Monday, April 5, 2010

Knicks Can Bring Out Best in Worst

During the first quarter of Sunday night’s Knicks-at-Clippers game, MSG (and ESPN) play-by-play man Mike Breen—who was impressively working a personal doubleheader at the Staples Center after calling the Spurs-Lakers do-sa-do earlier that afternoon—noted that the Clips were playing far tougher defense than was normally their style.

And, they were.

For a team that was allowing north of 100 points per contest and had one of the worst point differentials in the league, Los Angeles was playing pugnacious defense. They were guarding tightly, denying the ball, getting hands into passing lanes and contesting shots. The Knicks weren’t penetrating this defense and opened up 4 for 13 from the field. They had a shot blocked and a pass stolen en route to an early 8-18 deficit.

Were the Clippers this good? Nope.

Were the Knicks this bad? Well, maybe. But that’s not the point. (Nor is it that the Knicks dug out of that early hole and won the game.) I was watching and thinking about Breen’s astute comment about the Clips being unusually feisty. It seemed a recurrent thing all season long. Even the Raptors gave a solid defensive effort agianst the Knicks.

Do the Knicks bring out the best in bad teams? I say, yes.

Before I even begin, let me clarify that I am fully aware how far off the scent this current group of Knickerbockers has gotten. They are not consistent on offense or defense. They do not always open games with acceptable intensity. Or close them with necessary urgency. They’ve alternately lacked interest and seemed overstimulated (Toney Douglas, I’m looking at you). Over the course of the season, it’s been a poor showing. None of what I’m about to say refutes or rationalize that.

In fact, the notion that other bad teams get up to play the Knicks is predicated on the notion that everyone knows just how poorly the Knicks have played this year and in seasons past. It’s not unusual to hear about talented teams playing down to bad competition and we’ve seen he Knicks play up to a handful of playoff teams this year, with the win over Denver being the latest example.

Now, I’d like to submit for your consideration, the notion of bad teams getting up to play other bad teams. I don't think this is particularly original but I do think that it is relevant to this Knicks season. Struggling teams, that recognize their own ineptitude, realize that a visit to or from the 2009-2010 Knickerbockers represents one of a limited number of winnable games in any given stretch.

We’ve seen this idea come to life whenever the woeful Nets have played the Knicks this season. For a team that made hallmarks of confusion while shunning cohesion, the Nets have looked downright focused and keyed up whenever they take the floor against the Knicks. Two of their 11 wins have come against the blue and orange.

While the other bad teams out in the league think “Hey, we can beat these guys” when they play the Knicks, Mike D’Antoni’s club has been telling itself “Hey, we can beat anybody.”

And, while that may be true it has distracted them from making the most of their meager talents. And their own winnable games against crappy teams. By no means is this an above average group but had they gotten amped up to play the lesser teams in the league in the same manner that the lesser teams have gotten amped up to beat them then they could surely be vying for a playoff spot with Charlotte, Milwaukee and Toronto rather than jockeying for (or against) ping pong balls with Indiana, Minnesota and the rest of the lottery teams.