Monday, February 22, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010


BallHype: hype it up!

Deadline: USA

It's NBA Trade Deadline Day. Somewhere in the Floridian wilderness, Isiah Thomas is furiously working a bank of phones whose chords dangle unattached off the end of his desk.

It's the day that has brought us such blockbuster transactions as Steve Francis for Trevor Ariza and Penny Hardaway. At this mid-February trade deadline in recent years, we've acquired Tim Thomas. We've traded Tim Thomas. We've acquired Nazr Mohammed. We've traded Nazr Mohammed. We've given up draft picks for overpriced role players. We've also surrendered draft picks for role players with bloated contracts. The moves have been legion. Yet nothing has really happened.

Until today. Until today? Well, maybe.

Knicks GM Donnie Walsh may trade away large swaths of the team's roster by 3 p.m. this afternoon, cleaning out the cupboard in order to free up enough money to sign two free-agent All-Stars during the upcoming offseason. All of today's moves are should be aimed at that goal. Not only will the lives of the players being traded by affected by what agreements are made today by the league's power brokers but the lives of those who stay behind will likely be altered as well. If the Knicks move Jared Jeffries - the team's best defender - then David Lee - the team's best offensive player - probably doesn't come back next season. At least not by design. And he knows that.

Coo Coo Ca-Choo, Mr. Robinson
Heaving hangs the head the wears the crown. Just days after bringing home his historic third Slam Dunk Title, Nate Robinson appears to be shipping up to Boston. The deal was widely reported on Wednesday and seems fated to be complete today. The iteration of the trade most frequently bandied about yesterday had the Knicks sending Robinson to a division rival in exchange for reserve guard Eddie House, a second round draft pick in 2011 or 2012. This transaction is mildly complicated due to Nate's contract status: He's what is called a base-year compensation player, which means that the Knicks do not, or actually cannot, take back equal money. They can only take back a little more than half of Nate's $4 million salary. This means that additional players could be thrown into the deal until the math works out. No player of consequence will be added as it appears that both clubs see this primarily as a Nate-for-House swap.

As much as, I'm willing, perhaps even eager, to get behind the Don's all-in mentality vis a vis free agency, I'm not sold on this particular move. Because I see this as being personal rather than business. It's no secret that a D'Antoni doesn't like Robinson. He berates him on the sidelines after miscues. And, that's obviously only when Robinson is in the lineup. He was benched for a long stretch at the end of 2009.

Robinson is more talented in every facet of the game save one. House is a catch-and-shoot player. He's a born role player whereas Robinson's freakish dynamism make him more than that. Which is a problem. Coach D'Antoni wants Robinson to be a back-up point guard or a catch-and-shoot two guard. He wants him to man a wing at the top of the team's zone. But Robinson is a playmaker who can create his own shot and an athletic wonder with the ability and desire to crash the boards and as well as go for the steal. He's a more well-rounded basketball player than House. Hands down. But House's limitations may be his strong suit as far as D'Antoni is concerned.

Readers of Seven Seconds or Less will remember that House played for Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix and was that club's resident motor-mouth, streak shooter. He found House's high jinks cheeky and fun whereas he apparently sees Nate's as destructive and sad.

The saving grace for this deal is the inclusion of a draft pick. With the Knicks having already moved this year's selection to Utah and likely to send the new few picks to Houston, it is crucial that the team finds a reason to show up at Radio City on draft day.

A Boy Named Tracy
The Knicks just acquired a seven-time All-Star in exchange for ... well ... for a lot of pieces. "A King's Ransom" is what some would and will call what the Knicks gave up in order to acquire former All-Star and current exile Tracy McGrady from Houston and European point guard Sergio Rodriguez from Sacramento. And, in this case, they would be correct. Except Tracy is not the King in question. Nope. And, neither is Rodriguez. McGrady is window dressing. He's the lipstick on this pig of a season. He may even play exceedingly well once he shakes off the rust of his injuries and subsequent banishment from Houston. There was a time when McGrady was perhaps the most physically gifted ballplayer in the Association. But his talents are beside the point here. Just like the rest of this season is besides the point.

Thanks to this deal, the Knicks will likely have the ability to offer maximum contracts to two marquee free agents during the upcoming offseason. If players were groceries and general managers like Donnie Walsh could just place them in a cart then he'd be in the 10 Items Or Less line with Lebron James and Chris Bosh in his basket come July. That's the point of this trade. Not the boy named Tracy.

Walsh came to New York with a mandate to make them players in the Summer of 2010. He did it. At an extremely high cost? Surely. But he got this team farther under the salary cap then most would have thought possible. If he lures LBJ +1 to the Big Apple this summer then it was a coup. If he doesn't then he will rue the day he met Rockets GM Daryl Morey.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Star Among Us

David Lee Added to All-Star Roster

Not since 2001, when Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston participated in one of the better midwinter classics in recent years - a game that featured once and future Knickerbockers Anthony Mason, Stephon Marbury and Antonio McDyess - has a player from the Garden graced the NBA All-Star Game.

Until Sunday, when Knicks center David Lee will tread the boards for the Eastern Conference.

To keep with the '01 meme, a roster spot opened up for Lee because 2001 All-Star Game MVP Allen Iverson pulled out for family reasons. The last time Lee participated in a game during the All-Star break went 14 for 14 from the field and took home the MVP Award during the 2007 Rookies vs. Sophomores Game. While I don't think that he'll have that sort of result against the game's best this weekend, I do think he deserves to be there. Over Atlanta forward Josh Smith, the other contender for the opening.

Bonus All-Star Game Photo

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

T-Mac Attack

Knicks Pushing for Tracy McGrady

According to the Worldwide Leader, Donnie Walsh and the Knicks are looking to bring in McGrady from Houston in a three-team deal with the Wizards. Al "Buckets" Harrington would end up in Washington while Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood would move from the Beltway to the Lone Star State. The smaller pieces in such a deal are to be determined, but I read over at Bleacher Report that Larry Hughes and/or Nate Robinson could be on the way out. Ideally, Walsh figures out a way to send Jeffries elsewhere (perhaps to Washington where he was a part of a playoff team before coming to New York) in order to clear some cap space for next year.

Just because most New Yorkers are snowed in doesn't mean that Walsh ain't hustling. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The King and I

When Lebron James - the boy king of Akron - walked off the court at the conclusion of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals last spring without shaking the hands of the victorious players from the Orlando Magic, I took note. Many people did, including NBA Commissioner David Stern. Excuses were made and sort-of-but-not-really apologies were proffered. Any outrage subsided soon subsided, though. Perhaps because the commercials with the puppets were so damn funny. Or maybe because LBJ was so damn good, even in defeat. I mean, he seemed to be playing 1 on 5 when his "team" had the ball and that game-winner in Game 2 was where amazing happened.

But when Lebron was dancing along the sideline in a lopsided win over the Chicago Bulls this season - managing to turn wild-maned jitterbug Joakhim Noah into a spokesman for hoops decorum and respecting the game - I took note again. Perhaps absently-mindful of those two moments, I wrote last week that I'd rather have (a healthy) Chris Paul on the Knickerbockers than Lebron, or anyone else. I'd told a friend on Friday night while watching the Nuggets and Lakers square off that I'd be perfectly happy if the Knicks' Plan C was to land Carmelo Anthony when he becomes a free agent after next season. Rumor has it that after a few beers that I may have even informed a fellow patron at a local tavern that I'd be tickled if the Knicks went with Plan Z and traded for the suspended Gilbert Arenas and signed Amare in the offseason to pair with Lee, Gallo and Chandler. According to my bar tab, I was even out long enough to say that I would rather root for the team trying to topple Lebron than the team that featured him.

And, then James went out on Saturday night and scored 24 of his game-high 47 points consecutively as the Lebronaliers ran away from the Knicks early and then held them off late. Another New York loss. Another night of D'Antoni roster shuffling. Another display of why Lebron is precisely the player that could save this franchise.

Considering how I spend too many hours dispensing blame among various players (some of them not named Chris Duhon) and management for various defeats, I'm willing to concede that this loss may be on me. The King may have spies even in the farthest outposts of the Internets.

I don't know if my souring relationship with our accepted One king and savior is the result of recent outcomes sapping my optimism that he'd ever agree to play in this town, or if years of rooting for underdogs -Knicks, Jets, Mets - and against powerhouse clubs - especially those featuring Michael Jordan and coached by Bill Belichick - have infected me with some sort of sporting equivalent of the Stockholm syndrome, wherein I've developed a psychological fondness for my rotten situation. Whatever the reason, and in spite of LBJ's shocking streak against the Knicks on Saturday, I'm beginning to realize I'd rather overthrow the king than root for him.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Who Dat Say Gonna Beat Dem Saints?

Let Sean Payton get an extra slice of King Cake today. Let Drew Brees receive complimentary plastic surgery on his mole scar for the rest of his days. And assure me that Gregg Williams will be entrusted with Lil Wayne's share of beads come Fat Tuesday. For the New Orleans Saints are the victors in the 44th Super Bowl.

Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say gonna beat dem Saints? Who dat? Who dat? Nobody. Not Peyton. He didn't say nothin'. Not after his Pick-6 to Tracey Porter sealed the game with more than three minutes to play. All that you could hear in Miami was the roar of the increasingly pro-Saints crowd.

There is no question that the call of the game was Saints coach Sean Payton's decision to try an onside kick to open the second half. Trailing, 10-6, Payton knew that long clock-killing drive by Manning and the Colts could snuff out his team's comeback hopes. So, he got aggressive. He tried to change the momentum. And made a risk-reward call that could get his team back in control of the game. And Morstead's kick was perfect. It deflected off a Colts player and was corralled by the Saints. Cue the horns.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

2nd Annual WWOD? Super Bowl Prop Bet Blowout

After weeks of preseason quasi-football - which was preceded by months of he-said, he-said featuring everyone's favorite denim pitchman - and seventeen weeks of regular season contests - which preceded three rounds of playoff tilts- we are here. It's Super Sunday, which precedes Hungover Monday.

Three parts television spectacle, one part hot sauce bender, three parts fete for Madison Avenue ad men, two parts football game, and one part occassion for drunk driving. Combine in chilled punch bowl. Ad dash of gambling to taste. Whisk. Serve over ice in commemorative plastic cups obtained with four Tostitos proofs purchase and a self-addressed stamped envelope. It's the Super Bowl. Where do I sit?

Excuse me, miss, is there any room in the Falcons helmet?

After knocking of Rex Ryan's ambitious New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game with a ruthlessly efficient second-half performance, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are deemed the safe bet in this game. Peyton's been garnering GOAT talk all week long, deservedly. And, how do you bet against the best? Indy hasn't lost a game that Peyton played straight through all year long. Perhaps the recency bias of the gambling public explains why the Colts were favored by 6 shortly after they were installed as 3.5-point favorites by the Vegas oddsmakers over the NFC representative. The Indy money came in quick. The line has since regressed as the Saints backers felt that +5 or 6 points was a good value. Just a few hours before kickoff, the Colts are laying 4.5 to the Saints.

Perhaps the reason that the Colts got so much love early in the week was Peyton's T1000-like dominance against the Jets. Or it might have been the New Orleans Saints' struggles against the turnover-prone Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. Despite their own dominant season and an undefeated run of their own, the Saints are firmly entrenched in the underdog role, perhaps in spite of the numbers they put up this season. Perhaps it's also because that status fits the narrative of post-Katrina New Orleans. Perhaps it's just because they're not as good.

Regardless of the movement, I think that the oddsmakers set a good line. It's got me confused. Which is how I judge such things. If I can't figure it out then it must be good. Right?

In the last two years, I have loved the Cardinals and the Giants with the points. This year? I'm not sure. I can't imagine a team stopping Peyton for four quarters. But, I'm not sold that the Colts' defense can keep Drew Brees and company from making this a shootout. I might tease the Colts and the UNDER in case the game goes like former Colts coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy thinks it will. I might also put a little bit of cash down on the Saints and the money line. Or tease the Saints +4.5 and the OVER and bet the Colts money line. Or I might just take my money and award it to passersby as I make my way to the Super Bowl party I'm heading to. I'm not sure. All seem equally viable options.

WWOD?'s Prop Bet Picks:

Austin Collie OVER 50.5 yards
I think that this might be my best feel (you could also translate this logic to the OVER on Garcon if you want, too) of the game. Saints corner Jabari Greer is a middle-class man's Darrelle Revis and should be able to take Reggie Wayne away from Manning just like Revis did. I'd go OVER on Collie's receptions as well. That line is set at an easy to top 3.5.

Reggue Wayne for UNDER 79.5 total recieving yards
Betting public, meet Mr. Greer. Mr. Greer, meet the betting public. I'd also take most of the UNDER bets on Wayne with the exception of longest reception. There's always the chance that he'll break one and I wouldn't put all my eggs in that basket even though I think he gets shut down over the balance of the game.

Total number of players to have a pass attempt: OVER.
I've had good luck with this bet whenever I've made. And, Iike most streaks. It's got to end somewhere. But I think that the Saints offensive mastermind Sean Payton might see make sure that day isn't today. Does Reggie Bush throw a pass today? I think there's a chance.

The Saints WILL CONVERT A FOURTH DOWN ATTEMPT:
If they're going to be trailing, which seems to be the conventional wisdom then they will go for it on fourth at some point as they try to rally and they will convert.

Carrie Underwood will go OVER 1 minute and 42 seconds while singing the national anthem:
This gal wants to show of those pipes to prove that she's more than a genre act.

Drew Brees' longest completion will be OVER 40.5 yards:
The Saints are going to be looking for big plays and they'll connect on one at some point. I'm actually surprised this 10 yards less than the longest completion of game prop, which is around 50 yards. I mean, the Saints are the home run offense whereas the Colts really want to grind your bones and make their bread with long drives.

Other than these bets, I do really like the OVER on the longest rush props for Pierre Thomas, Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. All the numbers are around 10-11 yards. All someone has to do is run for a first down and you're a winner.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Around the Internets


I just happened upon this shockingly insightful article about last night's loss to Milwaukee by a fellow true believer over at Bleacher Report that takes a look at some midgame comments by David Lee. I say, this is a writer to keep our eyes on. And, also, who would've thought that we'd be looking up at Larry Brown in the standings and wishing our team was more like his team?

Friday, February 5, 2010

It's Alive: Bucks @ Knicks

Pregame:
We've got Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Mike Breen calling the game on MSG on a Friday night. Snow is in the forecast and Nate Robinson is in the starting lineup. Let's get this started. Both Clyde and Breen talk about how Nate played his way into the starting lineup with hardly a mention of the ignominious manner in which Duhon played himself out of it. They also mention that the key for Nate is his passing rather than his scoring. Can he run the offense? Can he get his teammates involved while also asserting himself? I'm not sure. I'm even a litle nervous. For the sake of this season and all the minutes I've already spent and will spend watching this team, I hope that Nate is up to it. Breen and Clyde also discuss Bucks rookie PG Brandon Jennings in the open. We might have an ol' fashioned NYC point guard face off on our hands.

The Beastie Boys are the featured artist on tonight's edition of Friday Night Knicks on MSG. "Root Down" plays over some highlights as we get back from commercial. I dig this more than the random Pearl Jam last week.

First Quarter:
-As the starters come out to the court Clyde describes Nate as "not a starting guard." Uh oh. This leads Breen to explain that Duhon played himself out of the lineup as much as Nate played himself into it during his up and down campaign.

-Robinson gets the ball to Lee at the top of the arc just as Duhon would have in the Knicks first possession. The base offensive scheme seems to be the same.

-Nate penetrates ever slightly, sucking the defense in enough for Chandler to drive baseline and dunk. That's a corner jump shot if Duhon is on the floor.

2-5

-"Ding dong the Bell" Clyde pronounces as Charlie Bell drops in another early 3. The double teams on Bucks center Andrew Bogut are leading to open looks from the outside. Bogut looks every bit his listed 7 feet. Well, except for the eighth-grade beard.

-Lee and Nate work great a back-door play. The pair used to have great chemisty when they were both coming off the bench together early in their careers. Lee saw Nate as he eluded Jennings, who fouled Nate.

5-8

-Bogut is a lot taller than Lee. And a lot stronger. The double team keeps coming, leading to open men. And an illegal defense violation.

-Lee has to be a little more active with Nate out there. He can get better/closer shots with Nate fluttering around and penetrating. He doesn't have to be the release valve at 18 feet.

-"A very precocious neophyte," according to Clyde, Jennings aggressively dribbles north-south dribble and feeds to a teammate who draws a foul at the rim. New York would have fallen in love with this kid. Hard. Like, midtown deli owners and high school math teachers in the Bronx would have been doodling his initials on receipt pads and lunch-bag covered text books if he'd been a Knick. But, he's not. We've got Jordan Hill. On the bench. Per usual.

9-17

-Kurt Thomas checks in for Bogut and gets a warm welcome from the fans. I totally forgot he was on this squad. He greets Lee with a few words. The Knicks gotta close the gap with Bogut out.

-Jennings' shimmy, hard-jab step into a fall away is his shot. It's nice. And good to see that he's got something that he's comfortable with already.

-Slick move from Lee to get around Thomas and then flip a ball in along the baseline. The shot prompts Breen to refer to the "offensive arsenal" that Lee has developed.

11-19

-Fast break, Jeffries to Lee. Dunk!

13-19

-Nate hits. And one! Coming out of a timeout, coming off a Jeffries' steal, the Knicks are coming hard with Bogut off the floor.

16-19

-Offensive three seconds on Bucks. The tide has turned since Bogut left. With Harrington on the floor and Nate getting to the rim, this Knicks lineup is putting pressure on the defense.

-That Carlos Delfino is a nice little player. He's opportunistic and has good court awareness. He'll punish you for a missed rotation or assignment.

-Just as Clyde and Breen are saying that Duhon runs the offense better, Robinson gets to the rim in a flash and gets fouled. And while Nate hits the second, Larry Hughes checks in. First guard off the bench. Noted.

-We learn that Bogut is not coming back. The Knicks have got to win this game. There is no one on this team aside from a rookie point guard to fear. No Michael Redd. No Andrew Bogut. The Knicks have just got to win this game. Or, at least, the Knicks really should win this game.

-Ridnour checks in. He's a guy that I'd love to have instead of Duhon. He's steady and a good facilitator. He has a fine college pedigree and can create is own offense Nice move to finish in the lane.

17-23

-Lee hits the pick and roll over Thomas. That was Thomas' shot for so many years with Marbury. The teacher has now become the master.

-How are the Knicks down by 10? Al Harrington needs to get it going.

19-29

-Nate's already got 6 free throws in first quarter. With so little penetration and such a reliance on jumpshsots, We're usually we're the team on the wrong end of the free-throw disparity. I'd say this is a great early indicator if the team wasn't still trailing.

-Not for long. Great assist to Al. 3!

26-29

Second Quarter
-Duhon is on the floor to start second. Lee goes right at former Syracuse standout Hakim Warrick. I watched him play a lot in college. You just got muscle this guy - like BC’s wide-bodied Craig Smith used to back in the Big East. Lee finds Duhon, who cuts backdoor. I wonder if he picked that up from watching Nate run the same route. Hopefully, he’ll bring a greater urgency coming off the bench than he does as a starter.

28-29

-Who the hell is this lanky Turk? And why does he already have seven points since coming off the bench?

28-32

-Ridnour lofts a tear drop runner. Splash. Every point guard should have that in their repertoire. Our longtime starter does note.

30-34

-Hughes flashes to the rim. I have zero stats to support this, but I just feel like this team gets to the rim a lot more when Hughes is in the game.

32-34

-Al to rim. Miss! Lee puts it back! And we have a TIE! Without Bogut in the paint the Knicks are crashing through the area. It's officially their game to lose.

34-34

-Great long outlet from Hughes to DUHON, who broke down the floor once he saw Hughes had the rebound. Layup. The tempo is set to HIGH. Duhon is playing looser without the burden of being the No. 1 guard.

36-34

-Harringotn is coming on up. Good from three.

39-36

-The Beasties’ "Gratitude" plays as the broadcast comes back from commercial.

-Clyde informs us home viewrs that Al is officially "percolating" after he knocks down another three.

42-38

-Who is this guy? Ilyasova? The 6-10 wing is 5 for 5 12 points in 7 minutes. Looks like another career high courtesy of your friendly New York Knickerbockers defense.

42-41

-Wilson Chandler block a shot. Gallo blocked one a few minutes ago. We’re staying with guys even if they got a step off the dribble. Usually once they’ve got a shoulder passed our defenders then they’re free and clear. Now we’re sticking with them and bothering shots.

-Illegal defense on the Bucks. Nate cans the tech. The tide has turned. Jennings has “Gardenitis.” And a young local ref is also making his Garden debut. He’s faring better than the rook.

47-43

-Jennings couldn’t stay in front of Nate. But Duhon can’t shake him. Just saying.

-Bucks are jumping at head fakes. We gotta get ‘em up in the air and then move around them. Lee's got it. Gallo don't.

51-47

-Seriously, who is this guy? Ilyasova has single-handedly kept this game close heading into the half. For all the feeling of domination the Knicks only lead by 5 at the break.

59-54

-HALF-
-Great shot at Jennings by Lee during interview with Al Trautwig before he heads into the locker room. “Well he's got to do a better job in the second half.” Odd remark about Bucks being “like charlotte,” though. You mean, like the team that has all but ensured a playoff spot. WHAT is your team like then?

-A quick Google search for Ilyasova tells me he played for Barcelona and the Turkish national team. He’s the second-coming of Hedo Turkoglu with a better three and a little less handle.

Third Quarter

-The mysterious Ilyasova and UCLA’s very own Mbah a Moute are out hustling the home team. Scotty Skiles must have gotten into these guys during the break. Perhaps literally. They are playing with fear.

61-58

-Jennings cans a straightaway three. He seems to have taken Lee's words to heart. I wonder if they've got the tv tuned to MSG in the visitors' lockeroom. Timeout, New York. D'antoni is really giving it to Nate. Usually he walks away with the assistants at the start of timeout but he is chewing Nate out like he just found out he wrecked the family minivan while sneaking out to meet a girl on a school night.

64-64
-And from the ashes of victory, we’ve got a ballgame. Chandler and Jennings are going back and forth. Jennings is getting to the rack. This switch-every-screen defense and/or zone look with Jeffries on top is not working against a north-south guard like Jennings. Somebody has to just stick him. He’s so quick that he slips through the seams of the zone and the windows between switches.

-The tide has turned again. And the Bucks are riding the wave.

67-68

-Oh, the double pin! Gallo and Jeffries team up to block Bell at the rim. Do they each get a half a block? Gallo got it. Nice play.

-Jeffries cans a three to put the Knicks back out in front. The grip is slipping, though.

70-69

-Jennings has taken over the game. He’s driving and kicking. And driving. Three layups already in the third.

73-76

-Nate penetrates, slightly wild, and kicks to Jeffries for another 3. Good! That was a HUGE shot. And, if your team needs timely threes from JJ to stay in a game then you’ve got a prognosis negative on your hands.

76-77

-Nate gets to the rim again. Le follows. He used to get these put-back points all the time when he played closer to the rim. And he will get a few of these if the Knicks start to get to the rim again with Nate out there.

78-79

-Al looks fatigued. He’s making lazy perimeter fouls. Missing shots. The Bucks are doing neither of those things. And they look energized. They’re closing out the third with a flourish.

78-83

-Duhon gets back on the floor. And promptly gets toasted. Jeffries is on Jennings, who finds Ilyasova (guarded by Duhon) for a driving dunk.

78-86

-And the wheels are off the Knicks. Cinder block tires and the squad is parked on the front lawn. Turnovers and missed layups for us. Easy Warrick buckets for them.

81-90

Fourth Quarter

-This is brutal. Frustrating. Dispiriting. I just want to turn it off. But there is a lot of time left. And everyone’s got a fourth quarter run. Even us. I think. Right? Anyone? Tommy? Can you hear me?

84-94

-And when Jerry Stackhouse, recently rescued from the halfway retired scrap heap, has one more made three-point field goal then your sharpshooting Italian sniper then the route is officially on. Timeout. New York.

94-97

And, Gallo finally comes through with a much-needed three from the wing. Breen and Clyde are yapping about his penchant for fourth quarter explosions in games that he’s started slowly.

89-98

-They’re still getting too many easy looks. Mbah a Moute gets another layup.

91-102

-But another three, this one from Harrington has us back in the game. Is this the run? From here on out this game is about stops. We can make up six points in six and a half minutes of we can gets stops.

96-102

-Now, when I just mentioned “stops,” what I didn’t mean was “surrender layups.” I meant holding the opposition without any points during a series of possessions.

96-104

-Nor did I mean “surrender three pointers” when I talked about “stops.” I know these are common mistakes so I won’t get too worked about the communications breakdown. It’s probably my fault.

96-107

-We’re gunning to close the gap. And misfiring badly. The Bucks, meanwhile are taking their antlers to our zone. Jennings is shredding it. And they’re cutting to the rim or spotting up and waiting for the kickout.

96-109

-Finally out of the zone. Finally. With their small lineup this wasn’t working at all. They've got the shooters and the cutters to kill us. And Jennings needs to be defending by someone who is going to keep him out of the paint. As Clyde keeps saying, you’ll let him have the outside shot if you can block his entry to the paint.

-Lee is still coming. And coming. He’s got gaudy numbers again. In a loss. Again. It’s going to take a minor miracle to pull off a 7-point comeback in a minute and a half.

105-111

-And, any chance of that miracle is cleaned off the glass by Ilyasova when he grabs the game-killing offensive rebound. Lee just watched. And then fouled him. I guess it’s fitting that the heretofore unknown man from Turkey scores the game’s last point. This is an incredibly disheartening loss. Just gutting. The Bucks were without their two best players. They went into half time without the lead and without any momentum. Yet, they outplayed the Knicks in the second half from wire to wire.

107-114

The Post is Prologue: Bucks @ Knicks

Milwaukee Bucks
@
Knicks
7:30 P.M. EST
Madison Square Garden


There are two noteworthy things about this game tonight:
1) The Knicks want you to come down to the Garden so badly that they are giving away longsleeve DECLARE t-shirts and $20 worth of food & merchandise vouchers with certain ticket purchase. And that's if you didn't take them up on the "Guys Night Out" deal that netted 2 tickets, 2 popcorns, 2 shirts, and 2 beers for just $79. That second deal is the first time I ever remember seeing alcohol being involved in a Knicks ticket promotion. Finally! We're breaking ground every day.

2) Nate Robinson may start in place of Chris Duhon. Hmmmm..... I wonder if there is any connection between the benching of the previous starter at the point and the fact that the team is literally giving away stuff to lure fans. I wonder.

Both the Knickerbockers and the Bucks are on the outside looking in right now. They're cheeks flush from cold and their noses leaking snot as they press to the window to watch the Eastern Conference playoff teams. The Bucks are in the ninth spot right now and the Knicks are two and a half game back of them in tenth. This is a marquee Underworld matchup. The Bucks won the first meeting between these clubs and the Knicks need to win tonight if they hope to win the three-game season series and hold a tiebreaker over a team they're battling.

Coming off a win, fueled by a lineup change and playing at home, the Knicks are getting three points from Vegas. This means that the oddmakers pretty much thing this is a pick 'em and are giving the home team the benefit of one Gallo three-pointer. ESPN.com's Accuscore leans more definitively toward the home side, quote a 62% chance of success. I'm too focused on Super Bowl prop bets to worry about this line too much. Let's just say, that the Knicks should win this game if they come out with a solid effort in each quarter.

The story of this game is point guard play. Can Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings rebound from another poor outing? After a tremendously hot start, that had everyone piling on the Knicks for passing on Jennings, the none-and-done rookie has come back down to earth. On the other bench, this will be a telling game for Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. He's indicated that Nate Robinson has earned a spot in the starting lineup (or, at least that, Chris Duhon has earned himself a spot on the bench) after his play in the second half on Wednesday night against Washington. How much leeway does Nate get? Is he going to be expected to turn the ball over to David Lee at the top of the arc on most possessions? Is Larry Hughes the backup point guard? What is Duhon's role? After all, he can't score and he generally doesn't defend his own position. The depth of Duhon's slump and his lack of a quantifiable off-the-bench skill makes me wonder if he'll be dropped from the rotation altogether.

Another key figure in this drama is actually Al Harrington. With Nate in the starting lineup, Harrington is the only gun coming off the bench. If the starters get off to a slow start then Al has to be the one to ignite them since Nate will already be out there. After defending Duhon for so long (at the expense of acquiring potential replacements like Ramon Sessions, who the Bucks let walk this offseason) it is a big deal that D'Antoni has demoted him. But, Robinson, Hughes and Harrington need to step up and play to their potential. Hughes needs to stay aggressive on defense and opportunistic on offense while Robinson and Harrington need to stay under control on offense. By staying relatively disciplined on the offensive end they can keep D'Antoni from feeling that he needs Duhon on the floor to keep the game from turning into a series of one-on-one forays.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

RejuveN8tion

Eureka! Could this be it? Has productivity (or lack thereof) triumphed over pride? Is Chris Duhon's reign of error finally over? With the Knicks playing uninspired ball and trailing the woeful Washington Wizards by a few buckets at the half last night, coach D'Antoni made a change. A long-awaited change. Like the sort of change that has been put off and avoided. Like me and changing the sheets on my bed. D'Antoni sent out Nate Robinson with four members of the starting lineup to open the second half. And after a slow start to the third quarter, the N8-led unit came alive and won this game going away. Duhon didn't play a single minute in the second half. Nate played every minute, Larry Hughes got some solid run, and the team hasn't looked better in weeks. There was urgency to the attack and intensity on defense. Risks were taken. And rewarded.

The Knicks managed just 41 points in the first two quarters, during which time Duhon went 1 for 6 from the field (which makes him 14 for 65 in his last 12 games) while assisting on only a pair of midrange jump shots by David Lee in the opening minutes of the game. And, for the record, these were not plays that Duhon made. In each case, he was just the guy that happened to give it to Lee.

The Wizards and Knicks were even after one, 22-22. This was not pretty basketball. But it was still a game that could be won and should be won by the home team. Especially if the team wanted to keep its floundering playoff hopes alive. Which is why the final few minutes of the second quarter forced D'Antoni to reconsider his rotation. Duhon re-entered the game, replacing Robinson, with 4:50 to play in the first half. The Knicks had just fallen back by a point, 35-36, after the Wizards ripped off a pair of three pointers for a brief 6-0 spurt. In the ensuing minutes, Duhon turned the ball over twice and missed a pair of shots. The Knicks trailed, 41-45, at intermission.

And, then he was gone. Just like that. Robinson was on the floor. Duhon kept his warmups on. The Knicks scored 30+ in each of the next two quarters. They held Flip Saunders' Wiz to just 20 in each quarter. And they energized the crowd along the way. Now, I know that this is just one midwinter game against a downtrodden Wizards squad missing its two best players - Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler - but this win could define the Knicks season and even their offseason if this change is permanent. By sitting Duhon down and turning the team over to Robinson and Larry Hughes, D'Antoni went away from "his guy" and played the more effective players.

This long overdue move makes both ruthless basketball sense (Duhon is not effective) as well as emotional-psychological sense (the drama with Robinson and Hughes has brought the team down as has Duhon's lack of confidence). Duhon's nosedive is affecting this team on both levels. This Knicks group needs to score easy baskets whenever it can if it is going to compete on a nightly basis. Man cannot survive on jumpshots alone. Yet this team rarely pushes the ball with Duhon on the floor. He is not applying pressure on the opposing defense or regularly going at the rim. For the most part, he hands the ball off to David Lee at the top of the three-point arc shortly after crossing midcourt. At this point Duhon fades over toward a sideline and waits for the ball to swing his way. Lee has seen his assist numbers rise (leads all centers in dimes at 3.5 per game) in part because he bears much of the playmaking responsibility when Duhon is on the floor. We've also noticed Lee's greatly-improved 15 to 20-foot jumper because he's getting the ball so far from the rim. As much as I'm impressed by Lee's addition of the deep jump shot to his repertoire, I'm not ready to say that is the shot he should take most often. But, Lee often has to because this rudderless offense leaves him stranded so far from rim. Again, kudos to Lee for his court vision and his improved shot but this team shouldn't be forcing him to start most possessions 25 feet from the hoop.

Much was made of the Knicks slower tempo in December, and it worked thanks largely to Lee's superlative play and Wilson Chandler's emergence. But another key was the brief uptick in Duhon's shooting. 5 of his 7 games this year with 17+ points came in December. And the presence of a fourth viable scoring threat in the starting unit spread the defense out. This allowed the Knicks to operate successfully at a more methodical pace. But once Duhon's shooting returned to form (he's only averaged more than 9 points per game during one season in his career) this team found itself playing 3 against 5 on offense for much of the game. Shockingly, Jared Jeffries has proven a more dependable fourth option than Duhon. And, don't tell JJI wrote that because I don't need him throwing up any more corner threes for my sake.

Ultimately, Duhon is just not a 30+ minutes per night point guard on a decent team. He's been embarrassingly overexposed by the heavy minutes that he's logged during the past two seasons. Therein lies the key to his recent disastrous run of play. He looks like he's finally embarrassed by all of this. Aside from the first look he gets out of warmups at the start of the game, he is shockingly tentative for a starting veteran guard in the NBA. He rarely goes at defenders and he waits a beat for them to get out on him when he catches the ball on the wing. This guy does not want to shoot. MSG broadcasters Mike Breen and Walt Frazier remark upon this in nearly every telecast. And, since defending was never his strong suit, he is a man without a job on the floor. Lee is the point-center. Jeffries defends opposing point guards and leads the zone. And Danilo Gallinari is the long-distance marksmen. After being benched last night, he told reporters that l, I'm not playing well. I'm not getting it done, so it's [D'Antoni's] job to make this team win. Nate is obviously capable of doing that."

Does that sound like a guy that is fighting to keep his spot? Not to me. After struggling for so long, Duhon is damaged goods. I think that a part of him would be relieved to be out of the starting lineup. Regardless, his malaise is contagious when he's on the floor. Just as Nate's energy and Hughes' confidence are. The fate of the Knicks' season hinges on games like this one. Can they beat the other middling teams? And those games often come down to attitude and execution. Who wants it more? Who tries harder in the second quarter? Which players are actively thinking the game as opposed to just reacting to what happens around them? Benching Duhon helps the Knicks in all of these intangible areas. Getting Robinson and Hughes into games in crucial spots alleviates the dissension on the sideline and in the locker room just as it raises the intensity level on the court. This backroom significance shouldn't be undersold. Teams need to want to win for their teammates and their coach as much as themselves. And having an angry Hughes and a Robinson afraid of demotion does not foster that sort of atmosphere.

Those who know me, know that I've been at the vanguard of the bench Duhon movement so I'll be waiting with baited breath as the team comes out for the opening tip on Friday night at the Garden.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

CP3Out

There is a poster of New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul in my living room. It was an insert from an issue of HOOP magazine and it’s held up by four thumbtacks. In my dresser, there is a yellow mustard –colored t-shirt with CP3’s name and number emblazoned on the back. So, before I start scheming, let me say that I was disappointed to hear that Paul is going to miss 1-2 months of action because of a cartilage tear in his left knee requiring arthroscopic surgery.

Last night's Suns-Hornets tilt would have been appointment television for me had he been healthy. I may have even deemed it a takeout-worthy game. Few Knicks games reach that level these days. Aside from securing tickets for every @Knicks contest that the Hornets play at the Garden, I venture out into the swamps of Jersey to see him when he makes an appearance at the IZOD Center. What I'm saying in my characteristcally verbose fashion is that I'm a fan of CP3. I would rather have him on my team than Lebron or Wade. Well, not tomorrow. But as soon as he's healthy then he is my favorite current player.

But, the second thing (after the aforementioned disappointment about no Chinese delivery) that crossed my mind after hearing that Paul is out for at least a month with the bum knee was that this might present the Knicks with a chance to dump the struggling Chris Duhon. Mike D'Anotini's erstwhile point guard is in a stretch of lackluster play that has him ranked as the 40th-most effective point guard (or combo guard who handles a fair share of PG duties) in the NBA this season according to the PER stats over at Knickerblogger.net. Put simply and without the use of math: Duhon is doo doo. They are not saying BOO-urns. They are booing. Because he stinks. Worse than the Boston College sweatshirt I always wear to the gym yet infrequently launder.

Yet, I do think that Duhon could be trade bait for the team that just lost the game's most poetic point. Yup. I do. Because I'm a delusional Knickerbockers fan? Possibly, but stick with me. Duhon played arguably his best game of the season at New Orleans when the Knicks won down in the Big Easy in December (22 and 9 with fantastic range). The Duke graduate is also a native of Louisiana, who has, by all accounts, stayed very active in the community. And, perhaps, most importantly to a team looking to stay cheap, Duhon's contract expires at the end of the year. I would say he is more attractive to NOLA right now than he will be to any other squad. Cheap dudes only land cheap chicks and I think we might have a love connection before Valentine's Day.

Now, you'd think that when rookie point guard Darren Collison stepped into the Hornets' starting lineup and threw up 17 points and dropped 18 dimes against the Grizzlies the other night with Paul cheering him on in street clothes that my concussion-induced hallucination of a Duhon homecoming would evaporate like morning dew. Not so. I actually think that the early signs of life from the first-year guard out of UCLA make a Duhon deal even more attractive to the penny-pinching franchise in New Orleans. If the Hornets are confident enough in their rookie playmaker's skills then they can sell their fans on acquiring steady-handed veteran facilitator as a stop-gap to combine with Collison rather than feeling the need to bring in someone (more expensive and) more talented to keep the team afloat until Paul mends.

Now, could Knicks GM Donnie Walsh figure out a way to send Duhon back to his home state? I'm not sure. Obviously, the Knicks don't want to take back any non-expiring contracts in the deal which means maybe this would possibly need to be a menage a trois. I'll be hitting the trade machine to figure out potential machinations between now and the trade deadline. Frankly, I don't really much care what the Knicks even brought back in a deal, provided the player came off the books at the end of the season. Losing Duhon would be addition by subtraction and would force D'Antoni's hand vis-a-vis rookie point Toney Douglas and veteran malcontent Larry Hughes - a tandem that actually played well together earlier in the year while Nate Robinson was the one in the doghouse. Douglas seems to have lost his early-season confidence since being pushed further down the bench and Hughes has publicly expressed his frustration with his own lack of playing time. I'd like to see what we've got with Douglas over the balance of the season and also to get Hughes back with the program as I believe that on such a young team the demeanor of a veteran like Hughes can have a big impact. Oh, and I'd also like to see it happen because Duhon is garbage.

Get well soon, CP3.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday Mudita





Wolf Moon

Knicks Bit By T-Wolves

This past weekend saw the fullest full moon of the year as the Earth's only natural satellite arrived at perigee, the celestial body's closest point to our planet. The Moon is 238,855 miles from Earth on average but this past weekend one side of the orbit was more than 31,000 miles closer than normal. That's about the distance of 16 round trips between New York and Indianapolis. According to Yahoo! (who gets their moon proximity info from spaceweather.com), the Moon was 14 percent wider and 30 percent brighter this weekend than it will be during any other full moon for the remainder of the year.

Of course, the moon doesn't really change at all. Although it is moving away from us, little by little. What really changes is the amount of light from the sun that reflects back our way. Such facts, though, haven't stopped people from ascribing all sorts of powers to the full moon. It causes madness (Jared Jeffries shooting three pointers all weekend?). It inspires violence (David Lee picking up another technical foul). It inhibits the talents of doctors and nurses (Al Harrington still felled by injury). It is a time for witches and assorted practitioners of the black arts to convene (Wizards edge Knicks in DC). And, lastly, the full moon is reputed to send animals into a frenzy and even change some men into manimals (Kevin Love nets career high and Timberwolves romp).

The native Americans referred to this first full moon of the new year as the Wolf Moon because it lit up the night sky brighter than any moon and made hunting for packs of wolves easier. After last night's dispiriting 112-91 loss to Kurt Rambis' Minnesota Timberwolves squad at the Target Center in Minneapolis, the Knicks might refer to this lunar occurrence as the Timber Wolf Moon.

(More to come...)