NBA: Washington Wizards at New York Knicks

Recap: Knicks 108, Wizards 101

Well, that was some pre-season basketball! There were line-up experiments, rotation experiments, play-calling experiments, the usual funky shots that missed rim completely, shots that hit every part of the rim, shots that slammed off the backboard, mishandled passes, dribbles off feet and knees – all things typical of pre-season.

In the end, the Knicks still came away with their first win of the season!

The Knicks, playing their first pre-season game, dropped into the Target Center in Washington D.C. pretty banged up. Iman Shumpert and Ronnie Brewer are still recovering from their respective knee injuries, Marcus Camby will be out a few more days recovering from a strained calf, and Amar’e Stoudemire (bruised knee) and James White (sore hamstring) were late scratches. The absences were quite noticeable, as Mike Woodson started a line-up consisting of Raymond Felton, Mychel Thompson, Carmelo Anthony, Kurt Thomas, and Tyson Chandler.

The starters ran out to a pretty quick lead, running fairly active offensive sets with lots of pick-and-rolls, cross screens, and the occasional post-ups. Though the defense was nothing much to marvel at – the Knicks were out-rebounded by 15, giving up 15 offensive rebounds – it was enough to hold off the Wizards for the first quarter, where the Knicks finished leading 38-21. However, the second quarter immediately pointed out the Knicks’ shallow line-up.

The second quarter featured some of the most dismal offense a basketball game has ever produced (and this comes from someone who watched Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby attempt to run the offense last year). Woodson opted to sit Anthony, Chandler, and Thomas for the entirety of the quarter, which left front-court duties to Steve Novak, John Shurna, Henry Sims, and Chris Copeland, while J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, and Felton all had their opportunities to man the back-court. And it wasn’t pretty. The Knicks hardly sniffed the paint for a chunk of time, and didn’t manage to score until there were four minutes left in the quarter.The Wizards, meanwhile, reeled off a 22-0 run and got themselves the lead right back.

But even now, I need to slow my seething. Unless the Knicks are this injury-riddled during the season (let’s hope they aren’t), players like Shurna, Sims, and Copeland have very little chance of playing, and that’s assuming they make the team. Furthermore, excruciating droughts like the one that took place in the second quarter, would be spelled by returning the starters to the floor.

The rest of the game was fairly uneventful. After trailing by three at halftime, the Knicks righted the ship and sailed fairly smoothly the rest of the way. Offensive stagnancy was seldom seen, and the defense, still as unspectacular as the first half, was good enough to hold the Wizards off. A few things of interest:

  • As noted, the Knicks’ offense, at least in the first quarter where they seemed more focused on running it, featured lots of pick-and-rolls, cross screens, post-ups from Chandler and Anthony, and some flashes to the high post, mainly from Thomas. This early in the season, it’s tough to pin down what the offense will look like, but, right now, it appears to be a motion-based half-court offense, with a few playful attempts to push the pace. As the preseason goes on, it will be interesting to see how the offense molds.
  • A huge part of the offense, quite unchanged from Mike D’Antoni’s plans, involved some gun-slinging freedom from beyond the arc. The Knicks took 33 attempts from three-point range, making 18 of them for a pretty darn efficient 54.5%. That number, quite simply, is not sustainable, especially from this crew. However, if by some miracle it does continue, a big thanks to…
  • Steve Novak, J.R. Smith, and Pablo Prigioni! Smith connected on his only three-point attempt of the evening, but Novak and Prigioni ripped the nets, combining to go 11-15 from downtown (7-7 and 4-8, respectively). In general, these bench bros provided over half of the Knicks’ offense, with a total of 55 points. Novak did all of his work from beyond the arc (minus one arm-raising glorious moment where he nearly got a runner in the lane to fall) where his stroke looks impeccable, nailing shots on catch-and-shoots, pull-ups, and with hands in his face. Believe it or not, that’s a difference from last year. Prigioni, after a dreadful first half, found his groove in the second, when he was surrounded by big men who could pick-and-roll (Chandler) and shot-creators (‘Melo and Smith). He had a few nice hook-ups with Chandler, including a lovely alley-oop, and in the fourth quarter where he hit three of his four three-pointers.
  • Smith, though… J.R. was in rare form tonight; the type of form where his game is fully realized and he capitalizes on it. Smith dropped in 20 points on 8-11 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists. Though he was ‘on’ all night, his first half, in particular, was lovely. Smith did most of his work on catch-and-shoots, one from downtown, one on a baseline curl, and did some handiwork dishing the ball. Though 20 points and 72% FG will absolutely not continue from Smith, his all-around effort tonight could be a really positive sign for the Knicks.
  • Carmelo Anthony had a quiet 17 points (in just 20 minutes of playing time). He, too, looked focused on playing within the system, and generally trying to desist the type of isolation, scoring-focused game that he’s talked about moving on from. 3-3 from three-point land from Anthony would also go a long way in spreading the floor for the Knicks.
  • Raymond Felton also had a quietly efficient night. Felton does indeed seem slimmed down and it showed on a few of his dashes to the lane for layups, one of which was an and-1 completion to end the first half. His outside shot wasn’t really falling, but Felton mainly looked to set up other players tonight, and it showed, as he finished with 8 assists. It’s worth mentioning that the offense ran considerably smoother with Felton at the helm.
  • Tyson Chandler did Tyson Chandler things. He finishes some alley-oops and slammed some put-backs in, but was otherwise quiet in actually rebounding and blocking shots. He flailed and punched Jan Vesley in the face after Vesely fouled him (flagrantly!). Tyson Chandler doesn’t like it when other people play basketball against him.

As mentioned, this was some pre-season basketball, and it sure did feel great! An astute point was made on Twitter: When the Knicks played guys that figure to be staples of the rotation, they looked good. When they played guys fighting for roster spots, they didn’t look good. There’s still three weeks for the team to get healthy and work out the kinks. In the meantime, the Knicks still took a win tonight, and will play the Boston Celtics on Saturday.