In what may well have been a present for his coach, Walsh also sent Nate Robinson, fresh from winning the worst slam dunk contest in living memory, to Boston in exchange for Eddie House and benchwarmers/makeweights JR Giddens and Bill Walker.

The little man’s tenure in New York will be remembered far more fondly by the Garden faithful he excited than the coaches he effortlessly seemed to infuri(N)ate. His block on Yao Ming in 2006 remains a favourite moment of mine. This season, his 41-point explosion against Atlanta after riding the pine for 14 games was nothing short of spectacular. On the surface, it seems like, as with Renaldo Balkman, the Knicks got rid of a player D’Antoni didn’t like. That said, the deal did save the Knicks more than one million dollars. House brings a consistent 3-point threat and should be a better offensive fit than Nate in D’Antoni’s system. Getting a draft pick from the Celtics would have made this one a little easier to take.

What about the other new Knicks? Every Knick fan has their fingers crossed that Rodriguez will displace the ever-more-depressing Duhon in the starting line-up within the month. But the real question surrounds McGrady. Are T-Mac’s claims that he’s put his injury woes behind him hot air or realistic?

Judging by the press conference he gave after arriving in New York, he at least knows how to talk the talk. McGrady talked of a fresh start, of having 29 games to show his worth and of his desire to play in New York (for the veteran’s minimum) next season alongside two superstars. There’s been enough big talk (Isiah, Marbury, Francis) that hasn’t come close to being backed up in recent years. This time around though, if McGrady flops, it doesn’t hurt the Knicks one bit. Hands up, who didn’t tune in tonight to see what, if anything, he had left?

As it turned out, McGrady’s MSG debut was better than anyone could have expected. Talk of him as a basketball corpse has been greatly exaggerated. Although he was restricted to limited minutes, McGrady poured in 26 points from all corners of the court against the Thunder, bringing the Garden crowd to its feet as he drained threes, nailed jumpers and attacked the rim. When he rested on the bench, chants of “We want T-Mac” echoed around the arena. His presence and performance created an atmosphere in MSG not felt since the days of Latrell Sprewell and Patrick Ewing.

Ultimately, McGrady’s efforts were wasted as the Knicks imploded in the final minute of regulation, blowing a six point lead when Jeff Green and Kevin Durant rattled in crucial threes to send the game to overtime. Running short of gas, McGrady himself missed two foul shots that would have put New York up by eight and probably iced the game.

McGrady played just 19 seconds in overtime, while Durant played all five minutes and won the game for the Zombie Sonics. After Eddie House hit a jumper off an in-bounds pass from McGrady to give the Knicks a 118-117 lead with 32 seconds remaining, Durant drained a pull-up jumper to give the Thunder a 119-118 edge. He added two foul shots for a 121-118 lead with 10 seconds left. The Knicks blew two chances to tie the game when House rushed a 3-pointer in the final seconds and Gallinari failed to hit a 3 from the corner.

Ordinarily, this loss, the Knicks sixth in a row and one that dropped their record to a dismal 19-35, would have felt like a body blow. After the potentially franchise-changing trades that preceded it, the loss doesn’t feel so bad. Knicks fans now know a new day is coming, that the years of suffering are almost at an end. For the players, the remaining 28 games of the season amount to a tryout for everyone bar the contracted Gallinari, Chandler and Douglas.

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Raising the white flag: Knicks Season on the Sofa week 15 and 16 review

This weekend David Lee will play in the All Star game, Nate Robinson will go airborne in the Slam Dunk contest and Danilo Gallinari may win the three point shootout and shine in the Rookies vs Sophomores match-up. And when the glitz and glamour of All Star 2010 is over, the New York Knicks will return to their regular season schedule safe in the knowledge that their play-off hopes are already well and truly extinguished for yet another year.

How did it get to this? The Knicks went 9-6 in what was, relative to this team’s penchant for underachievement, a December to remember. One week into the new year, they were just 1.5 games away from the eight seed. One month later, their record stands at a miserable 19-32 after they contrived to lose 12 of their last 16 games at the precise moment when their schedule was at its softest. Of the many recent losses, the defeats to Minnesota (in which they were inexplicably destroyed by Kevin Love) on the road and Sacramento (in which they were torched by Tyreke Evans and, in overtime, Kevin Martin) at home went beyond heart-breaking. They were simply unacceptable.

What is it about the psychology of this Knicks roster that causes the team to subside as soon as they build the slightest shred of momentum? It’s almost as if, at the moment the basketball media reached a consensus that the Knicks were, against all logic, legitimate play-off contenders, a collective notion of “job done” came over this team and caused them to slack off. If Mike D’Antoni convinced this Knick team that they should walk through teams like the Timberwolves and the Kings, he made a severe misjudgement regarding his own players. This team is simply not good enough to turn up without the appropriate effort and walk off the court with a win.

A glaring feature of the recent string of losses has been the failure to execute plays in the clutch. Against the Kings, Chris Duhon jacked up an air ball three at the buzzer. In fairness to the much-maligned guard, he found himself totally without options as four teammates stood motionless as he dribbled his way into trouble. All the while, Wilson Chandler, enjoying his highest scoring game of the season, was starved of the ball.

In the same game, Jared Jeffries ended up shooting a crunch-time three with predictably dire results. This isn’t a criticism of the man I like to call Mr Intangible. Jeffries deserves credit for winning over the Garden crowd with his hustle and defence since being roundly derided in the season’s opening weeks. The point here is that he’s not the man to be shooting a crucial three with the game on the line. Could D’Antoni, consistently hailed as an offensive genius, not have drawn up a better play? Or were his players unable to execute the coach’s plan under pressure?

The Knicks’ slide into irrelevance has coincided with some muddled thinking from Coach D’Antoni. The underperforming Duhon was benched for Nate Robinson at half-time against Washington and the little man sparked what proved to be the Knicks only win of the past fortnight with a 23-point burst. Two nights later against Milwaukee, Nate was named a starter but could only shoot 3 of 12 as the Andrew Bogut-less Bucks cruised to a comfortable 114-107 victory. By the time the Kings came into the Garden, Duhon was back as starting point guard less than a week after losing his job. If you’re going to give the starting reins to Nate, surely he derserves more than three games to soar or stumble. The bottom line is that, whatever D’Antoni is looking for from his point guards, neither Duhon or Nate are able to provide it. With play-off hopes gone, perhaps rookie Toney Douglas will see more minutes in the post-All Star stretch.

In spite of the depressing string of results, some Knicks players can hold their heads high. Since he was initially snubbed for the All Star roster, David Lee, like a true professional, once again raised his game to show the Eastern Conference coaches what they had overlooked. Boosted by a 32-point, 15-rebound game against the Bucks, Lee has now upped his season averages to 20 and 11. More impressively, the league’s best (and only) point-center has also dished the ball better in recent times. His 3.5 dimes a game leads all NBA centers. Thanks to the withdrawal of Allen Iverson, who really had no business going to Dallas in the first place, Lee has finally been granted a deserved All Star spot, the first Knick to be invited to the game in nine seasons.

Wilson Chandler and Jared Jeffries also emerged from the Knicks’ recent run with some credit. Jeffries, a man I once christened Mr Fumbles on account of his inability to catch even the most straightforward of passes, leads the league in taking charges, regularly plays hurt and makes all the hustle plays anyone could want. Playing with increased confidence, he’s even started draining threes, albeit wide open ones in non-crunch situations. The enigmatic Chandler finally shook off his early season woes in January and, despite a small dip in form, bounced back with a career game against Sacramento. Ill Will is the Knicks’ most aesthetically-pleasing player and his athleticism is rivalled only by Nate. With these gifts alone, Chandler should possess the confidence to demand the ball. Against the Kings he was red hot but, when the ball stopped coming his way, his failure to demand it impacted badly on the Knicks as bad shots were hoisted as the offence stagnated.

With the Knicks now certain to miss the post season yet again, what is left to look forward to once the All Star break is over? Perhaps the most interesting moves will come off the court. The T-Mac to the Knicks rumours continue to swirl, the latest word suggesting McGrady will come to New York in a three team trade that moves Al Harrington to Washington and Caron Butler to Houston. What’s in this deal for the Wizards remains a mystery unless they have decided to blow up their entire roster so I wouldn’t count on it actually happening. If it does, the sad fact seems that, With nothing to play for other than pride, the last 30 games of this season could simply be an exercise in gauging what, if anything, a former NBA superstar has left in the tank. If the trade doesn’t happen, all we can hope for is that rookies Toney Douglas and Jordan Hill get enough burn to prove one way or another that they are part of the future at the Garden.

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