I’ve watched the Knicks lose about 1200 games in my lifetime. Last night’s 117-87 entropy at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers was near the bottom of those 1200 as far as drama, entertainment or consequence. New York entered the game a 13.5 point underdog, lost by more than double that and managed to avoid being competitive or compelling throughout. But what is one loss singled out amongst the dross of another doomed campaign? As it turns out, this loss did matter, for one reason.
Marcus Morris missed the game with a sore neck. Morris is the Knicks’ best player this year, which is like someone shrooming feeling flattered for being entrusted with driving everyone home after the concert because the rest of the crew dropped liquid LSD into their eyeballs. Morris is almost assuredly going to be traded, because to be an NBA fan in 2020 is to tumble down a rabbit hole into a world where process and product are funhouse mirrors: all that matters is winning it all, but achieving that end-product means devotion to accepted common practices and processes, e.g. “accumulating assets” and “maximizing mobility”; to worship at the altar of canon requires ruthless adherence to its processional tenets. So yeah, Morris can ball, but if you can be one of three worst teams with him you can be without him, too.
This season will likely be the seventh in the past 14 where the Knicks fail to win 30 games. That is a lot of lousy basketball. Trading Morris would kick off the third tank job in the past six years. I’m not having it. You dig? Don’t tell me to vote, don’t tell me to vote “pragmatically,” and don’t tell me Jerome Robinson and the 28th pick in the draft are the highway to heaven. I’ve put up with too much for too long to settle for more promises of pearly gates beyond the next lottery, beyond the next free agent class. Losing I can handle. Three months of microanalyzing Kevin Knox’s advanced stats for signs of growth? Of Wayne Ellington playing like he’s polio and everyone inside the arc is Jonas Salk? No. Not anymore.
After a ragged start for both teams, the great divide made itself clear. The Lakers started hitting threes and getting to the foul line. The Knicks did not. RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Damyean Dotson each picked up two quick fouls, in RJ’s case within the game’s opening 90 seconds. Robinson’s foul trouble meant he only had one chance to try and set the men’s long jump record. He made the most of it.
The Lakers are freaking huge, in height and length, and they were clogging passing lanes and blocking the crap out of the Knicks whenever they drove. Conversely...
It was 32-30 Lakers when L.A. scored 10 unanswered in what proved to be the game’s decisive run. The capper on that run was Bobby Portis getting ejected after a flagrant-2 roundhouse from behind on Kentavious Caldwell-Klutch. This was especially stupid and selfish, even for Portis, with New York already shorthanded due to Morris’ neck. The Laker run was ended by, of all things, Elfrid Payton hitting a historically improbable fadeaway over Dwight Howard as the shot-clock expired.
With only a few minutes left in the first half, both teams had made 16 shots. But the Knicks had taken 45, versus just 30 for the Lakers. Let the numbers tell it like it was: by intermission L.A. led by 17, shooting 57% from the field and 54% from downtown; New York was at 36% and 25%. While the Lakers had already committed 11 turnovers and collected just two offensive rebounds, the Knicks had already grabbed back 10 of their misses. But again, the Lakers are humongous and feature a half-dozen former All-Defensive honorees. Size is a helluva drug.
There are lots of reasons the Lakers are better than the Knicks. Last night was like watching those reasons expressed as polynomials multiplied over 48 minutes. Los Angeles pulled off the Palindrome’s Delight, leading 75-57 in the third. A Howard three-pointer, only the eighth of his career, put the Lakers up 30. This was the first time the Mike Miller Knicks looked like the David Fizdale edition. Trading Morris means more where that came from.
- Anthony Davis went down hard and stayed down for a while after fouling Randle and landing hard on his back or his tailbone. X-rays were negative, which is always positive.
- 43 points over the Clipper/Laker games for Barrett. What he did last night was often overshadowed by how he did it. On one sequence RJ had the ball in the restricted area and was defended by the much bigger Javale McGee. The 19-year-old busted out the footwork and fakes until he lost McGee and scored over him. On a one-on-one break against Davis, Barrett took it to him, contorting his body to shield the ball and finish over him. Late in the game, Howard stopped Barrett cold, after which RJ came right back at him, got dropped but drew the foul. On the Knicks’ next possession, he took it at Howard again and hit a step-back over him. That’s right, rook!
- Reggie Bullock stopped LeBron stone cold like 3-4 times. A one-on-one steal, a deflection, an interception. Later a block. Western conference teams, take note: behold thy new Travis Wear, a.k.a The LeBron Stopper.
- Not Kevin Knox’s finest hour, shooting-wise. 11 shots combined from the field and the foul line and he missed 10 of those. Still, I fucks with Knox. I’d take him over Kuzma, obviously. I’m not some monster.
- A couple years ago, I was promoted at my university. Lots of candidates applied; I got the nod, and the committee’s vote, I later learned, was unanimous. I got a raise, greater job security, fewer students, etc. A few months later my department head told me I was getting laid off. Budget crunch. Eventually my job was reinstated, but I didn’t trust the school anymore and left. Going so quickly from “I am valued and rewarded for my performance” to “My performance doesn’t matter” was a dizzying descent. I bet that’s what Allonzo Trier feels like, going from where he was a year ago to now.
- In the fourth Trier got out on a break and tried to take it right at LeBron. Not surprisingly, he did not bust out the famed Trier Elbow. Not surprisingly, James shut that shit down.
- The Lakers clearly were prepared to guard against lobs to Mitchell Robinson. The Knicks were not prepared to counter that.
- Meanwhile, in Westchester...
- This was LeBron’s first win as a Laker vs. the Knicks. GOAT my ass.
- I’ve never rooted for a player to injure himself in a slam dunk contest. This year, when Howard participates, I will.
- Danny Green’s three-pointers are as pretty as anybody’s. Pure parabolic pulchritude.
- My girl said she was gonna call Kuzma “Rabbit.” I asked why. She said he had a slight Eminem thing going on. I’d never heard that as a nickname for him. Looked it up and yup: she was right.
- Marvin Webster: the Human Eraser.
Jared Dudley: the Human Schlong. No pic available. I mean, they’re def available, but I wanna spare you. Google it if you gotta know.
- Did you know the NBA is proposing shortening next season to 78 games, creating a 30-team tournament between Thanksgiving and Christmas, re-seeding the conference finalists and adding a playoffs wild-card round? Now you do.
Quoth No Ds and DNPs: “Well this is getting out of hand quickly...” Speaking of quickly, the Knicks don’t have time to mourn this game. Tomorrow night they’re in Utah. Hopefully Morris suits up. If not, and if last night is a sign of a post-Morris apocalypse, this team may not score 90.