Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Knicks defeat Wiz, 93-83

With 7 victories in a row at the Garden there are shades of '94 in the dejected eyes of visting teams these days. The Knicks victory over the Washington Wizards, highlighted by Crawfor'ds alley-oop to himself off the glass for the dunk in traffic, is the latest game during which the Knicks have been able to hold opponents scoreless for large stretches of the game. Clearly, the emergence of Sweetney as a force in the paint, Crawford's discovery of the pass, and the late arrival of the Tim Thomas that Isiah thought he was getting a year ago have all been integral in this mini-winning streak. However, it is the commitment to defense that really gives these wins promise. The defensive intensity of late shows that maybe these guys haven't given up on the season, maybe they do care, and maybe they don't like losing. Now, the knock on this team has never been lack of talent, these New York Knicks have talent. The only question is whether or not they will sublimate their talents to the team concept. Is winning important to these guys? Will they pass first, then shoot? Will they make that extra defensive rotation with the shot clock winding down? It seems as if they may have decided to change the way that they have been answering these questions for most of the season....

Knicks vs. Wiz:
NY Times
NY Daily News
NY Post

Better Living Through Power Forwards

The Knicks have traded away all active (my apologies to Bruno Sundov) centers on the roster. The only big man on the side line is coach Herb Williams, and he is just slighlty more likely than Bruno to have a game changing offensive rebound. So, how is it that the Knicks suddenly find themselves a team with a newfound presence in the paint? Maybe there is a basketball method to Isiah's unmitigated financial madness. Mike Sweetney has emerged as a viable scoring threat down low, and his ample posterior commands post position. Tim Thomas is attacking the basket rather than lurking on the perimeter. Newly acquired Mo Taylor has proven (what everyone already knew) that he can score in the paint. And all of this inside play has opened things up for the Knicks bread-and-butter, the Marbury/Thomas pick-and-roll.

The Knicks are 5-2 since paring all centers from their roster. They are winners of their last seven in the Garden. One of today's papers referred to them as being in "the thick" of the playoff race in the East. Looking back at the Knicker-Blogger's Second-half Preview, the Knicks are staying the course for playoff contention: they are 5-0 in "should-win" games (including 2 of the tougher should-wins of LA and Indiana) and 0-2 in "tough" games. That being said, the Knicks are going to have to start stealing a game here and there from the NBA's upper-echelon teams if they want to keep their good times rolling straight into the postseason. With home games against Seattle and Miami in the next week there is no better time than the present to start putting a few upsets in the playoff piggy bank.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Thomas (the Tank) Out-Duels Kobe (the alleged sex-offender), Lakers

Knicks win in overtime, 117-115

Q: "Who's #31?"

A: "Not Shaq"

This exchange occurs midway through the first quarter after Lakers center Chris Mihm fouls a driving Steph. It doesn't matter that the Texas alum shows promise each time he takes the court, or that he made the All-Rookie second team last year. What really matters, to opponents anyway, is that he is decidedly not Shaq. This minor fact is especially important to the Knicks as the only true center on the New York bench is coach Herb Williams. On Isiah's "athletic" team (the tallest player plays small forward and the 5-spot is manned by a platoon of gentlemen ranging from 6-9 to 6-9.

Nevertheless, #31 is not Shaq and these other things are not problems. In fact, the Knicks front line is dominating in the early going. Sweetney--a flurry of headfakes and bulk--is a young man playing with the craftiness of an aged vet. The greatest by-product of trading Nazr is the chance for Sweets to step into the starting lineup.

On the other side of the ball, Lamar Odom is the Laker eliciting the most Oohs and Aahs from the Garden crowd. Meanwhile, Kobe is booed each and every time that he touches the ball. The boos start slow, spread out, but they course through the Garden (faster than allegations of sexual impropriety on Internet) as he holds the ball longer, longer, too long. With other visiting players the boos start strong, but eventually falter. Conversely, the more the people see Kobe play the more they seem to boo him. Maybe some didn't know that they didn't like Kobe when they arrived, but after seeing him play they know it now. They boo. And except for taking over at the end of the first half, the end regulation, and the opening moments of OT Kobe's presence was absent from large stretches of the game.

The amount of cognitive dissonance required to be a Kobe Bryant fan is approaching red-state levels. How does a mother bring her young son or daughter to this game adorned in a Kobe jersey, as a Kobe is an admitted adulterer and an accused rapist? How does any true Laker fan harbor any love for this guy after he exiles Shaq and Phil, effectively breaking up the dynasty? The Knicker-Blogger is all for irrational behavior, but the prevalence of Kobe jerseys throughout the Garden is incomprehensible. A couple sitting a few rows down is decked out in matching Kobe jerseys. How cute. It would seem that this guy can probably get away with a whole lot if his lady-friend is so understanding when it comes to Kobe's actions. As she chants "Go Kobe, Go Kobe" to the tune of that old standard "Go Sheila, it's your birthday!" One (and by one I mean to say I) can't help but chime in the with the infinitely catchier, "Go Kobe, Go to Jail. Go Kobe, Go to Jail." The two Lakers fans are not amused. Actually, the guy definitely cracked a smile while the girlfriend, well, she did not smile.

Still, Kobe is not the real story tonight. The Knicks center-less frontline is the story. Sweetney is just working the paint. In the second quarter Kurt Thomas got the loudest applause I've ever heard for a defensive stop. He stands up Lamar Odom as he slashes through the lane seemingly un-deterable towards the hoop, once Odom has stopped driving the Lakers iso him and Thomas on the elbow, but Odom cannot shake Kurt. Odom tries to kick the ball out and Steph swoops in to pick it off. The Garden goes crazy.

However, as the game wears on it becomes clear that Tim Thomas is the star of this game. Not Kobe, not Steph, but Tim "no longer referred to as Tiny" Thomas. He cannot be stopped. Every single Laker, three of the Laker girls, and the dude who used to carry around Shaq's edition of Bartlett's Quotation Dictionary all try to guard Thomas at some point in the game. People in the stands are yelling for whichever Knick has the ball to just "Pass it to Thomas." It is surreal. He is hitting shots with three defenders draped over him and his hands tied behind his back. The man who until recently barely averaged 10 points per, scores 17 points in the 3rd quarter alone. During a timeout my brother has to call Thomas' mom just to make sure she is taping the game.

On the broad shoulders of Tim Thomas the Knicks climb to a 83-68 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter. Lakers coach, Frank Hamblen spends the final minutes of the quarter sitting in his chair discussing the Slavic involvement in the European Union with Vlade Divac (sartorally resplendent in jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt).

Yet, somehow, predictably, the wheels come off. The center (so to speak) will not hold. The Knicks start the 4th quarter with Crawford at the point, Penny as the two-guard, Ariza at small forward, Taylor as power forward, and Malik Rose at center. Although this organization is only a guess as all the players are roughly the same height. Regardless, with no true point guard on the floor the team repeatedly turns the ball over with the help of series of poor passes. On defense, the referees seem only able to maintain respiration by breathing through their whistles; Herb's b-lineup racks up fouls at a clock-stopping rate, and the Lakers are hitting their foul shots. All of a sudden the lead is down from 14-15 and hovering around 9-11.

Steph, Timmy, and Kurt check back in with a little over 7:30 remaining in the regulation. The score is 89-78, good guys. Still, the music of a referee's whistle sets the beat as the Lakers continue their parade to the free throw line.

A pair of Brian Grant free throws make the score 101-92 with 2:27 left. Following the free throws Mike Sweetney brings the ball up the floor. The Knicks are nursing a 9-point lead with just over two minutes left and they let their potentially portly, second-year power forward bring the ball up the court! Steph just jogs up the sideline and hangs out on the wing? To Sweetney's credit he moves the ball up well, and even breaks some Laker ankles with a nifty cross-over. He does all of this right before he turns the ball over. Thankfully the Lakers turn it over on their subsequent trip down the floor leading to a Marbury layup.

Knicks lead 103-92.

Kobe is fouled next trip down the floor. He hits 1 of 2. Knicks lead 103-93.

Steph is fouled next trip down the floor. He hits 2 of 2. Knicks lead 105-93.

The Knicks hold the Lakers scoreless on their next trip, but cannot capitalize as they turn the ball over on a shot-clock violation. Another late game shot-clock violation. The chants of DEE-FENSE are punctuated not by clapping rather by the sound of knees knocking and hearts pounding throughout the Garden.

Chucky Atkins hits a 3. Knicks lead 105-98.

Kurt Thomas is fouled. He hits 1 of 2. Knicks lead 106-98.

The crowd starts leaving.

Odom hits a 3. Knicks lead 106-101.

Marbury receives the inbounds pass. The Lakers are not pressing. Rather, than holding the ball, milking the clock, Steph fires a baseball pass down court to Tim Thomas. The pass is intercepted by the Lakers.

Another 3. Knicks lead 106-104. There are 19 seconds left. Steph is fouled.

With the heavy departure of so many Knicks fans, the Lakers fans can be heard supporting their team. Bad vibes and hung heads. The obnoxious Lakers fans a few rows down are going nuts. The boos (from the Lakers' fans) are plainly audible when Steph steps to the line.

Steph hits 1 of 2 shots. Knicks lead 107-104.

Kobe hits a 3 with 4.4. seconds remaining. Knicks no longer lead, as the score is tied at 107.

Crawford forces up a shot, well-defended by Kobe, at the buzzer that does not fall.

Ah, Overtime.

Momentum is entirely on the Lakers side, as is about half of the remaining crowd. The Knicks heads hang low, shoulders slouched, eyes on the floor.

Please, not again.

The Lakers win the opening tip of the overtime session and quickly jump out to a lead. Everyone has seen this before. A close game goes to overtime, and one team dominates the extra session en route to a 8-10 point victory.

The Lakers lead 115-111.

With the Knicks trailing 113-115 Crawford skies high up to intercept a Laker pass, the Knicks are fast breaking, Marbury misses the driving layup, Kurt Thomas misses the putback, Tim Thomas gets above the rim, above the crowd of Lakers who decended around the hoop, Tim tips the ball in! Tim Thomas is finally playing BIG, and using his 6-foot, 11-inch height around the rim. He backpedals down the court, hand still raised, basking in the delerium of the remaining crowd.

The Lakers no longer lead, the Knicks no longer trail, the score is tied 115-115.

The Lakers bring the ball up the floor. Steal! Marbury gets the steal (and doesn't pass it to Sweetney to handle). The Knicks call a timeout with 12.1 seconds left.

After receiving the inbounds near midcourt Marbury is fouled by Atkins as he dribbles around the perimeter. The sweat is pouring from my brother as if he has been on the court also trying to defend Tim Thomas. The night's third heart attack has begun to reverberates from the tips of my fingers down through the cuticles of my toenails.

Steph hits the first foul shot. The Knicks lead 116-115.

The Lakers call a timeout to ice Steph. If he misses this shot everyone knows that the Lakers will somehow score to win. It is a given.

"This is either the best thing or worst thing that has ever happened to me."--my brother during the time-out.

Steph hits the second shot. Exhales and exuberation. The Knicks lead 117-115.

The Lakers call a time-out. The Garden P.A. goes straight into playing the Bachman Turner Overdrive classic "Taking Care of Business," which it follows up with the greatest amp-up song of all-time, "Black Betty" by the oft forgotten Ram Jam. This is arguably the best combo of songs after a big play at a sporting event, there is no better soundtrack to high-fiving and drinking beer out of plastic cups.

Meanwhile, no one in the Laker huddle is really listening to Hamblen. Kobe stairs above his head, across the court, and at the basket he needs to get to in a matter of seconds. Caron Butler stands outside the huddle going through the motions of his jumpshot.

The inbounds comes into Kobe, Kurt Thomas d's him up just outside the 3-point line. Tick, tick. Kobe drives past Kurt into the paint, tick, tick, dishes to a cutting Luke Walton who gets caught off his feet, tick, tick, and passes the ball back to Kobe, tick, tick, Kobe faces up to basket only to find Kurt Thomas blocking his way to the hoop, tick, tick, Kobe turns away from the basket, tick, tick, puts the ball on the floor, tick, tick, BUZZZER. Kobe slams the ball off the court in disgust and charges for the locker room.

The Knicks lead 117-115.

*Fun Fact 0' the Night: During virtually every time out there was some sort of corporate sponsored shooting contest. From Foxwoods to Continental Airlines, from HSBC to HBO it seemed like every corporate sponsor was offering someone something to make a shot from somewhere on the court. Normally there are a few of these a game, and these sorts of things alternate time-outs with the Knicks City Dancers, the Knicks City Kids, and those kids that do the flips and the crazy jumps. However, it seems like the Knicks City Kids must have come down with a collective case of the chicken pox and in turn infected the jumpers because every time-out the crowd was shown another middle-aged overweight guy from Astoria who made Chris Dudley look like Mark Price.

and the news:
NY Times: recap; Bryant as choke-artist (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)
NY Daily News
NY Post: recap; Intensity=Infighting; Kobe

Monday, February 28, 2005

New Knicks, Old(er) Reggie

Knicks dispatch Pacers, 90-79

Of odds, ends, video montages and emerging folk heroes.....

--the worst part of showing up late to a Knick game is missing the video montage shown on Garden-vision right before the Knicks' starting lineup is introduced. It's a slickly produced highlight package that features Knicks all-time greats producing some of the franchises all-time greatest moments against a morphing backdrop composed of the NYC skyscrapers. Those hairs on the back of one's neck (the sort of hairs that no one could conceivably want, but are oddly integral to describing any sense of suspense/anticipation/etc.) inevitably rise to attention as soon as Starks slams home "The Dunk." By the time Patrick jumps--seemingly over the Chrysler Building--for a monster jam any true Knick fan is amped up enough to step into the lane and take a charge from the love-child of Shaq and Wilt Chamberlain. World domination would not be entirely out of the question if only this could somehow be cued up to the morning alarm clock at Knicker-Blogger HQ.......
--If you squint while watching Marbury or Crawford, you could almost see them playing on any stretch of blacktop in any city in America. There is a flash and bravado to the way they each dribble the ball up the court and cross-up their defenders. Kurt Thomas, on the other hand, is not someone who looks like he's out for a day in the park. Kurt is a man doing some work; get him a hard-hat and a lunch pail with a plastic-wrapped sandwich and some lunch beers. Playing center while listed at (a generous) 6 feet and 9 inches he has to hustle and muscle his way through every game. Even his nearly automatic 15-footer is obviously the prize won of innumberable hours shooting after practices and before games. It was with these hard-earned, automatic buckets that Kurt outscored the Pacers 6-2 in the last minutes of the 1st quarter, giving the Knicks a 27-24 lead.
--The Junkyard Dog is back in the rotation playing some real minutes tonight. Each thunderous dunk elicits a chorus of barks and growls; he's still the paws-down fan favorite of the squad. The Dog has been the most noticeable victim of Herb's experimentation to find the lineup that suits whatever it is that he's looking for.
--Malik Rose took the floor for the first time as a New York Knickerbocker with about 8 minutes left in the first half.
--Approximately fifty-three people booed when Reggie hit a 3 to close the Pacer deficit to 53-51 in the 3rd quarter. No one in my section made a sound. Coming to the game, Reggie's second-to-last at the Garden, it had seemed that he would loom large in this game's unfolding. He didn't. Louder than the boos was the growing indifference. Of course, the Knicker-Blogger had a few choice words for Reggie to pass on to his sister, Cheryl, but she totally had it coming. The Knicks began to pull away soon after Reggie's 3. More importantly, there was no fear that Reggie would inevitably pull the Pacers back into the game before it was over. He sat during crunch-time.
--Flowing with the crowd out towards 33rd Street and another Saturday night in New York City, a voice cracking with either puberty or drink is chanting. "Free Artest, Free Artest!"
and the news....

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Cautionary Tale of the GM who Cried Trade

Gather round the campfire children, as the Knickerblogger weaves a yarn full of terror, suspense, and daring-do......

There once was a land of winter and ice, where polar bears and east European hockey players roamed the tundra in search of penguins and their pucks. Then a magical film based on a more magical book spawned a renaissance of the Jurassic era which oddly enough brought a basketball team to the tundra. The polar bears rejoiced while the east Europeans were afraid. Would the people of Toronto, embrace Mr. Naismith's game from the south and shun their unshaven hockey heroes of old?

Well, it turns out that hockey players were to be safe, albeit only for a short spell, as the basketball team was entrusted to the most genial of GMs, a fantastical man who made his name displaying his most mesmerizing talents. Isiah was his name and he brought a smile that shown brighter than the Canadian sun. The reception for the Raptors was never far greater than luke-warm, but let us not forget that in those mountainous climes luke is as warm as it ever gets.

Now the future was bright, but all was not right. The basketball bounced, the nba on nbc pundits pronounced, and the Raptors were too frequently trounced. The team floundered, opportunities were squandered, and not even Marcus Camby could swat the trouble away.

In the darkest dark of the Candian night, Isiah strove south with suspicious speed as fast as he feets thought that they might....

(to be continued)

*I can't deal with Isiah right now, and by extension the team. The Knickerblogger will be back in section 302 tomorrow night for the Pacers game and Reggie Miller's last appearance on the Garden court. Actual coverage of the team, and what the recent trades have turned the team into will return to its regularly scheduled time after that. At present the depression and rage are too fresh to think objectively. So, stay tuned for the ongoing saga of The Tale of the GM Who Cried Trade.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Happy Deadline Day!

(someone please disable Isiah's cell-phone and buy this man a calculator)

Hot off the presses, the Knicks have traded away both backup point guards and two centers in exchange for more Malik Rose, San Antonio's first rounder, Maurice Taylor, both players' bad contracts, and the exclusive rights to the future bad contract that Knicks management will offer to the aformentioned draft pick. Happy Deadline Day, indeed.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Knicks' Comeback Stalls in Motor City

Tough Game #1 of the second half is behind us. The Knicks are one loss closer to the lottery and another win shy of the playoffs. The final score of 97-88 does not convey the tone of the game as the Pistons led wire to wire and would intermittently pull ahead by 13-17 points. A quick, meaningless spurt during garbage time kept the final score respectable, and must have drawn the ire of those in attendance as the game was prolonged by a series of Knicks' timeouts. In the end, there was just bad news all-around as the Pistons threw one alley-oop to a backdoor cutter after another. The Knicks big men were as ineffectual as the Pistons were dominant. Oh, and the Pistons didn't even have their coach as Larry Brown was kept behind closed doors with the flu.

Marbury summed it up himself when he said, "right now, we're just not that good."

the news....
NY Times
NY Post
NY Daily News

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Knicker-Blogger's Second-Half Preview

For the sake of argument, for the sake of this website, and for the sake of rationalizing all the money that has been spent on ticket plans, souvenir cups, and throwback jerseys (purchased thankfully on ebay rather than at the Garden) let us say that the Knicks are going to pull themselves up by their high-top straps and make the playoffs. Let us talk about this with out a hint of cynicism, let us drink the kool-aid that they must have been serving at Knicks practice yesterday as everyone talked about the playoffs and second-half turnarounds.

The New York Knicks, currently with a record of 21 wins and 32 losses, will make the 2005 NBA playoffs if.....

1) The Knicks can make the playoffs IF they can stay healthy. Over the late stretch of horrible-ness they have been decimated by injury. For this team to turn it around they need Timmy Thomas' finger to heal, Nazr's groin to stay strong, Crawford's ankle to holdup, and the Junkyard Dog's foot to stay on the floor. And of course, it wouldn't hurt to have Houston's knees un-arthritic.

(and speaking of Houston....)

2) The Knicks can make the playoffs IF Allan Houston realizes that he is not going to get back to 100% this season. If Allan were to realize his current limitations and accept them, he could still play 15-20 minutes most nights. Even as he has dragged his knees around the court this season the majesty of his jumpshot is still unmistakable.

3) The Knicks can make the playoffs IF they play better down the stretch than every other team in the Atlantic and the Chicago Bulls. Not to just state the obvious, I've broken out the abacus, carried the 1, and done the math on this:

The teams that the Knicks currently trail in the Atlantic are Boston (-6 games), Philadelphia (-5) games and New Jersey (-2 games). Of these teams, only Boston and Philly would qualify for the playoffs if they started today. Boston would be the 3rd seed as the winner of the Atlantic Division and Philly would be the 8th seed. New Jersey should be mentioned along with these two as the old and newly-improved Vince Carter gives the Nets a puncher's chance to make a run. Lastly, the Chicago Bulls would be the 7th seed out of the central division.

How many of the Knicks remaining 29 games will they have to win to pass these teams for a playoff spot?

The crime lab down at Knicker-Blogger headquarters has come up with a formula to tabulate how these competing teams will likely finish the season.
Top-Secret Super Formula:
3 parts current winning pct. + 1 part winning pct. over last ten games

By this math (and be forewarned that the Knicker-Blogger has no love of math, and majored in English as a younger man), the teams will finish with the following records:
Boston: 46-36
Philly: 42-42 or 41-43
NJ: 39-43
Chicago: 45-37

Boston won't likely finish that well, but we must trust in the power of the formula (and least the knowledge that between Boston/Philly/NJ one of them will finish that well). So, if these records are approximately accurate then the Knicks need go at least 20-9 down the stretch which would put them at 41-43. Realistically (well, not really), they probably need to go 21-8 or 22-7, unless two of the teams above them collapse. Now, Philly or Boston collapsing seems about as likely as NJ making a good run (read: likely to quite likely), but that still leaves the Knicks outside looking in.

Looking at the remaining games it isn't out of the question (as long as the question is being answered by the type of folk reading this site) for the Knicks to actually do this. Giving them the wins they should have (against the likes of Atlanta, Charlotte, etc.) the team must win 6-8 of the "tough" games.

Tough Games:
Indiana (they play Indiana 3 more times and I have placed one of the two home games into the "should win" category), Washington (also 1 of the two home games against Washington is a "should win."), Seattle, Miami, San Antonio, @Detroit, @Orlando, @Miami, @Seattle, @Lakers (the home game versus the Lakers is a questionable "should win."), @NJ (home game versus NJ is in "should win" category, but is more of a "must win."). @Indiana, and @Cleveland.

Should the Knicks win 6-8 of these and win the easier games on the schedule they will be in contention to for a playoff spot in the last week of the season...

Tough Game #1 is tonight in Detroit. This game holds "tough game" status only because the Pistons are the defending champs (and because they walloped the Knicks last time the teams met). Still, the Pistons have been lackluster and inconsistent this season, and have shown themselves to be beatable.

Please pass the kool-aid, Maholo.