A home game against the Raptors seemed like a great opportunity to head into the All-Star break on a high note. Instead, the Knicks are heading into the All-Star break having lost three of their last four and with a fetid pukebucket of a game in their wake. I guess that, given the way this team has been playing lately, finishing the pre-All-Star stretch with a bad loss might provide for a more appropriate sense of urgency and drive to improve over the break, but this wasn't your typical Knicks loss.
I mean, yeah, the Knicks had their defensive issues. The first unit switched a bit too much and any lineup with Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Novak as the bigs (beginning of second, end of third) got dismembered by dribble penetration. And Alan Anderson just hit goddamn everything, contested or not. The defense wasn't THE issue, though.
The offense wasn't so much an issue as it was a flaming disaster bordering on self-parody. Carmelo Anthony, despite apparently hurting his right arm early in the game, forced shots with increasing regularity as the game progressed. Whether forcing or not, though, Melo missed everything. Everything. Guarded or open, off the dribble or off the catch, 23 feet out or point-blank-- Melo missed. Free throws, too. He's probably gonna poop on the floor when he gets back to his house tonight. Melo finished the evening with just 12 points on 5-24 shooting, including a contested but highly make-able transition miss at the rim that could have cut Toronto's lead to one with about two minutes to go. Landry Fields played solid defense on Melo, but not 5-24 solid. Maybe shoot less if your hand doesn't work next time, Melo? I don't know.
The issues, of course, weren't confined to Melo. Amar'e was heavily featured in his 18 minutes off the bench, but came up way short on looks he'd been dropping with ease until recently. He even bricked a wide-open finger roll standing still under the rim. J.R. Smith scored nicely off the dribble, but didn't start hitting jumpers until the fourth quarter when it was already too late (and Melo was looking him off). Jason Kidd stayed ice cold from outside. Novak hardly participated after hitting all three of his threes in the first half. New York actually played competent defense down the stretch of this one, but the Raptors hit some tough, contested shots and the Knicks squandered several forced turnovers by committing unforced errors of their own and shooting an inhumane 2-8 at the rim (according to Alan Hahn) in the fourth quarter. Two of eight! They also missed nine of 30 free throws. I, like abe88, can only wonder if the Knicks were trying to score on a rim that was 11 feet off the ground or dented or titled at an angle or something.
I enjoyed three moments, only one of which took place within the field of play. That one was Tyson Chandler's reverse alley-oop in a pick-and-roll with Raymond Felton (who attacked the rim a lot and played a generally solid offensive game). The other two were Bernard King (subbing in for the vacationing Clyde) describing how he practiced falling to the floor after shots when he returned from his big injury and Aaron Gray (0 minutes) getting a technical from the bench then having to lift up his warm-up shirt to show the ref his number. That last one was wonderful.
But yeah, other than those things, tonight's viewing experience was nauseating. Even with those fluky misses, it fits right into a trend. I'm happy about the Knicks' 32-18 record and their standing in the East, but those overall accomplishments obscure a uniformly mediocre recent stretch of games fraught with helpless defense and dwindling ball movement, much of it against inferior competition. The Knicks badly fumbled the easiest part of their schedule. With a grueling March ahead, there is a lot of work to be done, and now the Knicks have some more time to do it. I imagine this will be an especially "back to the drawing board" sort of All-Star break. This is not a very good team right now, but there is plenty of time to get good again.
In the meantime...