Picture this: Your gorgeous new 55” high-definition television set has just arrived. It looks great mounted in your family room above the mantle. In mere moments, you’ll fire it up for the first time, and life as you know it will never be the same. Except the power button brings not those jaw-dropping images you remember from the showroom-floor, but instead, a blurry message from Cablevision:
We regret to inform you that high-definition is not yet available in your area. We are working hard to bring you the very best in cutting-edge picture-quality and sound, but for now, please enjoy the distorted and maddening experience that is standard-definition. You will continue to be billed at HDTV rates, per your service agreement. Cheers, James Dolan
Not exactly the experience you had in mind, was it?
And so it goes for the New York Knicks (1-2), who were thoroughly obliterated last night by the Los Angeles Lakers, 99-82. The final deficit was 17 points, but it might as well have been 77, because at no point was New York remotely competitive in the contest. And therein lies the problem for coach Mike D’Antoni, whose leash in this town remains shorter than a Kim Kardashian marital-cycle.
Here’s the thing, though; a basketball team is only as good as its personnel, and until the Knicks’ “installation” is complete, lambasting MDA for a lack of high-definition performance with a standard-definition roster is as misguided as it is unfair.
At present, the Knicks have no point guard. Their PG-savior-in-waiting is weeks, perhaps more, away from beginning to learn the team’s offense.
New York’s second and third best on-the-ball defenders are injured.
We are only three games into the season. A season, mind you, that has seen an abbreviated training camp and just two preseason games, thanks to the lockout. Oh, and there’s that 50% roster-turnover since the 2010-11 campaign.
These incontrovertible facts would seem to suggest that D’Antoni deserves, like, more than one week before the apoplectic – and in some cases politically motivated – media and fans scream for his deportation.
What, exactly, would the immortal Phil Jackson be doing differently right now? Would he summon the Ghost of Defense Past to scare Landry Fields into better lateral quickness? Would he trick Amar’e Stoudemire into sleeping in a cardboard box to impress upon him the need to box-out opposing players?
No, this is not the time to call for D’Antoni’s head.
Yes, significant problems exist with the Knick-roster, namely the oft-discussed point guard void, and the inability or unwillingness of their two superstar players to play off of each others’ strengths. But until Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert and Jared Jefferies return, it is virtually impossible to judge the Knicks on execution.
If you’re watching these games, you can see that the effort is there, so let’s reserve judgment until, say, 15 games into the season, shall we?
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- Carmelo Anthony (27 points on 8-of-14 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) filled up the stat sheet, but he was largely ineffective for most of the game, in no small part because of his five turnovers. As we saw against Golden State and Boston, ‘Melo is content to receive the ball on the perimeter and take his chances via isolation plays. Given the questionable performance of Stoudemire to date, one can’t blame him, but ‘Melo’s refusal to post up is puzzling, at best. When Anthony gets into the lane, the defense has no choice to double or triple-team him, and in theory, that should open things up for Amar’e. If this doesn’t soon change, the questions surrounding D’Antoni’s strategy will become legitimate.
- The Knicks made lots and lots of free throws (34-of-41). This was primarily because the shots were uncontested, apparently. In fact, sans whistles, the Knicks could have easily been blown out of the gym by the second quarter.
- Tyson Chandler put up his first double-double in a Knick-uniform. On the defensive side, I thought that Bryan Gibberman, longtime LoHud Knick aficionado, made an astute point regarding how to best utilize Chandler’s defensive presence: “Maybe Mike Woodson would be well-served to watch tape of Dallas’ zone-defense last season. Maverick Coach Rick Carlisle did a great job using the zone to hide woeful defenders like J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and Dirk Nowitzki.” Why not show a zone here in New York, at least for stretches? The team’s current man-to-man approach, replete with incessant switching, isn’t working. At all.
- Steve Novak is on pace to have the greatest long-distance shooting-season the world has ever seen. The sharpshooter drained two more 3-balls last night and despite missing on a 3PA, he’s shooting 75% from beyond the arc thus far. Ciao Bella, Danilo!
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- Once again, the Knicks were out-rebounded (40-32), and yes, when shots were launched, New York’s longtime-allergy to boxing-out was on display.
- It’s only three games, but Amar’e (15 points on 4-of-17, 2 rebounds, and another 3PA) doesn’t look right. His jumpers are errant, his defensive attention to detail is nonexistent, and his rebounding is completely unacceptable. STAT was primarily focused on rehabbing his back injury last summer, and that chiseled physique suggests that he’s done the necessary work to endure the condensed-season. Perhaps that explains the rust, and hopefully his shots will start soon fall. The mental lapses on defense are another story, and I am not sure there’s a coach alive that can cure what ails STAT there.
- “D-FENCE!” The Knicks allowed the Lakers to shoot 71.9% from the field in the first half. That is, like, really bad. Watching Landry Fields chase around starting-caliber shooting guards – let alone all-world examples like Kobe Bryant (28 points, 6 assists) – is painful. Fields, at this stage of his career, anyway, is just not a viable option. Shumpert cannot get back soon enough, if only for his ability to guard.
- Lakers coach Mike Brown must have been a preschool teacher in a former life. After scoring inside off a pass from Steve Blake, the artist formerly known as Ron Artest was reminded by his coach to thank his point guard for the dish. If Kobe Bryant doesn’t go crazy and kill his teammates by mid-season, the Lakers are going to lead the league in manners.
- Watching this elder-statesman version of Bryant brought back memories of a young-Bryant (33 points) chasing around Michael Jordan (36 points) 14 years ago in a 104-86 Bulls win. I just wish we could have seen Shumpert chasing Kobe around, not because I think Shumpert will ever achieve that level of greatness, but because it would have be fun to watch.
- Next up for New York are the Sacramento Kings at 8 p.m. EST on New Year’s Eve. A win would go a long way toward blunting the momentum of discontent around here, so let’s hope coach D’Antoni can impress upon his team the urgency of getting things on track.
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Photo by AP/Mark. J. Terrill