Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"You Two, Loook Up Here!"

Unnoticed, the Knicks Notched a BIG Win

While most people were watching 24 and still blissfully unaware of the phrase "Touch it, Dave", the Knicks earned their second-most impressive win of the season in New Orleans against the Hornets. The Knicks played up to their talent and they used hard work to subdue a team of greater talent. And, they passed the ball. A lot. Especially to David Lee around the rim. The Knicks had 30 assists in this game. Duhon had 9. Quentin Richardson had 8, setting up Lee for 3 dunks and a layup in the second half. To put that in perspective, the Knicks tallied just 29 dimes during their previous two games.

Most impressively, this was a complete four-quarter effort. The Knicks matched the Hornets in the first frame with 23 points, were +7 in the second (although CP3 tossed in a halfcourt shot a split second after the buzzer sounded for the half), were just -1 in the third, and had enough left in the tank to match the 32 the Hornets scored in the fourth as they tried to mount a comeback. There was no stillwater stretch, where nothing was happening for the Knicks and they seemed uninterested. Which never happens. There is almost always a throw-away quarter in this team's games. And, that stretch generally costs them wins. Saturday night's loss in Houston provides a prime example of the ways in which the Knicks can be undone by their inability to play competently from start to finish. The Knicks played within 4 points of the Rockets through quarters 1, 2 and 4 but were outscored 31-14 in the third.

The main ailment affecting this team is an inability to maintain a high energy level throughout and David Lee led had the cure in New Orleans. The workhorse forward outplayed David West (whose stats are inflated by a lot of made free throws). The Knicks team defense kept Chris Paul from exploding and taking over the game. And Al Harrington hit the big shot of the game from the perimeter and played poised and perfect one-on-one defense on the perimeter when the Hornets needed a big shot of their own. It showed that, when they put forth a 48-minute effort, these Knicks are capable of beating the NBA's better teams.

Next to the home win over the Celtics, this is the club's best result so far. The Hornets are fourth in the West and hadn't lost at home in nearly two months. The win shows how miserable the showing in Oklahoma City was at the start of this road trip. If the Knicks had won that game then they are returning home from a 2-2 Western swing and the close loss to Mavericks in Dallas doesn't really sting too badly.

And, that is why tonight's home game versus the 7-30 Washington Wizards becomes the biggest game of the season so far. Bigger than the wins over the Hornets and the Celtics. Bigger than the game in Oklahoma City, which I called the season's biggest game* at the time. If the Knicks can win this game then they're heading back to DC on Friday for a return game against the Wiz with a chance to really build something heading towards the All-Star break (and the trading deadline).

*The idea that any of these (or any) games are BIG is predicated on the potentially false hope that this team can make something of itself in the short term. If they are going to inch closer to .500 and a playoff berth then tonight is the most important game of the season, thus far. If that is going to happen then tonight is a must-win. However, if the team isn't actually going to get better in the short term then there are zero big games on this year's (or next year's) schedule.

What Could Possibly Be Next?

Not surprisingly, the mocking emails are pouring in. I've been invited to touch all sorts of things. The morning after the team's most impressive win of the season (@ Hornets) the Knicks-related topic of conversation is this lawsuit against Eddy Curry rather than the great performance of David Lee, the reinvention of Q Rich as a passer (he had eight assists) or the phenomenal defense that Al Harrington played during the Hornets' final possession. We're ignoring a solid road win over a team with title aspirations because we're talking about Curry's alleged sexual harassment of a former male employee, who was a criminal and may currently be trying to commit yet another crime against his former boss.

As you might infer, I'm inclined to think these charges won't stick. Still, I wouldn't be that surprised if it all turned out to be true. At this point, how could I be? Could Curry's lack of playing time and respect around the league sent him into a depression that pushed him towards increasingly erratic and dangerous behavior? Sure. Could he have taken out his understandable frustration on someone who he had control over? Why not. And, could that person have been just the sort to try to turn a profit by overstating the wrongs committed against him by a wealthy employer? It seems like it. Everything this team touches seems to turn to garbage.

Who knows what tomorrow brings? Nothing would surprise me. If I picked up a copy of Post tomorrow morning while walking through midtown and saw this picture of Nate paired with the headline "LOW BLOW: Nate accosts member of the Harlem Boys Choir, says vertical similarity led to horizontal depravity" would I be surprised? I guess not. That's what it's come to in the last gasps of the Isiah Thomas Era. And, this episode makes it clear that we're still living under the cloud of Thomas. After all, Curry was the his franchise cornerstone. And sexually harassing a female employee may be his easiest to decipher action as an executive.