Knicks 103, Magic 98: "Someone had to win, glad it was the Knicks."

Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries...but a win!

The Knicks' record is 9-18. Back in the day, I used to call a (.333) record with half as many wins as losses "Knicks .500". They're half as good as they are bad. Or something. They've actually been just below real .500 in December. Hell, if you squint just right, they've won four of their last seven. So that's something.

The point I mean to make, though, is that the Knicks' record should be more like 3-18-6. Settings, lineups, and opponents change, but if you regard one game as merely an arbitrary sample of Knicks basketball that has to be coded with either a W or an L, you'll begin to question that system. It's all rather muddy. A couple of the Knicks' best performances this season have ended in loss and, moreover, they've played some miserable, internally devastating games that somehow got the "W" stamp.

Monday night's victory in Orlando wasn't nearly as hideous as, say, the win over the Bucks. Some Knicks played some splendid offense, and they defended frequently enough to counteract the efforts of the Friendly Alliance of Really Terrible Defenders for Opposing Guards (FARTDOG). Still, the Knicks let what was a packed-up, ready-to-go, breezy blowout win unspool into a mess that required last-minute containment, and they suffered injuries in the process.

The game actually started with Orlando hitting everything. The Magic drilled open shots every time the Knicks over-helped or mismanaged a pick, turned dumb Knick misses into fast-break buckets, and hit all kinds of contested nonsense, too. That ended quickly. Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton orbited gracefully around Tyson Chandler's picks to find each other open shots or set Tyson himself for with a big ol' smash. Chandler left the game early and returned to join Amar'e Stoudemire in the second quarter (Andrea Bargnani did not play the whole period), which only doubled the Knicks' pick-and-roll efforts and created open shots off kick-outs that guys-- J.R. Smith, Felton, Melo, even Iman Shumpert once-- actually hit. They turned the ball over once in the whole first half.

And then things went Chinua Achebe in the third quarter, as they do. It always starts with a couple plays you laugh off. Shump got too cute on an isolation crossover move and drew a traveling whistle. Then he made a gorgeous spin in transition but got whistled for another. Then Melo forced a bad iso runner and turned his ankle trying to rebound it and all of a sudden it got serious. The Melo-less Knicks devolved into an isolating, turnovering, open-shot-bricking catastrophe giving up ground to FARTDOG's Jameer Nelson reclamation project. Weeks ago, I was baffled to see people suggesting Nelson as an alternative trade target to Kyle Lowry, and now I remember why: because if you've only watched him against the Knicks, you think he's a damn pick-and-roll maven. The Magic dialed up their picking-and-rolling, enjoying the usual checkdown of 1. open look for driving guard, 2. but if not that then an open shot for the rolling big, 3. but if not that then an open shot for a decoy on the wing. By the mid-fourth, Orlando had cut what was once a 25-point lead to 1. One point.

The fourth quarter stayed yucky, and Raymond Felton may have seriously hurt himself down the stretch. But hey, snaps to the lineup that finished the game. Andrea Bargnani took over as the crunch-time first option, finding quick shots and drives out of pick-and-pop touches. Iman Shumpert hit a big three and made two great Shumpert-toothed tiger plays, jumping a passing lane for a coast-to-coast lay-in and chasing down Glen Davis to claw away an easy transition finish. Beno Udrih did all the settin' up after Felton went down, and hit all his clutch free throws. Tyson Chandler tipped out the offensive rebound that pretty much clinched the win.

Just a few notes:

- I don't even really know what the promos with Walt Frazier sitting by the fireplace were for because I fainted when I heard Clyde say he spends Christmas in St. Croix, "where Santa wears shorts and not much else."

- I saw the Knicks run a lot of pick-and-roll for Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani when Tyson Chandler was on the floor. That look had its moments, and it got Chandler a bucket or two off the extra pass, but since Bargnar'e are apter to threaten from outside the paint, I reckon it's better to keep it simple and let Chandler set the screens. I don't mind mixing things up, though. I can't really complain about the Knicks running their sets.

- The Magic are one of those teams that's not at all good but somehow make me feel envious roster-wise. Like, even when the Knicks were good I felt that way. If you're not going to play Kyle O'Quinn then please send him to New York to take over as back-up center and let me sit on his knee and tell me stories.

- Ahhh shit Kyle O'Quinn is younger than me. That was especially weird. Shit.

- Good on Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith! Those guys contributed! I still thought Shump passed up some open shots, and those consecutive travels were unfortunate, BUT he busted his ass to chase Arron Afflalo around screens, even if that meant losing him a few times, and he did take seven shots, which is an improvement, and he did make two great handsy defensive plays down the stretch, and he did grab six rebounds. Speaking of rebounds, J.R. pulled down ten(!) to go with a-- [looks at box score]-- okay, it wasn't that efficient, but an okay shooting performance for at least some stretches. 3-6 is a nice mark from outside, and J.R. created for others as often as he chucked up his own crap off the dribble. BABY STEPS ALL AROUND.

- 40 minutes for Chandler, 37 for J.R. Melo probably saved himself by getting hurt. Ya know, from, like, getting hurt worse.

- Amar'e Stoudemire committed an "ol' foot trick" or two, but I don't think his 3-9 shooting represents bad offense. He just rimmed out some hook-y things and short float-y things. He's always had an uncanny touch a few feet from the rim, so I guess it's well within his rights to go cold from that range now and then.

- Oh my god, the pick-and-roll D, though. Him and Bargnani both. And Chandler at times. And the guards, of course. Their coverages make me wish so badly my TV had a touch-screen so I could push guys into the right positions. You can see them conspiring to fuck up even before it happens.

But hey, the Knicks won. Someone had to, like BAGGY EYES said. They won a lot for a while, and then they won just a little. If you go by the NBA's "wins" and "losses", they're 9-18. They're back to Knicks .500. Maybe one day they'll be real .500 again. Probably not, but maybe.

Injury updates and maybe some links coming...at some point. I hope you're having a lovely Erev Yom Christmas.

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