A few months ago I finished reading Jon Krakauer’s Into thin Air. For those unfamiliar, Krakauer, a former Outside magazine journalist, was paid to cover an excursion up Mount Everest. The story – an entirely true one – covers the details of the ascent up the mountain, and the disastrous descent, which, plagued by a combination of human error and an unearthly blizzard, resulted in the deaths and severe injuries of several of the climbers. At the time, I thought, Wow, that is the story of hell 30,000 feet in the air.
Now, take those events, and more-or-less place them some 20,000 feet lower in the atmosphere, in the United States, and on a basketball court. This is sort of what tonight’s Knicks-Nuggets game felt like.
The game didn’t even scratch the hype surrounding it. The Knicks came in a broken and battered squad, facing a Nuggets team flying at a mile-high level, riding a nine-game win streak. Carmelo Anthony, Denver’s former beloved son turned Knick by demand, was making his first return to Denver sine being traded in 2011, despite carrying a balky knee that he seemingly refuses to give serious medical attention.
From the get-go, things tumbled out of control. Though the Knicks did their best to keep up with the Nuggets, it was clear that New York was going to be run off the court. Even with the Knicks’ offense functioning fairly well in the opening quarter, the Nuggets simply sprinted through, around, and past the Knicks off makes, misses, and turnovers alike. A heavy portion of these baskets came in demoralizing fashion – a made three-pointer by the Knicks turned into an Andre Iguodala-Kenneth Faried alley-oop five seconds later; swift passing and uncontested layups; offensive rebounds; putback dunks. And when the threes started raining, it spelled doom for New York. However, despite how easily the blood seemed to be flowing out of the wounds, the Knicks still only trailed 31-26 at the end of the first quarter.
That was when the tourniquet was yanked. Similar to the Golden State blowout just two days ago, the second quarter was the “avada kedavra” spell (*adjusts Harry Potter-framed glasses*) for the Knicks. Mike Woodson, still unlearned from blowouts past, inserted a totally incapable lineup of Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, J.R. Smith, Chris Copeland, and Kenyon Martin, and the flood gates opened (though in Woodson’s defense: who else was he going to play?). While the Knicks’ offense consisted of few passes and a bevy of hoisted, contested jumpers, the Nuggets continued to sprint out after every Knicks possession, running them ragged, feasting on the open opportunities awaiting them at the basket. As the Nuggets’ lead ballooned from six to 20, things managed to get worse.
On offense, while rolling to the basket, Tyson Chandler seemed to collide knees with Corey Brewer, crumpled to the ground, and remained on the floor, clearly in pain. The Knicks attended to him, and minutes later, he hobbled off the floor, requiring assistance from teammates to walk back to the locker room. The Knicks later diagnosed it as a “contused knee” – AKA a bruise – but this is both vague and uncomfortable as just a few days ago, Amar’e Stoudemire’s “sore knee” turned out to be an injury requiring surgery.
Without Chandler, you can guess where this went: even further down the drain. With the Knicks already trailing by 20-plus points in the second half, Carmelo Anthony, too, decided to leave the game, unannounced, and head back to the locker room with a sore knee. He also would not return.
At this point, it seems silly to recap the game further. The Nuggets’ high octane attack slowed a bit to a less dramatic pace and elevation, but the scoreboard did not reflect it. For the remained of the game, their lead stayed put between 20-30 points, while the crowd delighted in “Where’s ‘Melo?” and “Who needs ‘Melo?” chants. For the Knicks, nothing was notable except a few rhythmic, canned jumpers from Iman Shumpert, some pleasant dishing from Pablo Prigioni, and a few well timed swats from Kenyon Martin.
At this point, the Knicks can just hope to salvage a game or two on this road trip and desperately avoid falling below the fourth seed (a very real possiblity). The hopes of the team, already largely dependent on Carmelo Anthony’s jumpshot and Tyson Chandler’s command of the defense, now seem excessively flimsy, and we can only wait in angst for further details of Chandler’s injury.
Four healthy knees between the Knicks’ Big Three, and a most unpleasant beginning to a very important road trip. As noted on Twitter tonight: We’ll Always Have November.
What’s up Knicks Wall readers? As a new contributor, I felt the need to let you all know a bit about me. I feel this is appropriate with the Knicks just playing a game against the Heat. I’m a huge Knicks fan, but I’m also a huge LeBron James fan. I know, I know, odd. Yet, is it that weird enough to be considered frowned upon by the New York fan base? I’m not so sure. I only say this because we have had similar scenarios in the 90′s with the one and only Michael Jordan.
I wouldn’t be the first person to observe that the Knicks’ remaining schedule is brutal. Most people point to the two obvious metrics: opponent’s records and road games. Of the Knicks’ remaining 24 games, only nine are against teams that currently have a losing record. In addition, the Knicks only have nine home games left on the schedule. The full extent of how bad the road ahead is for the Knicks goes beyond records and road games though.
The Knicks defeated the short-handed Golden State Warriors in an absolute barn-burner to spoil Stephen Curry’s eruption for an NBA season-high, 54 points. What looked like it was going to be breezy win for the Knicks in the early going turned into an edge-of-your-seat, big-play-after-big-play trade-off between two teams who desperately wanted to come away with a win. Curry nearly gave the Warriors the game, throwing them on his shoulders as he repeatedly launched from downtown, lighting the Garden ablaze with a multitude of long shots, contested and open. In the game’s final minutes, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony each scored big baskets for the Knicks, and Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, and Iman Shumpert contributed big plays on the defensive end to give the Knicks the edge.
The first quarter was hardly indicative of what was to come later in the game. Both teams struggled out of the gate, the Warriors missing two-thirds of their frontcourt with Andrew Bogut out with a cranky back, and David Lee suspended because of his scuffle with the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night.
The Knicks, meanwhile, defended more ably than we’d seen in opening quarters in quite awhile. Their offense, however, took awhile to get going as Anthony continued his mini-slump from outside, while Jason Kidd and Iman Shumpert both laid bricks. The positive for the Knicks was Tyson Chandler’s youthful energy as he ravished the boards, collecting 10 rebounds in a matter of six minutes. He also skied to finish alley-oops and clean up misses from his out-of-tune teammates.
The Knicks’ defensive energy stemmed largely from Chandler’s dominance on the boards and Shumpert’s sudden aggressiveness in his on-ball defense. Shumpert bounced back and forth guarding Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and Steph Curry, and was able to pester each of them, nabbing three steals in the opening period, showing signs of his exciting rookie year D. Chandler, too, bothered the Warriors into a couple turnovers, after which the Knicks generally looked to push the pace. One particularly splendid Shumpert steal from Curry led to a fastbreak dunk for Smith.
The Warriors struggles forced Mark Jackson to go very small, putting the 6’8″ Carl Landry at center, with Barnes at power forward, Thompson at the three, and Curry and Jarrett Jack in the backcourt. This small lineup prompted Anthony to go down on the right block where he continually abused whomever tried to guard him. Even when he missed, Chandler was able to finish over the much smaller Warriors. Anthony and the Knicks finally got some rhythm on offense and finished the quarter up 27-18.
The Knicks snapped a four-game losing streak by defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, and retaining first place in the Atlantic Division. Heading into the game, the Knicks had been mired in a major slump on both ends of the floor, undoubtedly playing their worst basketball of the season. A last-minute loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday seemed to be the tipping point, the time where the panic button ought to be pushed. Granted, it was against a weaker opponent, but tonight’s win over the Sixers displayed better effort and determination for longer stretches than we’d seen in recent weeks.
Anytime a team exceeds expectations, it’s natural to point to two things: a great coaching effort and good personnel changes. While the Knicks are in a bit of a tailspin at the moment, one of the things that make it such a big deal is that up to this point the Knicks have greatly exceeded expectations. As of this writing, the Knicks are 32-20, 12 games over .500, despite their current four-game losing streak. Last year, after 52 games, they were 26-26 and they finished the season just six games over .500, barely making it into the Eastern Conference playoff field. The Knicks entered this season with a roster built around the same three core stars, having lost Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire starting the season on the sideline. There were hopes that the Knicks would respond well to a full season under Mike Woodson, but few prognosticators had the Knicks in line to win the Atlantic Division. While the Knicks have benefited from both excellent coaching and some good moves by management, perhaps the most significant change has been to the offensive game of their returning star, Carmelo Anthony.
The Knicks’ slow starts are no longer a trend, but a trait. Since beginning the season in near-dominant fashion, running out to an 18-5 record, the Knicks are just 14-14. Though many of their problems have stemmed from injuries and having to work new players in and out of the rotation, the Knicks have been pretty consistently out of rhythm since 2013 rang in, and Mike Woodson has found few answers to solve their arrhythmic play.
These problems could be traced back to Carmelo Anthony’s various absences, Jason Kidd’s gradual deterioration, Raymond Felton’s month-long absence, the continual injury bugs plaguing Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby, the rotational additions of Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, and the up-and-down play of J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, and Ronnie Brewer. Piled on over the course of a month and a half, these problems add up, and it’s showed in the Knicks’ play.
For awhile, the team was executing nicely on offense, but struggled mightily to get stops on defense. In the last game before the All-Star break, the Knicks smothered the Toronto Raptors’ offense, but couldn’t figure out a way to score the ball, shooting just 35% from the field and 36% from three-point range. Last night against the Indiana Pacers, arguably the most embarrassing loss of the season, the Knicks took a collective dump on the floor, shooting 33% from the field, 17% from downtown, and giving up 125 points to the seventh least efficient offense in the NBA.
It’s safe to say the Knicks are in a state of total ineptitude.
The New York Knicks have signed Kenyon Martin to a 10-day contract, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. This comes on the heels of a last minute trade, sending Ronnie Brewer to the Oklahoma City Thunder, in exchange for the Thunder’s 2014 second round pick.
The Knicks were eager to sign Jermaine O’Neal if the Suns chose to buy him out, but the Suns changed their mind and decided to keep O’Neal. With that, the Knicks quickly changed their targets to focus on Kenyon Martin.
Last season, the Knicks had a Defensive Rating of 101.0 or 101 points per 100 possessions, good for fifth in the league. This was despite having notorious pace addict Mike D’Antoni as their head coach for most of the season. This season, the Knicks, now coached by reputed defensive guru Mike Woodson, have a Defensive Rating of 106.1, good for 15th in the league. So how did our beloved Knickerbockers go from one of the league’s elite defensive teams to right smack in the middle?
Jason Kidd’s beginning to the 2012-13 season was basically a giant middle finger to all of his prior doubters coming into the season, myself included. Like many others, I had prematurely concluded that the Knicks had wasted their money on a 39-year old who wouldn’t be able to offer enough on the court to make up for the tied-up money and roster spot he occupied. I saw severely declining statistics over the previous three years and had low expectations about what kind of on-court tangibles Kidd could bring. The many doubters and I were wrong.
Kidd kicked off the season in fantastic form. Not only did Kidd bring the intangibles that people have raved about for the last decade – leadership, veteran poise, etc. – his on-court worth was huge to the Knicks. His accurate marksmanship from downtown, surprisingly stout defense with lightning quick hands, and a keen, unwavering sense of where to pass the ball at all times made him an essential member of the team.
The Knicks had somewhat quietly won three games in a row before bursting out with a 39-points squashing of the Sacramento Kings this past Saturday. The Knicks continued to make noise tonight, winning their fifth straight game – and their fourth by double-figures – by knocking out the Detroit Pistons tonight, 99-85. A fiery hot start for New York blasted them off to a 20+ point lead for most of the first half and, thankfully, buoyed them through a sluggish second half. When the Pistons cut it close in the fourth quarter, some timely three-pointers – a trend on the night – kept them at bay and gave the Knicks the win.
Tonight could qualify as one of those “ugly, grind-it-out” wins that are so often referred to when a basketball team squeezes out a victory by the skins of their collective teeth. Said games, however, are usually given such a description when both teams struggle to score the ball, and actually have to play ugly, hustling, desperate basketball in order to get the win. The Knicks and Hawks had to battle each other quite a bit tonight, but instead it consisted of two decent offenses going back and forth while the respective defenses played half-heartedly, with lackluster execution on both ends polluting the quality of play.
Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, the Hawks’ head coach, would probably both like their chances of getting a win if they knew their teams would shoot over 50% from the field and over 40% from three-point range. Instead, the outcome of the game hung in balance until the final buzzer. The Knicks used a heroic offensive performance from Carmelo Anthony, with some great bench production from J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire to make up for the fact that their defense begged the Hawks to take the game. A last-minute three-point play and a final stop (even with some poor defense) ended up tilting the game in the Knicks’ favor as they escaped with a win to move to 27-15.