The New York Knicks have lost six in a row, shocking just about anyone that thought they'd at least have the lowest seed in the Eastern playoff bracket wrapped up in spite of the team's continued growing pains. Heading into Tuesday, New York is tied with Milwaukee for that final spot, but because the Bucks have beaten New York twice this season, Scott Skiles' flailing crew owns the tiebreaker over February's hottest NBA team. And as with everything that ever seems to happen with these ridiculous New York Knicks, this all makes no sense and all the sense in the world all at once.
Of course the Knicks are going to be the NBA's most up and down team, seemingly pairing six-game winning and losing streaks throughout the season. Of course Carmelo Anthony is going to somehow play up to that lame storyline featuring some sort of battle of wills (and, more specifically, ball domination) with second-year point man Jeremy Lin. Of course most NBA observers are going to miss several key points, of course they're going to sign J.R. Smith, or course J.R. Smith is going to be fined for a lewd Twitter picture, and of course coach Mike D'Antoni is going to be on the hot seat. That seat has been hot since Red Holzman was coaching the team.
(In the early 1970s, we mean, and not Red's second go-round with the Knicks. Because even the Knicks can get Red Holzman fired. New York wouldn't have it any other way.)
Monday's nationally televised loss to Chicago seemed to typify this ongoing narrative. Endless Chicago offensive rebounds and hustle points spoke right to the condition of those that think that the Knicks haven't improved considerably defensively (they have, from 22nd in defensive efficiency last year to 10th this season), while Anthony's 21 points on 21 shots (and decision to sit out one huddle in the third quarter after he was pulled from the game) seemed to speak volumes to those that already had their minds up.
Yes, the Knicks have issues. They should have issues, though. All 30 NBA teams have had a rough go of it during this lockout year, but the Knicks are in an odd (if, at times, enviable) situation that few others have had to go through. And it would be just as nutty, on paper at least, if they played in Charlotte.
Anthony was dealt to New York over a year ago, and it's clear that he and Amar'e Stoudemire haven't meshed. In taking that into account, you also have to point to the fact that Anthony has played with two completely different Amar'e Stoudemires in his time in NYC, with the 2011-12 version (briefly, we hope, until next season) looking like an absolute shell of the man who was carrying New York last year.
In admiring Stoudemire's pretty jumper while tsk-tsk'ing Anthony's 2-7 fourth-quarter shooting against Chicago, few on TV or in the Twitter missives that followed seem to consistently bring up the fact that Stoudemire pulled in just three rebounds in 34 minutes of play on Monday. He just isn't the same player, and forced to work around quicker power forwards with Tyson Chandler on hand, Stoudemire has been relegated to a pick and pop performer that is still trying to mess with his ever-changing crew of point guards.
The point guard slot is a problem. Not only is Jeremy Lin an ostensible NBA rookie, with just five weeks of extended professional minutes under his belt, but his adaptation to NBA speed is going to take the rest of this year and beyond. This isn't some big center coming out of Augsburg College or an athletic wing player taken from an international league. This is a point guard whose timing and skills were honed for four years in an Ivy League school. No amount of ball-watching from the Golden State bench for a year can make up for that dramatic shift in style.
Then you have to temper instincts. Then you have to re-re-rely on those instincts. Then you have to find a balance. Then you have Anthony (rightfully) ticked off at your buddy Landry Fields because he went to you with a pass instead of Anthony in the post. And you're playing nearly as many minutes in five weeks as you did in your first 14 months in the NBA.
Against some pretty disparate competition, it should be noted. We tried to note as much during New York's Lin-fluenced (see! I finally used one!) run to respectability in February, but that team played one of the easier schedules the league has seen during Lin's first few weeks as a point guard. New Jersey, Utah, the Lakers just a night after playing a grueling overtime game, Minnesota, the Raptors and the Kings? You should be winning those games. It's a credit to the Knicks that they pulled out an impressive win against Dallas on Feb. 19, but that was a cupcake schedule if we ever saw one; one that also featured telling losses to the Hornets and Nets (in a rematch of Lin's first big night out) before the hammer hit in March.
So to falter against the Celtics, Mavs, Spurs, Bucks, 76ers and Bulls (in what turned into a two-possession game, on the road, late in the fourth)? With five of those losses coming on the road? You're supposed to do that. The yin/yang aspect of it must be maddening to fans, and New York's on-paper talent doesn't seem to add up to an 18-24 record, and we don't like all the excuses we're making … but this is a weird team in a weird season. And I'm not sure what Red Holzman or Phil Jackson or Mike Woodson could do about it.
The big man's a shell of himself. The starting center might be Defensive Player of the Year material, but his presence has affected the team's most talented offensive performer (that would be Amar'e, by the way), and because he's more Shane Battier than Dwight Howard in terms of stat-compiling, Tyson Chandler doesn't get the credit he deserves. The starting point guard isn't as great as he looks on most nights, and isn't as bad as he looks in others, D'Antoni is perpetually exasperated by the ever-changing roster, and the amount of goofballs in the rotation (youngsters; J.R. Smith) make for a frustrating night out even when the Knicksies win by 15.
It's been a ridiculous season, but it's supposed to be a ridiculous season. Not just because they play in New York. But because a roster like this, with parts going in several different directions, cannot be relied upon. It can win, sure, and it could even take a playoff series, but it can't be relied upon in this state.
It needs time, health, proper estimations, and patience. And the Knicks sure as hell aren't going to get any of those things in New York. Sort of the downside, after you decide to sign or force a trade there.
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