Thursday, February 3, 2011

Knicks Can't Grab Ball, Can't Beat Mavericks

There are nights when sports are a complicated, convoluted business, when the best team doesn't win and when there seem to be very viable substitutes for hard work. On these nights, off-the-court issues might infringe upon a game or an officiating gaffe might give one team an unfair advantage over another. But, on most nights, sports make sense. The better team wins, hard work pays off. Boston fans are self-righteous and Detroit fans are self-loathing. Water is wet, the Internet loves cats and everything is in its rightful place. That each team can succeed based on its own talents and effort speaks to something in our character. Which is why the "any given Sunday" ethos of the NFL makes it the reigning sporting king.

On most nights and in most games, the simple act of possessing the ball goes a long way toward deciding winners and losers. This is why the tikka-takka style of Barcelona and the Spanish national soccer team is nearly impossible to beat. It's why NFL teams generally try to run the ball when facing top quarterbacks. And it's why rebounding the ball is so crucial in basketball. Fittingly, rebounding is an action related to effort (which is a key to winning). In other words, Charles Oakley and Michael Cage are the American Dream. Ah, but I digress.

In an end-to-end game like basketball, the ball changes hands over and over again. While stealing the ball from the opposition during the run of play and drawing offensive fouls are among the other ways to gain possession, rebounding missed shots is far and away the most frequent way of getting and/or keeping the ball because league average field goal percentage this season is .456.

There were 11 games last night on the NBA schedule, and the team with the rebounding edge won 10 of those contests. The outlier was the Houston Rockets' last-second triumph over the Utah Jazz. In that game, Houston was scorching from behind the arc, sinking 11 of 22 three-point attempts while the Jazz, playing without Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, went a ghastly 1 for 11 from deep. The undermanned and inaccurate Jazz edged the Rockets on the glass, 44-39, and came within one stop of winning the game. But Rockets shooting guard Kevin Martin scored on a driving, falling desperate layup with 6.9 ticks to play to tie the game. Jazz forward/center Al Jefferson was whistled for a foul on the play, and Martin hit the free throw for the win. Fittingly, the errant Jazz missed a deep jumper for the win. And then rebounded the ball as time expired. Even without two of their top players and no accuracy on the night, the Jazz still nearly won, thanks in large part to their rebounding edge.

Like the remaining nine losers on the night, the Knicks were out-boarded by their opponent. Dallas grabbed 54 caroms while the Knicks managed a relatively paltry 34. To make matters worse, the Mavericks pulled down 10 offensive rebounds to the Knicks' five. A welcome 34-point outburst in the first quarter ensured that the Knicks were close heading into the intermission, but the affair was decided just a few minutes into the fourth quarter, when the Mavs led 90-73. During that decisive second-half stretch, the Mavericks secured 19 rebounds and the Knicks gathered 10. Despite the solid offensive work of Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas and Amar'e Stoudemire, the home team wasn't able to keep pace because they just couldn't grab the ball.

With Ronny Turiaf and Timofey Mozgov being unreliable (for very different reasons) and Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph being irrelevant (for mostly different reasons), the Knicks' pool of rebounders is shallow. And while Landry Fields has emerged as a superb rebounder at the two spot, the 'bockers' inability to control the glass is something that they'll have to overcome by way of trade or increased diligence if they want to translate this era of good feelings into some tangible success.

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