There is no such thing as a bad win in the NBA, but the phrase “winning-ugly” may soon find itself etched on the Knicks’ locker room dry-erase board.
New York (6-4) nailed down its fourth victory in-a-row last night, besting division-rival Philadelphia in an intense, physical affair that should quiet critics of Mike D’Antoni’s alleged-aversion to defense, at least for a little while. In fairness, while holding the Sixers to just 79 points would normally be an impressive feat, Philly was playing its fifth game in six nights, and last night completed a brutal back-to-back-to-back stretch.
Clearly playing with tired legs, the Sixers managed to shoot just 3-of-15 from beyond the arc, and their normally-lethal transition game was held largely in check (11 fast-break points).
That said, it is impossible to deny that the Knicks were well-prepared for their opponent. Philadephia was repeatedly forced to abandon their offensive sets, and their frustration was obvious as things got chippy as the game progressed.
Once again, the Knicks relied on a healthy dose of Carmelo Anthony (which is awesome, except that it’s kind of not), but it was the crowd-energizing effort from Josh Harrellson on both ends of the floor that really made all the difference.
What remains encouraging is that New York continues to win despite the absence of two key players in Baron Davis and Jared Jefferies, and a continuing more-than-occasional lack of offensive-cohesion. Combine that with the fact that the Knick-bench is thinner than Lindsay Lohan on a sight-seeing trip to Columbia, and even Stephen A. Smith must admit that playing .600 basketball to start the season ain’t too shabby.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- Apologies to Bernard King, but ‘Melo (27 points on 9-of-24, 9 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals) may just be the best pure scorer ever to wear a Knick uniform. This is more problematic than it sounds. He opened the affair by hitting his first three attempts – a 3-pointer, a razzle-dazzle spinning-jumper in lane, and mid-range shot, all within the first four minutes - but then proceeded to shoot 29% for the rest of the game. Admittedly, some of his makes were among the most impressive you will ever see, but the attempts themselves were more often than not ill-advised. Still, how can you tell Anthony not to “do this,” when he’s so good at doing it? Praise should also be given to the way that Anthony competes. He does not back down from opponents under any circumstance, as Andre Iguodala learned full-well (double-technicals were issued in the second half). That match-up will be one to keep a close eye on when the Knicks and Sixers next meet; there doesn’t seem to be any love-lost between the two.
- NewYork has now out-rebounded its opponents in five-straight games. This is absurd, who are these Knicks?!
- The more I see of Harrellson, the more befuddled I become on how 29 other teams’ front offices and scouts missed on the burly-rookie from Kentucky. At 6’10”, 275 lbs., Jorts plays defense like a 10-year league-veteran, rarely falling for shot-fakes, and generally staying out of foul trouble. He’s virtually impossible to move off of his spots, and his motor runs surprisingly well for a man of his considerable-girth. With those attributes, and his surprising three-point accuracy, Harrellson strikes me as the kind of player – health willing – capable of maintaining a long career in the league.
- “D-Fence!” The Knicks now rank 7th in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency. No, not seventh from the bottom, but 7th! I’m no stat-geek, so I have no idea what this means, but I’m pretty sure being ranked in the top-third in the league in a category with the word “defense” in it is a good thing. As an aside, having a press credential paid real dividends last night as I was able to check out D’Antoni’s pre-game instructions and reminders to the team. The anti-MDA crowd might be surprised to learn that at least 80% of the white-board scribblings – D’Antoni’s handwriting is horrible – pertained to defense. Stopping the 76’ers in transition, hitting the defensive boards, rotation-assignments, zone-traps, switching v. not switching; it was all there. At some point, players have to execute what they’re being coached. Just food for thought, folks.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- I was tempted to leave this entire section void today on account of the winning streak, but instead, I shall be very brief.
- The Knicks need to learn better clock-management when they have a lead in the fourth quarter. On far too many possessions last night, New York hoisted bad shots with lots of time remaining on the shot clock, and those misses allowed Philly to cut what was once a double-digit deficit. This game should should have been an easier win, not a pseudo nail-biter with under 2:00 to play.
- New York surrendered 21 points off 24 turnovers. That cannot happen with regularity.
- Oh, Amar’e Stoudemire (20 points, 10 rebounds, -8), you frustrating man, you! I tweeted last night that STAT at times displays an astonishing lack of focus, interest and/or hustle for a player of his caliber, but he remains a truly gifted (and flawed) asset for the Knicks. More on him over the next few days and weeks.
- The MSG-faithful gave a raucous-ovation for New York Giants Michael Boley and Jake Ballard last night. Unless you’re living under a rock, you know the G-Men head to Green Bay this week to square off against the Packers. I predicted that New York would beat Atlanta last week, but I am far less confident against GB, if only because no one has been talking about Rodgers and the Pack since they lost to Kansas City. Packers win by 4.
- The ‘Bockers are in Memphis tonight to take on the Grizzlies. No Zach Randolph, who is out with with a torn ligament in his right knee, so this would be a prime opportunity to snag a road-win against what is still a quality team.
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Photo by AP Photo/Frank Franklin II