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Pelicans 123, Knicks 111: “Every team plays the same”

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Today ate yesterday

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

“Why,” short story maestro Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “take five hundred pages to develop an idea whose oral demonstration fits into a few minutes?”

Got it.

The truest recapitulation of last night’s 123-111 Knicks’ loss to the New Orleans Pelicans would be nothing more than the photo above. Those four mugs signify the emotional experience of watching the game: beginning with Andy Garcia’s professorial bemusement and moving clockwise, there was also guilty pleasure, surprise and, ultimately, disbelief.

The bemusement came from watching a battle of 14-seeds end with one looking so dominant over the other. Recent form seems a truer character sketch than the Pels’ record over the season to date: this win was their eighth in 11 games. Meanwhile, the Marcus Morris- and Julius Randle-less Knicks make a strong argument for the Parcells Theorem, wherein you are what your record says you are. They’re on a 60-loss pace and have dropped five in a row.

New Orleans led throughout. Those with eyes and ears knew where the separation would really take off — behind the arc. The Pelicans lead the league in games with 15+ three-pointers made; they’re top five in threes attempted and made. Like a minor league call-up who hits six home runs his first 10 games before the league realizes he’ll chase every slider low and away till Armageddon’s yesterday’s news, the NBA has caught on to Mike Miller’s drop coverage in pick-and-rolls. But there was still something bemusing in seeing it unfold in front of you.

Also, the Knicks couldn’t contain the Pels’ penetrate-and-kick-out game. Also the Pelicans moved the ball well. There were lots of reasons the Knicks got killed from deep. Getting outscored 18-0 from there in the first quarter really tied the room together.

Bemusement featured in their final possession of the opening frame. Frank Ntilikina, who was oddly frisky and aggressive and thus played just 15 minutes, probed the defense off a pick-and-roll with Mitchell Robinson and appeared, for one glorious instant, to be busting out a Shammgod. Instead it was just a regular old long dribble that drew Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker to him, leaving Mitch free for the good stuff.

The spectacle of a Taj Gibson offensive explosion is as much a guilty pleasure as anything in this life. Anxiety is the dark matter underpinning most of my cosmos of late. I’m seeing more and more evidence of how deeply my compulsions run and the complications they cause in my everyday life. Yet rather than sharing my experience with a loved one or seeking growth through transcendence, I’m watching Ol’ Lunch Pail (that’s a certified nickname) take eight shots and four free throws and make eight and three, respectively.

Guilty pleasure was watching a five-man lineup of Ntilikina, Robinson, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Damyean Dotson. Cute, for sure, but I wasn’t interested in what it could do for me for tonight. I closed my eyes and felt that lineup, with an Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball in place of Dot, and I got all fingertips, those fingertips, tho-ose fingertips...any one will do.

Guilty pleasure was Brandon Ingram’s 28-point, nine-assist birth of the cool. It was Lonzo Ball’s passing and sharing and thinking exploring the studio space. It was teen spirit Jaxson Hayes showing youth is best served on the young, and maybe the olds are wasted on regret.

I was surprised to realize that watching the Knicks lose with a non-existent defense is easier now than when I was younger. Not just because I’m more used to it. Rather, it’s because today’s style of play has standardized to the point where my pattern-clingy gray matter (and some of yours too, I bet) is beginning to identify certain sequences as “deserved” rather than “unfortunate.” Back in the day when more teams played more differently, you didn’t know where a defensive mistake might lead. The same error that against Boston would result in a Larry Bird three-point attempt would, against Atlanta, end with Dominique Wilkins taking two quick dribbles and blitzkrieging the rim. Now you know that missed rotation X ends with an open corner three. And because the artistry of the game is terraforming to math, the karmic weight of that corner three means something.

I found myself in disbelief as the Knicks fell behind by nearly 20 upon realizing that while my eyes and my heart were deflated, the socialized aspects of my self — the bits that still get excited about summer carnivals, new underwear and letting someone merge into my lane after someone else was just a douche and wouldn’t — were content with what was an attractive kind of losing. The Knicks weren’t dogging it, or bricking from everywhere. They were getting up and down the court; they were scoring and shooting well and doing almost all of their good work inside the arc, a flashback to what they looked like for most of my life until this/last decade. I felt the same warmth seeing that as I did earlier today listening to Public Enemy, knowing this isn’t that world anymore and never will be, but letting the make-believe run stylishly late. What, after all, is the universe and everything in it if not one long encore after the only thing ever worth a damn?

Notes:

  • Frank and Mitch are developing some kind of mutualism in the pick-and-roll game. You have to draw out the “uh” sound in “some” for that sentence to read right. Sooooome kind of mutualism.
  • Reggie Bullock left the game clutching his right hand. Looked like he jammed a finger.
  • If the Knicks sign Ingram next summer with cap room acquired in the KP trade...I don’t know. There’s no “then” clause to follow. I just get dizzy happy imagining Ingram becoming a Knick.
  • I like the Lonzo Dunk. You know the one I mean?
  • Ball is in the set of players I hope become Knicks one day. I’d love to watch him over 82 games.
  • Jaxson Hayes is a live wire. That kid had a helluva New York premiere.
  • The game was on ESPN. I could live with Mike Breen calling all future Knick games with Doris Burke. Could easily live with it.

Quoth jon Q: “Every team plays the same.” Not the Knicks! Not yet, anyway — they still profile like a team lost in time. They’re basically bottom-five in three-point attempts and bottom-10 in pace. Next game is Sunday afternoon hosting Miami. Maybe modernization will manifest, at least in moderation. Or maybe Jimmy Butler will score 15 points and elect himself to the Hall of Fame.