Knicks 99, Wizards 96: "Why did it have to be so difficult?"

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks reacts after making a basket during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on January 6, 2012 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

You said it, GAx. It's great that the Knicks got a win over the Wizards tonight, but they were a basket here or a whistle there away from giving the Wizards-- an alarmingly bad basketball team-- their first win of the season. It didn't need to be nearly that close, nor that difficult, and as with previous games that ended less pleasantly, the brunt of the problem could be traced to a single quarter.

And that first period...good lord. Was that the worst quarter the Knicks have played thus far? I'll have to go back and review their previous bad quarters, (note: I will do no such thing.) but I think it was. Oh, hey, let's jump before I start rambling.

Here.

- But yeah, that first quarter. The Knicks did absolutely everything wrong. Amar'e Stoudemire led them in attempting and missing horrible, arrhythmic shots and turning the ball over like it was a...turnover. They shot 34 percent, committed roughly 90 turnovers, and scored just 18 points. Somehow, they were even worse on the other end. The Washington offense mostly came from the guards, with John Wall darting to the rim unobstructed, Nick Young squiggling his way through screens to get open looks, and JaVale McGee doing what I believe were interpretive dances that somehow ended in made baskets. It was really, truly horrid-- perhaps more so than anything from the preceding six games of truly horrid basketball. I think my internal monologue at the end of the quarter was "I'm not sure I like watching basketball anymore." It was pretty bad.

- Clyde wore his "fuzzy circuit board" jacket for the first time this year. His boothmate was Spero Dedes, who my ears found perfectly adequate, save for his odd habit of pronouncing "Stoudemire" as "STAT-e-mire". I can see the reasoning behind that one, but I'm pretty sure that's not how you say it.

- Amar'e Stoudemire's defense must receive its own bullet. He did some cartoonishly bad things. Stoudemire's commitment against Andray Blatche picked up later, but not until we'd seen stuff like passes whizzing right by Amar'e's head and Blatche driving directly to the rim even though Amar'e had sagged like five feet off him. On both ends, really, Stoudemire looked totally disinterested and possibly even comatose during the first quarter and portions of the second. His effort picked up later on both ends.

- That jumper's still not falling, though. Good and bad looks alike just won't drop.

- Carmelo Anthony, despite getting seven(!) of his shots blocked, was dominant. He just torched Chris Singleton in isolation, both with nifty moves to jumpers and crazysexycool drives to the rim. He and Amar'e even had a li'l two-man game going in the second quarter. Trevor Booker gave Melo more trouble in the second half, but Melo solved that by just smacking him in the face before hitting the game-winning jumper.

- Melo had 37, 7, and 4 while Amar'e had 23 and 12, his second straight double-double. They combined for 54 of the Knicks' 89 shot attempts.

- It took me too long to get to this, but Iman Shumpert did a lot to convince us that he should play point guard with the first unit. On a night in which Toney Douglas spun for just ten minutes and did nothing but grease John Wall's track to the basket, Shumpert played 37 minutes off the bench and looked exponentially better. Shump's night was far from perfect-- he missed most of his jumpers and made a few defensive mistakes-- but it was far and away the most competent outing by any Knick guard this season. He did a much, much better job against Wall, particularly in halfcourt sets, (nobody stops Wall in transition.) and snaggled five steals just by being big, long-limbed, and rowdy as hell. On offense, he did basic point guard things like dribble with his head up and body facing the basket, run a proper pick-and-roll, and make accurate entry passes to big men under the rim. These are all things that Toney Douglas cannot do-- at least not on purpose-- and it feels fair, even this early, to expect Shumpert to join the starting lineup pretty soon and move Douglas either off the ball or to the bench.

- I'm not a big fan of plus/minus, but Shump was +20 in 37 minutes. Or, said differently, the Knicks were -17 in the 11 minutes he rested. When he sat in the third quarter, Wall immediately started attacking the rim and the Wizards got 9 straight points.

- On that note, Wall and Rajon Rondo are the two guys whose baskets I tend to miss when they're playing the Knicks. They always score when I'm still looking down and typing up my notes from the previous Knicks possession.

- Some of that rest, Tina Cervasio reported, was because his legs were cramping up again. Apparently he has a problem with that, which is something we should keep in mind to avoid being terrified and stabbing ourselves in our respective faces when he abruptly leaves games in the future. Tina also reported that Carmelo Anthony's apparent groin injury was, in fact, a little tweak to his back and not a big deal at all.

- Mike Bibby! Bibby finally had a positive impact, drilling a couple massively important threes to help suppress the Washington comeback in the third quarter. Never has Clyde's "like Lazarus, risen from the dead!" line been more appropriate. Nice shooting, Mike!

- Nick Young runs like he has poop in his butt.

- Tyson Chandler was very Tyson Chandler-y in this one, grabbing nine(!) offensive rebounds and scoring 12 points primarily on free throws. He's great at scrapping for those o-bounds and even better at pump-faking fools into the air so they come down on his head. Splendid night.

- Some numbers: The Wizards had 31 fast break points. The two teams combined for 43 turnovers. Note that I selected those numbers because they are both quite high.

- If I was Rashard Lewis, I'd be worried that Chris Singleton was going to dethrone me not only as starting small forward, but as pharaoh of the Wizards.

So, the Knicks made some progress tonight. They actually beat a bad team, and they got a whiff of backcourt production in the process. The next step is to play four decent quarters instead of three decent ones and one that makes us question our very existence. To Detroit they go!

Programming note: I'm going on vacation with my familyfolks tomorrow and will be gone for a week. There won't be a Pre-Game Reconnaissance tomorrow, and I expect the Recons to either be miniature or totally absent for the rest of the week. Besides that, posts might be a bit slow and sparse, but I intend to negotiate any time differences and shitty internet connections to watch and recap the games.

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