My favorite time of the year is upon us. The week after the All-Star Break signals the beginning of a period I like to call ‘Basketball Heaven’. While the NCAA is coming into its home stretch, with teams battling to make it to the field of 68, the NBA is resuming the regular, everyday routine of in season play. More importantly, this week signals the time of reckoning for NBA teams. Our team is now 32-19 a week after the break, and after a horrendous loss to the suddenly-impenetrable Pacers, it’s time to get real about the Knicks.
If there’s one thing that’s characterized this squad, it’s inconsistency. Since our torrid start, our shooting percentages have dipped back to reality. Our defense has become, to borrow Walt’s terminology, Swiss cheese. Though we’re 6-4 over our last 10 games, we’re 11-9 over our last 21, notching wins over (wait for it) the Magic and Pistons twice, the Hawks, Bucks, Kings, Hornets, the injury-riddled Celtics, and the Patented Popovich DNP Spurs. Essentially, we’re beating the teams we’re supposed to beat. Big whoop.
In my first post for The Knicks Wall, I lauded the rotation Mike Woodson put together and the blueprint the Knicks used to throw down two blowout wins against the Heat. That firepower doesn’t seem to be there as of late. The inconsistency has taken over. Too often the offense devolves into Melo and JR-ball. The driving and thriving, and swooping and hooping are gone. Defensive rotations are constantly missed. Walt hasn’t said ‘stifling’ in regard to us in weeks. Our once-sterling turnover rate has shot up to D’Antoni levels. All of this points to two conclusions about the Knicks going into the home stretch of the season.
Firstly, our Knickerbockers aren’t good at winning when they’re not in complete control of the game. If they’re not blowing the other team out, or controlling the tempo of the game, then it’s hard for them to find a rhythm. We don’t have many grind-it-out wins, and will just as easily lose by 20 as win by 20. That doesn’t bode well for the Playoffs, when every possession’s intensity is ratcheted-up tenfold. Secondly, our Knicks are sorely missing an interior presence other than Chandler. Teams live in the paint when they play the Knicks; in our 10 losses since the new year, teams have shot almost 50% against us. In what can only be attributed to pure desperation, we just signed Kenyon Martin to a 10-day contract. Good Lord, if we had our present frontcourt in 2004, we’d be a lock for the Finals. In 2013, they’re a liability, and no amount of Kidd to K-Mart alley-oop highlights will convince me otherwise.
I hate being the bearer of bad news, but the way our Knickerbockers are playing doesn’t give me a lot of confidence. The Playoffs are creeping up, and though we’re the 2nd-place team in the East, there’s a lot of work to do. If we have to face the Pacers or Bulls come Playoff time, I’m not sure we can win four games. Gone is the fanciful air that marked the pre-All-Star season. Crunch time is upon us. We can sit and pontificate until we’re blue in the face. But until the Knicks get real about the Knicks, I’m mentally preparing myself for a second-round exit.