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Knicks 96, Hornets 93: "Sloppy win! And I’ll take it!"

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Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah. Yup. The Knicks' second win was sloppy as hell, and seemed to get sloppier with each passing minute. There aren't going to be clean wins this early in the building project, though, so I, like our friend 40plusyears, will take it. New York's game opened with a streak of polish, then got far grittier. They outpaced their own faltering defense, though, and scrapped to stay ahead even when their sets began to unravel. Some notes:

- You couldn't fully appreciate the stench of last year's Knicks without flipping the channel and watching defense in other games. Every other team defended faster and more forcefully than the Knicks did. It jarred the senses. For stretches of these first three games-- including the first quarter or so Sunday night-- I've gotten that jolt from the Knicks themselves. My brain is tuned to expect the opposing guard rubbing past the screen to find daylight, but whoa! Quincy Acy's there! That's not where the big man is supposed to be! The big man is supposed to be somewhere out of the picture, studying his shoelaces! And WHAT? IS THE GUARD RECOVERING? WHAT IS SHANE LARKIN DOING RIGHT NOW? HE'S PROTECTING THE PAINT! That's what it's been like at times. The Knicks' guards either iced or fought over screens early in the game, the bigs hedged and recovered, the combination drove ball-handlers to the baselines, and the help defenders recovered to the weak side. Over and over again for a short while. I felt very happy and slightly seasick.

- I think several things happened after that. I think a relatively stout starting lineup ceded the floor to poorer defensive groups, I think guys got tired, and I think the Hornets learned to run pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor so the Knicks couldn't use the bound lines to contain them. Also, Charlotte realized Al Jefferson is quite tough to defend one-on-one. All told, the Knicks got crappier, the Hornets got smarter, and the Knicks gave up plenty of great looks and some frustrating trips to the free throw line pretty continuously through the latter three quarters.

- Iman Shumpert had, like, an entire Iman Shumpert season in a single game. He canned a couple lovely early jumpers off hand-offs. He tried to Euro step in transition against Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and embarrassed himself. He drove and kicked to a Shane Larkin Jumper. He helped stop side pick-and-rolls with good footwork and waving arms. He committed a dumb, reach-y second foul and had to sit. He came back later and actually finished a baseline drive with a dunk. He passed up good open threes for bad pull-ups. He got caught in the air passing. He nearly turned the ball over on a crucial late play, only to get it back and hit one of the night's most important shots from downtown. That's the full Shump grab bag! A volatile, unpredictable game. And ultimately successful, I'd say.

- Quincy Acy was a big part of those early successes defending the pick-and-roll. He had a decent night. Acy's got a problem, though, where he ends up playing the wing in a lot of sideline triangle set-ups and the defense just totally neglects him out there. It means he can't throw an entry pass, and it means he's so open that he gets the idea to shoot jumpers sometimes, like he did from behind the arc in the fourth quarter. Acy's got the type of form where his legs look like they disagree with his decision to shoot.

- Acy did hit a lefty hook. That was fun and weird. Also fun and weird when he straight-up ran away from help defense situations on consecutive possessions. I think maybe Quincy Acy eats a whole bag of drugs before each game?

- I liked Shane Larkin dipping over screens to hit quick jumper, and I really liked him canning one off the catch. I'm not sure he actually has that floater he thinks he has. Loved his pick-and-roll D early on, didn't love watching him try to chase Kemba Walker around one-on-one.

- Pablo Prigioni did a splendid job subverting his passive nature to attack the seams the offense made for him. He wasn't looking to finish on those drives, but he penetrated and kicked nicely to create open shots. And damn, I think everyone gets a spark from watching the resident old dude dive on the floor for loose balls and fight over screens to draw charges and stuff like that.

- I'm probably just shellshocked post-Woodson, but I take dumb pleasure in watching Fisher snap and call a fast timeout after a single defensive mistake. That's another example of the brain unlearning last year's rhythms. It's like "ohhh no this lineup had a couple breakdowns in a row. Time to settle in for a huge run by the other te-- WAIT, THEY'RE GONNA TRY A DIFFERENT LINEUP?" Fisher keeps tickling me by just, like, not actively helping the other team win.

- There's no Melo like Fresh Melo (3-4 off the bat, including his 20,000 point!), but rested Melo's been pretty sharp. The Knicks didn't always scramble things enough before throwing it to Melo on the weak post, and Melo didn't always react appropriately to the heavy doubles Steve Clifford sent his way. He seemed to turn the wrong way a few times when a look in the right direction would have found him an outlet for an open shooter. Howeeeeeever, Melo buried some tough shots from that right block, and did more good than harm in isolation down the stretch. I think we'd all still like to see some cleaner endgame opportunities, but it's early yet.

- The Knicks held their ground without Melo, too! They outscored the Hornets with him off the floor! That's terrific.

- I think the Smith brothers are developing a connection. J.R. really loves a screener who can shoot, and Jason really loves to set screens and shoot. And tonight, they both loved to get the hell out of the way when people drove to the basket. A lot of Knicks did, to be fair.

- Speaking of! Tim Hardaway Jr. played a little more-- just ten minutes, limited by his own horrid defense-- and got his buckets with haste. He buried all those hand-off jumpers and one second-option three-point look when the Hornets dared to give him space. My favorite play of Tim's was when he realized the Hornets were overplaying him off the ball and finally used the weak-side blind pig action to streak to the rim, catch a pass, and finish over good help defense.

- I liked how on this crucial strip late in the game, a couple Knicks bent to pick up the loose ball while Samuel Dalembert just crouched stiffly over it like I CANNOT BEND ANY FURTHER THAN THIS WITHOUT DISLODGING VERTEBRAE BUT I HAVE LOCATED THE BALL. IT IS HERE AND I THINK WE THE KNICKS SHOULD CLAIM IT.

- Sam also does this thing where he's guarding a post-up player and cocks his head to the side while he's getting backed down. He's either craning his neck to get a good look at the ball or he's just a giant puppy fascinated by the sound of a dribbling ball.

- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist singlehandedly stopped enough transition plays and second chances to keep the game from getting out of hand early. He also fell down so hard fighting for a loose ball (with Larkin, who is weirdly strong) that I thought his entire skeleton had pulverized when he hit the ground. Apparently the 2014 medical term for a crumbled sternum is "contusion."

- All I'm saying is the Hornets went on a 65-53 run to close the game after the MSG cameras caught Chris Smith sitting courtside.

- Did Amar'e set weirdly bad screens? Amar'e played a nice offensive game-- indomitable around the rim, accurate away from it-- but he wasn't springing guys with picks the way he usually does. Not a big thing. I liked the way he played. And on defense, I was happy to see him improve on serial possessions against Al Jefferson. He got cooked, he got cooked, then he took matters into his own hands and got a few deflections and solid shot contests.

- Another brain recalibrating thing: I *notice* when the Knicks switch. Like, it stands out.

- The Garden lights went out and the arena turned pitch dark in the middle of Al Trautwig's halftime interview with Melo, and Melo didn't miss a beat in his answer so don't you ever tell me he's not clutch.

- The apex of the nightly Let's Pretend To Run The Triangle But Have The Point Guard Cut Away Almost Immediately And Just Run Half-Assed Pick-And-Rolls that lead To Isolations For Players Who Do Not Warrant Them Hour Brought To You By The Memory Of Mike Woodson was a busted set draining the whole shot clock until Melo bailed everyone out with a 30-foot three-pointer that was obviously good the moment it left his hand.

- I don't like the Knicks taking their last shot of the quarter too early so the opponent has another opportunity (Lance Stephenson got two points this way), but I also don't like two-for-ones just for the sake of two-for-ones. There's no point in getting two shots if they're both rushed.

- Good fronting of Jefferson down the stretch. Good, effective small lineups down the stretch, though I was surprised at how poorly they used their own spacing.

- That five-second call was terrible. Just plainly wrong. Like, I went and checked the betting line on the game.

- This has been said, but I'll say it once more: Pablo Prigioni knows how to use his fouls. His violence is the most controlled and soundly implemented violence around.

Busy week coming up. Monday off, then the Wizards, then a three-game trip to Detroit, Brooklyn, and Atlanta in four nights. I'm pleasantly surprised to be saying this after three games, but I hope the Knicks keep it up.