Yuck. New York put up a mixed performance en route to a five-point loss to the Raptors in the Knicks' preseason home opener. The Knicks competed well through 2.5 quarters. The ball was moving, even if the team seemed to rarely run much complex Triangle action. The Knicks looked solid while Carmelo Anthony was on the floor, but without him looked like this was the first time they'd played basketball together. It Takes A Village To Raise Chris Childs might be right: Melo needs to play some hefty minutes for the Knicks to stay afloat on offense. Some notes:
-That first half was Francis.jpg. Absolutely brutal basketball. They ended the first quarter tied 12-12, and bless all of you brave souls who found the resolve to forge on through the rest of the game. The game picked up a bit in the third quarter, and managed to get kind of hot by the end. Still, this was undoubtedly an ugly game.
-Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas took the night off for the Raptors, and Lou Williams and Amir Johnson were the primary beneficiaries from their absence. Williams scored 21 points on 9 field goal attempts off the bench (!) to lead the game in scoring. The Knicks rested Andrea Bargnani for the 2nd consecutive night as he continues to recover from a strained hamstring.
-Quincy Acy got the start again with Bargnani on the mend, and had himself a quiet little game. Acy's obviously a limited offensive player, but he works hard to make an impact on the game and sometimes that stuff really matters. He ended the game with five rebounds in 29 minutes, but he put a lot of effort into boxing out and helping his teammates corral boards on both ends. Still looking for that jumper, though.
-Melo looked good in his short stint on the court. He slithered to the rim on a few nice drives and helped ground the Knicks on the offensive end. Melo picked up a couple of silly fouls early and didn't play at all once the game got out-of-hand in the second half, which stinks because I wanted to see the good guys win.
-It's startling how much more fluid the offense is while Jose Calderon is on the court. Jose is just a beautiful passer, and his willingness to move the ball changes the team. One of the most impressive plays of the night came from Calderon out of a timeout. Under heavy pressure from a Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson double team, Jose escaped for a moment and almost instantly threw a lob to Samuel Dalembert before I even noticed he was open. He does an excellent job leading his teammates to easy shot opportunities.
-Speaking of great passing: Let's talk about J.R. Smith. The box score only shows Smith registering a pair of assists, but he moved the ball well when he wasn't being asked to bail the Knicks out of bad possessions. He lofted one gorgeous lob in particular to Acy early in the game to beat a Tyler Hansbrough front and gift Acy a nice dunk. He also took some ill-advised jumpshots, but that's just J.R. He often found himself the initiator of the Knicks' offense off of broken plays, and that's just going to lead to tough shots for Earl. It's easy to just blame Smith when he takes an off-balance shot, but the team is obviously asking him to create most of those with Melo on the pine. It's a systemic issue that won't be mitigated until the Knicks pick up the Triangle a lil' better.
-Nothing new from Travis Wear. He's still probably better than the desiccated corpse of Travis Outlaw.
-Amar'e Stoudemire had difficulty contributing anything positive tonight. He looked lost on offense, to match his normal lack of direction on defense. It was all bad. STAT shook free for a few jumpers off of his screens and couldn't hit any of them. I'd like to see him get a few more looks with his back to the basket, but the team continues to struggle to make entry-passes into the strong-side post. It doesn't appear that the Knicks can survive Stoudemire's minutes if he isn't making an impact with his scoring. He was a team-low -22 in his 15 minutes of action.
-Cleanthony Early had the jitters for most of the game. He's clearly still adjusting to the NBA tempo, and might not be able to contribute right away. Which is fine.
-Shane Larkin is hella fast, but I'm not sure he's a competent NBA guard yet. He definitely has talent, but his decision-making was questionable tonight, as it has been all preseason. I'm not worried; he's got plenty of time to get used to his teammates. But all that talk about him unseating Pablo Prigioni as the Knicks' backup point guard was premature. He's gonna need some time.
-Yo, Pablo is good. At some point between the end of last season and the start of training camp Prigioni's on-court value came into question. That's silly. Our favorite Argentine guard didn't have a great statistical night, but he continues to be a stellar sneak, forcing several turnovers on Raptors' inbounds plays. One of those led to a stern Iman Shumpert dunk. It was glorious.
-It can feel sometimes like Shump has been stuck in neutral over the past few seasons, with his injuries and whatnot holding him back. He's definitely growing as a player and playmaker, though, as he put up 6 points, 3 boards, and 6 assists in just 18 minutes of playing time (team-high +14, per usual). Shump still looks uncomfortable creating offense on his own, but once the defense gets moving he can act as a secondary playmaker to find the open man. That's huge for Shump's development and utility as a Triangle guard.
-Jason Smith made his preseason debut tonight. It was wholly unremarkable.
-Samuel Dalembert is okay. He does some good things when he feels like it and other times he just disappears. I prefer Cole.
-Spike Lee did a short interview during the broadcast and said he'd convert to Buddhism if the Knicks won the title. I guess I will too.
The Knicks managed to pull it together in the final few minutes, but couldn't find enough offense to beat the Drakes. The Raptors are good. The 'Bockers are less good. 76ers tomorrow night.