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D’Antoni must adapt to arrest Knicks decline

Six successive defeats. Nine losses in the last 10 games. A team devoid of consistent defensive effort now spluttering on offense thanks to the addition of a ball-stopping superstar and a veteran guard unable to execute a pick and roll.

Yes, the New York Knicks are primed for a potentially historic collapse, seemingly unable or unwilling to arrest their decline from a certain playoff team to a squad clueless as to where the next W – and, at times, the next basket – is coming from.

Unwatchable mess

Let’s not overreact. Even a monumental collapse isn’t likely to keep the Knicks out of the playoffs. For that to happen, Charlotte or Milwaukee would have to string together an uncharacteristic series of wins too.

But how have the Knicks gone front sixth-seeded certainties and the toughest-looking out in the first round of the post-season to a stagnant, unwatchable mess limping aimlessly into the playoffs?

The knee-jerk response is to look squarely at the trade for Carmelo Anthony. After all, the Knicks gave up 60% of their starting line-up and rookie center Timofey Mozgov to acquire the free-scoring superstar, right?

Wrong. No one in their right mind would have turned down the chance to sign Melo. How many times does an opportunity like that come along? And it’s not as if the Knicks were purveyors of consistent defence and strangers to occasional fourth quarter collapses before Anthony donned blue and orange.

Excuses

But the list of excuses for the Knicks’ increasingly woeful performances extends beyond Melo. And none of them are legitimate.

After playing at an MVP-contending level prior to the All Star break, Amare Stoudemire has cited fatigue for his recent poor form. His scoring and field goal percentage have markedly slumped over the past 10 games. D’Antoni has often been criticised for overplaying his starters but, coming down the stretch, is there elite player in the league who doesn’t feel tired? Whether you’re talking NBA or video games, there’s no excuse for being outplayed by Kwame Brown.

More alarming than Amare’s struggles has been the recent play of Chauncey Billups. Until his thigh connected with Dwight Howard’s knee, the veteran point guard looked like being the bridge that could link Melo’s low post threat with the Knicks’ up-tempo style.

The demands and complexities of D’Antoni’s offence didn’t trouble Billups before his injury. Only since his return, when he can’t buy a bucket or stay in front of even mediocre opposing guards, has adapting to a new system become a problem.

D’Antoni on the hot seat

The addition of Anthony and Billups was supposed to signal the start of the good times in New York. Instead, up to this point, the trade could ultimately cost D’Antoni his job.

Whether D’Antoni or Donnie Walsh wanted Melo or not, the public perception of the trade is that Knicks owner James Dolan got involved and made it happen. But if things don’t work out, there’s no way Dolan will accept any blame.

There’s also no guarantee Walsh will be around after the end of the season. No, the blame for the Knicks failings, should they continue, will be laid squarely at the door of the coach.

Need to adapt

Looking at things this way, it boggles the mind that D’Antoni stubbornly refuses to adapt his principles to the skills of his new superstar.

Quick shots, run ‘n’ gun and ball movement don’t suit Melo’s game. Couldn’t you get just as many open perimeter shots by running more plays through Melo and Amare closer to the hoop, forcing double teams and then kicking the ball outside?

The Knicks currently find themselves trapped in a style that no longer suits their roster. Their coach’s empty post-game platitudes (“we’ve just gotta do better”) isn’t going to arrest their decline.

Their confusion on offence is exacerbated by their lack of defence. Is there any worse sight in basketball than the lumbering Boris Diaw dancing to the hoop completely unopposed? Probably not, but watching all three of your guards getting lit up by the Bobcats’ bench players runs it close.

With Ray Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler now Knuggets, the Knicks can’t be a fast-paced team any more. Surely D’Antoni can see this. Or is he simply too stubborn to concede this point and adapt?

Shape up or prepare to ship out

History suggests the latter is the case. How long did D’Antoni hang around in Phoenix after then-GM Steve Kerr revealed he planned he bring in a defensive coach to address the Suns’ obvious failings? Has D’Antoni ever demonstrated even the slightest interest in changing his style to the skills of his players? Is he simply one-dimensional as a coach? A one-trick pony able, if he has the right players at his disposal, to produce spectacular offence that lights up the league but unable, with a roster of players with different skillsets, to mould a system better suited to their abilities?

Forget about tiredness. Forget about injuries. Forget about new players adapting to the coach’s complex system. There’s still time to figure these problems out. But the onus must be on Mike D’Antoni adapting his principles to the players at his disposal.

Melo isn’t going anywhere next season. If D’Antoni doesn’t find a way to stop the Knicks decline, James Dolan might decide the coach can’t say the same.

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Knicks struggles worsen as James Dolan interference intensifies

There’s a famous old quote from Irish poet Brendan Behan that goes: “I never saw a situation a policeman couldn’t make worse”.

When it comes to the New York Knicks, to paraphrase the famous Irish wordsmith, I’ve never seen a situation that team owner James Dolan couldn’t make worse.

In the midst of his team’s toughest stretch of the season, at a time when the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 15 games, at the pivotal point of what looked like being a long-awaited season of revival, this is the moment Dolan decides to involve himself in team affairs, undermine his president and coach and help destabilise the cohesion of his players.

Yes, there are other mitigating facts in the Knicks’ recent run of poor results. Injuries to Wilson Chandler and the team’s emotional heartbeat Rony Turiaf haven’t helped. Floor general Raymond Felton playing through the pain of a bum ankle has affected team cohesion.

And the seemingly never-ending Car-melodrama played out on a daily basis by the media has, if you believe the players, also had an effect.

But Dolan’s ability to insert himself into situations as a looming, dangerous, silent spectre should be even more troubling to Knicks fans.

Walsh

First of all there’s Donnie Walsh’s extension or, more accurately, the speculation that the man who patiently restructured and rebuilt the team roster with characteristic professionalism and competence, may no longer be wanted come the end of the season.

The Knicks have until April 30 to exercise a team option on the final year of Walsh’s contract. So far, nothing has happened to secure his services. After the job Walsh has done restoring the Knicks’ credibility on and off the court, he should be getting offered an extension. Scratch that, he should be told the job is his for as long as he’s physically able to do it.

Instead, with the silent shadow of Dolan cast over the future of the franchise’s off-court cornerstone, Walsh finds his position under threat as stories abound that his future is squarely dependent on his ability to bring Carmelo Anthony to Madison Square Garden before the trade deadline on February 24.

No matter that that blowing up the roster to get Melo now would destroy the structure of the team. No matter that you could sign Melo as a free agent in the summer and give up nothing. No matter that, arguably, a top class center and a strong back-up point guard would serve the Knicks better than a scorer who plays no defence and whose need for the ball doesn’t fit with Mike D’Antoni’s offence.

For the record, it’s clear the Knicks should sign Melo if they can. The point is that Walsh should not be fearing for his job if he doesn’t sign the Nuggets’ superstar in the next 10 days. Under any other owner, Walsh’s work to date would have earned him more than enough trust, not to mention a contract extension.

When you are so dense that David Stern feels he needs to step in to tell you to extend Donnie Walsh, it’s probably a good idea to do it.

Isiah

Of course, one of the reasons Donnie Walsh’s job security isn’t what it should be is Dolan’s inconceivable belief that, along with Red Auerbach and James Naismith, Isiah Thomas remains one of the greatest minds in the history of basketball.

Forget the desperate, team-crippling trades he made. Forget the endless wars with high-profile players. Forget the sexual harassment case and the years of embarrassment on and off the court. According to a report by Yahoo’s Mark Miller, the man who made the Knicks a laughing stock is still on Dolan’s radar to make a return to the team he all but destroyed.

While this particular story has been refuted in other circles, its existence once again shows how the rumours that surround Dolan’s decision-making only ever seem to bring disorder to the team.

Speaking of which, given the very obvious effect the Carmelo Anthony trade rumours had on the players of the New Jersey Nets, why did Dolan choose to muddy the Melo waters even further by inserting himself into the situation and putting his players in the eye of the media storm.

By-passing his front office personnel, Dolan chose to enter the Melo negotiations directly. According to Knicks writer Frank Isola, Dolan attempted to conduct his own negotiations for Anthony with Stan Kroenke who, because of his ownership of the St Louis Rams in the NFL, isn’t even the owenr of the Nuggets any more.

While it would be foolish to assume Kroenke has no influence over what the Nuggets do – he turned over control to his son, after all – what did Dolan possibly think he would achieve by getting involved? The only effect of his chat with Kroenke has been to leave his players fearing for their jobs.

Since the hapless Nets dropped out of the Melo sweepstakes, they’ve won seven of 13 games. The Knicks have gone 4-8 in the same period. Both Walsh and D’Antoni felt the need to address the “We want Melo” chants that chorused through MSG as the Knicks fell to the Clippers.

Worse, the proof that the trade speculation had provided some players with an excuse to lose was borne out when point guard Felton admitted the Melo rumours has affected some of the players.

Midas in reverse

At a time when the team is really struggling and the prospect of a first winning season since 2001 now seriously hangs in the balance, why would a team owner, a man who, like King Midas in reverse, turns everything he touches into shit, pick this critical moment to involve himself in proceedings?

The answer might be that, every so often, James Dolan feels the need to demonstrate his authority and doesn’t comprehend the ramifications of his actions. The answer could be he can’t bear to see credit for the Knicks revival going to men whose salaries he pays. The answer could be he is simply a clueless, deluded filthy rich businessman whose decisions repeatedly go unchallenged.

Whichever answer is true, one thing is certain. Nothing good happens when James Dolan gets involved in Knicks’ front office and on-court business.

The man is dangerous and the sooner he steps back into the shadows, the happier this Knicks fan will be.

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Knicks remain a play-off team despite losing streak

Over last the decade, six successive losses, not to mention 12 defeats in the last 18 games, would have been enough to send Knicks fans into fits of distress.

Usually losing runs, particularly mid-season ones, have been emblematic of the dysfunction at the core of the organisation. Not only that, they’ve usually triggered the panic moves that saddled us with, for example, the corpse of Steve Francis at huge financial costs.

This season, however, things are little bit different.

Six of these 12 defeats have come against the league’s best teams (the Lakers, Heat, Magic and Spurs). None of them have been blowouts. Only two, the home losses to Sacramento and Phoenix, count as unacceptable. Only against the Kings have they failed to put forth the effort that fans expect. In this five-week period, the toughest stretch the Knicks face all season, Mike D’Antoni’s men have beat San Antonio and Chicago at home and got the better of Portland on the road.

So what’s the lesson here? For me, it’s that the recent spurt of losses has basically served to calibrate what our expectations should be.

The temptation with a rebuilt team that starts to enjoy some success is to anoint them the rising stars of the league. After all, Boston went from the basement of the Atlantic Division to the title in one year, right? But the overhaul of the Knicks roster last summer wasn’t even close to the reconstruction that happened in Boston. The Celtics ended up with three superstars and a rising star in Rajan Rondo. The Knicks added one all star in Amare Stoudemire and an relatively unheralded point guard in Ryamond Felton who has turned out to be better than anyone could have hoped.

In terms of on-court artillery, the Knicks had enough to become a play-off team, not a title contender. They had teething problems to start, a win streak that garnered national attention soon after and now, as we pass the halfway mark of the season, a string of defeats.

Over 43 games, the ups and downs of back-to-backs, road trips, injuries and developing chemistry level out and show, record-wise, where the Knicks stand. They are – and indeed have been for some time – the sixth best team in the east. They will make the play-offs. Unless the roster undergoes a Melo-dramatic change, they’ll get bounced by a superior team in the first round.

Is that enough? For now, I say it is. And not just because of where this team has languished for such a long time.

Sure, a winning season and a play-off spot will be more than welcome after the interminable failures of the Dolan/Thomas years. But that’s not the main thing here. And that’s because there’s something else Knicks fans can take from the current losing run.

It’s not losing that’s always the problem, it’s how you lose. And while D’Antoni’s reliance on playing his starters up to 40 minutes a night has arguably left his key men gassed and pining for the all star break, at no point has this team looked disinterested or like they’ve surrendered as the losses have begun to pile up.

This week’s games have been a good illustration. Falling by 15 points to Houston to start a tough road trip wasn’t ideal but, two nights later, facing the league’s best team in San Antonio, the Knicks refused to fold, coming back into the game time and again before falling in the final minutes.

One night later, a solid Knicks road performance was rendered fruitless thanks to a Kevin Durant buzzer beater. Once again, the desire to fight and the refusal to mail it in were on show. Sure, Durant’s three denied them overtime. But he’s a top three player in this league. He’s supposed to win games like that. Whether he should have had the opportunity to put the game away is another question. New York’s failure to find buckets in the final minutes is what really cost them this game.

Like I said, it’s how you lose. There’s no quit in this team. And it’s been a long time since Knicks fans could say that.
 
The toughness of Stoudemire and Felton flows through this team. No longer are the Knicks collectively willing to accept losing. Getting beat should never be about lack of effort. But there are superior teams in this league. Over the last five weeks, the Knicks have had to learn to take their lumps.

When will the winning habit return? Well, having a home game against a Washington team with zero road wins all season should certainly help.

The Knicks current slump shouldn’t blind fans to the progress this team has made. No, they’re nowhere near the finished article. Yes, the defence isn’t anywhere near good enough. But the facts are these. The Knicks remain on pace for a 44-win season despite having been through their hardest stretch of games. This team has leadership, talent and toughness to ensure it reaches this mark, something no Knick team has managed since 2001/2. Despite recent setbacks, they remain on the right track. Keep the faith.

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In position for Donnie Walsh to deliver: Knicks season on the sofa

As the New York Knicks meandered through the final week of another 50+ loss season, I had the pleasure of heading to the States. No basketball for me on this trip. I’m in San Francisco tieing the knot with the Sports Lass (who I guess I should now refer to as Mrs Sports Bloke). We were supposed to head home to England tomorrow but, thanks to an Icelandic volcano and some cancelled flights, are now stuck on the Left Coast until the end of the month. This is a not inexpensive hassle but it does at least give me some time to reflect on the dregs of the Knicks’ season and look forward to what is now a make or break summer for Donnie Walsh.

Two wins and four losses over their final six games meant the Knicks finished 29-53 for the season. The only real bright spots here came in the form of a surprising 104-101 win over the Boston Celtics – in which Danilo Gallinari topped 30 points and flukily banked in a three pointer to seal the win – and a 40-point fourth quarter rally against the Washington Wizards that resulted in an improbable comeback win. In between times, defeats to Miami and Orlando were almost as predictable as the stuttering fourth quarter that cost the team a win in Indiana and the insipid defenceless display in the season finale at Toronto.

But at least this unforgiving season is finally all done and the re-building can begin in earnest. Here’s what we can say for certain: the days of Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, Jonathan Bender and Eddie House as Knicks are over. Sergio Rodriguez, JR Giddens and Tracy McGrady will almost definitely join them looking for work. With next year’s salary cap now announced at a higher-than-expected 56 million dollars and only Gallo, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and the execrable Eddy Curry still on the books, Donnie Walsh has 34 million dollars to spend. And you can trust that he will spend it wisely.

The moves Walsh could potentially make have already been analysed to death. But whether you believe a dream team free agent bonanza of Lebron James and Chris Bosh is imminent or a pipe dream, the fact remains that Walsh has delivered on his promise to get the Knicks to a fiscal position where they become contenders again. The Celtics won 24 games the season before they added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and went on to win the title. Things change quickly in the NBA. The true curse of Isiah Thomas’ tenure at the helm was that his awful decisions ensured the Knicks were never in the financial position to improve their circumstances. Now, thanks to Donnie, they are in the conversation for the first time in years.

There’s no point second guessing what Walsh will do this summer. The man has an alphabet of plans he can utilise. He also has the ability and the contacts to keep people off the scent. Did you honestly see the Zach Randolph or Jamal Crawford trades coming before Wlash pulled the trigger? By explaining his plan, sticking to it and delivering on what he promised (to date), Walsh has earned, at least to my mind, the trust of the Garden faithful. People scoffed when he said he’d create room for two max free agents by trading Jared “Mr Intangible” Jeffries. Walsh pulled it off, albeit with a trade that potentially wrecks his prospects in future drafts. He even got rid of Jerome “Big Snax” James, whose acquisition was the symbolic nadir of Thomas’ reign. You have to believe, now he’s put the team in a position to turn the corner, that Donnie will deliver a drastically improved roster mext term.

I don’t believe Lebron or Wade will come to New York. I think Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh might be a more realistic aim. Even if that fails, grabbing Marcus Camby and keeping David Lee for the front court and using what’s left to get a decent point guard for Douglas to back-up will surely be a dramatic improvement on what we’ve watched for the last two years. The potential addition of Camby intrigues me. I’ve just watched him dominate the boards and the paint in Portland’s playoff win in Phoenix. His rebounding and blocking abilities would compensate for Lee’s absent defence  and the pair would surely work well together. There’s plenty of NBA power forwards who play no D but are bailed out by the defensive dominance of their center. Randolph and Marc Gasol in Memphis spring immediately to mind. And who’s to say Lee won’t dramatically improve his defence over the summer as he did with his offensive game last off-season? Despite recently referring to himself in the third person in an interview, the man has heart, has flourished in New York, has elevated him game and wants to be part of the Knicks’ turnaround. For me, he deserves a contract.

Based on the evidence of season’s last few weeks, Bill Walker and The Earl of Barron both deserve low cost bench spots next year. Barron seems athletic enough to play in Mike D’Antoni’s offence and, more importantly, seemed hell-bent on proving his worth after rotting in the D-League for a season. He’s be a viable back-up for someone like Camby. Walker is impressively athletic and contributes at both ends of the floor. After his original stock in the draft was wrecked by injury, he possesses a similar desire to show what he can do. Give me this attitude of that of a money-hungry mediocre veteran (yes, Mr Harrington, I’m referring to you) any day of the week. New York has long been a home to the league’s waifs and strays. From CBA bag boys (Starks) to unwanted lunatics (Spree), the Garden has always allowed previously unheralded players to become stars or perceived malcontents to attain redemption.

So, yes, the worst is over. Aside from Eddy Curry and Utah’s draft pick, the wretched vestiges of Isiah’s reign are gone. This season, at times truly awful to witness, is finally done and the Knicks are in position to finally turn the corner. In Donnie Walsh, they have the man who will make it happen. For Mike D’Antoni, the time for excuses is over now he’ll have the necessary talent at his disposal. And while it’s far too early for the Garden faithful to start dreaming of long play-off runs and the like, it’s a guarantee that the time is approaching where we can hold our heads high and, whisper it, dare to dream just a little.

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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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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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The full spectrum of losing: Knicks season on the sofa week 13 review

Knicks fans are well acquainted with losing. So much so, that they’ll be able tell you there’s no set way to lose a game. Sometimes you can compete with a strong team for three and a half quarters only to fall with honour down the stretch. On other occasions, a bone-headed play can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (see Al Harrington hanging on the rim against the Clippers last season). Sometimes, a great player will sink a buzzer beater to extinguish an arena-shaking comeback (KG at the Garden in December). And sometimes, your team can turn in a performance so dismal that they make opposing rookie players look like all stars and get blown out by 50 points.

In a span of 48 hours, the New York Knicks lost two games in which they managed to span the full spectrum of defeat. Against the Lakers, they fell with honour, losing 115-105 after matching the defending champions basket for basket and stop for stop for 40 minutes. Two days later, they were bruised, battered, dissected, destroyed and stomped by a Dallas Mavericks team missing Jason Kidd in a 128-78 blowout that, if it is ever released on DVD, will rank alongside The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a bona fide video nasty.

The omens for the Knicks’ meeting with the Lakers were not good. The game was played on the four year anniversary of Kobe Bryant dropping 81 points on the Toronto Raptors on the court where, 12 months ago, he’d unleashed his famous 61-point burst on the Knicks. As it turned out, these omens counted for nothing as Kobe, inhibited by a broken index finger, was content to play primarily as a facilitator. And, much to Bryant’s irritation, the very players he wanted to feed, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, seemed unwilling to assert their size and strength advantages in the post. This, coupled with stellar offence from David Lee (31 points) and Wilson Chandler (a season-high 28 points) allowed the Knicks to maintain parity throughout the first half and edge a single point lead at the end of the third.

Urged by Bryant, Gasol finally woke up down the stretch. He and Kobe combined for 23 of the Lakers’ 31 points in the final quarter to ensure the visitors had the last word. Simply put, as one of the NBA’s elite teams, the Lakers possessed a higher gear that the Knicks couldn’t match. The Knicks lost the defensive intensity that characterised their efforts in the first half. And where Lee had outbattled bigger opponents to control the boards early on, Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom eventually asserted themselves under the basket.

On the offensive end, energy from the bench dissipated when Nate Robinson left the game through injury and Jordan Hill couldn’t match his eight point, seven rebound first half cameo. To make matters even more difficult, the Lakers chose this night to shoot the lights out from beyond the arc, hitting 52.2% from downtown.

The Knicks played their hearts out but, against a team possessing superior talent and experience, they lost. But they went down fighting and could walk off the court with their heads held high. The same could not be said after Sunday’s game against Dallas.

It’s hard to pinpoint where things went wrong against the Mavericks. The Knicks were so poor in so many areas that, 24 hours later, it’s still impossible to cite one specific reason for the loss. The offence was stagnant, the defence non-existant. When Jared Jeffries is your leading scorer, you know something has gone badly wrong although, in fairness, the man many (ok, just me) are dubbing The Big Intangible turned in a strong first half performance, scoring 14 points to keep the Knicks in touch early.

Nobody else contributed much. Chris Duhon and Danilo Gallinari couldn’t make a shot. Lee battled hard on the boards but was outmuscled by Drew Gooden. Harrington offered next to nothing off the bench and Chandler had one of those anonymous games that were commonplace earlier in the season.

The breaking point probably came in the second quarter when Mavs rookie Rodrigue Beaubois torched the Knicks with 11 points including three three pointers and Jason Terry poured in 15 points to give their team a 16-point cushion at half-time. In the second half, the Knicks were bereft of energy and heart as Dirk Nowitzki added 13 of his 20 points. Unchallenged shots were par for the course. Terry and JJ Barea were given the freedom of the paint.

Benches were emptied as the lead swelled to 53 points, the largest lead in any NBA game this season. Boos rained down from the upper reaches of the Garden. I switched off League Pass to watch the AFC Championship game instead.

While Mike D’Antoni may be happy trotting out his trademark “flush it down the toilet” line after such a heavy defeat, it is a fact that the Knicks are now struggling and the losses are stacking up. After looking like genuine playoff contenders at the turn of the year, they have lost six of their last eight games. A chance for redemption comes quickly as the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves come to MSG tomorrow night, a game that now takes on must-win status. How D’Antoni’s men respond to the record-breaking beating handed down by the Mavs may well determine the course of the remainder of the season.

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