Well, that wave of competence didn't ride long, did it? In fact, the Knicks picked up just about where they left off on Sunday against the Magic. After keeping things relatively competitive in the first half, New York once again allowed the Orlando gunners to shoot the game out of reach. After a brilliant performance last night, tonight was more of the usual. The defense was consistently a step slow, the shot selection was poor, and the team-wide verve from Tuesday had completely faded. Much of that can be credited to the Magic, who moved the ball briskly on offense, defended superbly on and off the ball, and generally made the Suns look like a gaggle of chumps by comparison.
Some notes, after the jump...
- Tonight's big story was the full-on explosion of something that smoldered and sparked last night. Nate Robinson did not play. Not a single minute. Alan Hahn just tweeted D'Antoni's explanation of the benching, and it's equal parts vague and threatening:
"It’s just something we’re trying to build a winning group and you have to go with that."
"We want to win and if he’s conducive to winning then he’ll obviously be back in the lineup. If not, then not."
Coach has been peeved by Robinson's flimsy defense and occasional displays of immaturity, and this is clearly his way of sending a message. Particularly following Nate's torrid fourth quarter on Sunday, that's a strong message to send. And you know what? As much as Nate's presence is missed, I'm on board. It's refreshing to see someone really challenge the little dude- who's now in his fifth year, mind you- to focus and play to his potential. If benching is D'Antoni's best answer, then so be it. I ask only that he be even-handed. If Nate has to ride the pine for stretches, then Al Harrington should probably take a seat as well, and Chris Duhon should be hit over the head with a chair. Each of those guys has been equally disappointing in the talent-to-output ratio.
- Harrington, Robinson, and Jared Jeffries were seen dancing and singing along to "We Will Rock You" during the pre-game festivities. Toney Douglas did not look impressed. Listening to Queen is apparently not what Toney Douglas do. You're all on notice. More on TD later.
- The earliest indicator that Orlando wasn't going to fold defensively like Phoenix did was the way they covered baseline cuts to the basket. Larry Hughes got his early assists against Phoenix because he repeatedly hit Knick forwards in stride off of backdoor cuts. Dwight Howard et al., though, did a superb job of identifying and reacting to any off-the-ball movement, and Hughes repeatedly had to swallow his pass when Howard flashed in front of the cutter. This made for some rather unsightly outside shots.
- On the other end, Howard simply couldn't be stopped by any combination of miniature Knicks. Guys doubled, but they couldn't really use the baseline properly or close him off from passes except for a few instances. Whatever. It's not like we have to worry about that matchup in the postseason.
- Danilo Gallinari, for his part, did not return to his comfortable corner hideout, but he did post a prolific but sub-optimal shooting night. Gallo buried a three within 15 seconds of tipoff, and didn't stop shooting after that. As the game progressed, though, Danilo's shots grew more and more forced, and he ended up with an unsightly (but not awful) 5-14 line. I was happy to see the kid get that many shots up, and ecstatic that he attempted 10 free throws, but he's gotta strike a balance between coasting and chucking. It feels weird to say that after lamenting Danilo's lack of shots in previous games, but I really expect the best from him.
Meanwhile, Gallinari's simply got to adapt better on defense. We know Danilo is athletic enough to defend capably (see Tuesday's game), but he doesn't always have his head on straight. Case in point: If Mickael Pietrus has just hit three straight three-pointers, CLOSE OUT. Let him beat you off the dribble. Bite on his pump fakes. Just make him do something different. I guess that comes with familiarity and coaching, but like I said, I expect the best from Danilo Gallinari. Not a terrible game for The Cock, but there's room to improve.
- Al Harrington is dedicated to keeping the memories of past Knicks alive. Not only does he pull the chair like Malik Rose used to, he's resurrected Quentin Richardson's tendency to scream "HEY" whenever he feels contact.
- 8 first quarter turnovers is probably not an ideal statistic if you're trying to win a basketball game, especially when you shoot as poorly as the Knicks do. Can't waste possessions.
- In Nate's absence, Toney Douglas was the first guard off the bench. In the second quarter, and also in garbage time later on, Toney DWTDD like he's been known to. Toney scored a quick 17 points on 7-11 shooting in 20 minutes. I'm still not blown away by his passing, but the rook's range and intermediate game (such a pretty floater!) make me drool just a little. I continue to be impressed by his D as well, though someone needs to tell him to use his forearms, not his hands.
- Remember that time David Lee told me he intended to keep his mouth shut amongst the replacement refs? Well, we've got regular refs now, but Dave ain't exactly minding his manners. Lee bitches constantly, and it got to the point that D'Antoni scolded him for dawdling up the court because he was chewing out an official. I don't especially care...just saying. I don't like getting LIED TO, David.
- While we're talking about him, I was happy to see Lee drag Dwight Howard out of his domain by making catches near the perimeter, but I found myself wishing he'd take Howard off the dribble instead of attempting jumpers.
- It's weird how much Jared Jeffries's jumper form has regressed since he was wetting J's in preseason. It's like the warm weather loosened up some ligaments in his wrist that have since reverted to a state that causes his shots to spin in three different directions simultaneously.
- At the risk of sounding psychotic, I'd really like to cook and eat Dwight Howard's shoulders, and then do the same with Brandon Bass's to compare taste and texture. I'd bet Anthony Johnson would make a fine cut of meat as well. Word has it they hand-feed him beer and massage him daily to marble the fat.
- Rashard Lewis is probably kinda gamy. I'm sorry. I'll stop.
- Wilson Chandler might not be rising as high as he was last season, but his second jump is pretty quick for a guy who recently had ankle surgery. For a guy that takes a lot of tough shots near the rim, the ability to get his own rebound and stick it back is prized. 24 (10-18) and 5 for Wil, by the way, though it seemed like all of that came in garbage time.
- This movie Brothers looks really rough. Similar story to Pearl Harbor, but probably a lot less funny when you're high.
- Mickael Pietrus shimmies? Nobody informed me that Mickael Pietrus shimmies. Do other people in Guadeloupe shimmy? Did a Guadeloupean invent the shimmy? I always thought the shimmy was strictly American. If that's a foreign import, than what else have we got? Monster trucks?
- Speaking of Pietrus, MSG accidentally displayed his game stats alongside a photo of Donté Greene, which is their subtle way of reminding us that all sorts of fringe starters have looked like All-Stars against the Knicks this season.
- Chris Tucker was at Amway Arena tonight. King Kong ain't got shit on him, if you catch my drift.
- I was really psyched for extended garbage time, but Toney and Wil were the only two to really have an impact. Marcus Landry missed a bunch (1-5), and Jordan Hill was a little less trigger-happy than last night. He hit one of two jumpers and got the wind knocked out of him by Brandon Bass's ass a few times.
- Darko Milicic was bench-bound again tonight, which would qualify as a DNP-BMDISETDHITTSOAK. Enjoy. (Incidentally, your winner from last night is FreeBradshaw. Well done, sir.)
Anyway, after last night's sudden and overwhelming majesty, tonight was a hasty retreat to mediocre Knicks basketball. I wouldn't expect otherwise. Next game's Friday in Atlanta. We'll talk before then.