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Wizards 114, Knicks 96: “Sometimes the door’s open doesn’t mean you can come in”

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The familiar stench of stink

Washington Wizards v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

This is an anemone escaping from a starfish.

The Knicks 114-96 loss to the Wizards last night was the same. There was tension for a while, the outcome uncertain...and then anything resembling competitive NBA basketball up and hopped away, slowly but surely, and the Knicks, like the starfish, had come up empty. I imagine that starfish may have struggled with doubt and insecurity after blowing the hunt. I don’t presume to imagine what the home team felt after dropping closer to the league’s worst record than the playoffs.

This was both teams’ last game before the All-Star break, and with neither fielding an honoree the energy was last-day-of-school-before-a-week-off from the jump. Unforced turnover after unforced turnover, foul call after foul call, bricking three after three, the kind of game that makes you wish they’d put the bottoms back on the peach baskets, to slow the horrorshow and give us some reprieve from the basketball diarrhea running amok.

The signs were there from the start: the Knicks came up empty on one of the worst 3-on-1 breaks you’ll ever see, with Julius Randle getting the ball way too early for a big on the break, even a big with some handle. Later RJ Barrett, driving 1-on-4, spun and inexplicably dished to Mitchell Robinson, who was only just stepping inside the arc. Dennis Smith Jr. looked like a George Romero zombie: lazy passes; getting his pocket picked dribbling aimlessly up the floor; turning the ball over four times in his first six minutes. Gimme some 28 Days Later undeadness, DSJ!

Dāvis Bertāns crossed over Reggie Bullock for a pull-up three to put the Wiz up six. Errors of execution are forgivable. Errors of effort? Let’s just say you were more likely to see James Dolan bouncing on Charles Oakley’s lap than you were any Knick playing help defense.

Bradley Beal started heating up after a slow opening third of the game, but the Knicks were blessed with Barrett’s best scoring half since injuring his ankle nearly a month ago. The rook was all Jekyll and Hyde: bullying fools like Popeye in the paint but clanging from the perimeter like Popeye Jones. Still, New York closed the half on a 10-0 run to take a four-point lead.

If you ever saw Dazed and Confused, you know the scene where the soon-to-be high school seniors are chilling on the football field one night. They are so, so in the moment, in a way that comes naturally at that age. Then, abruptly, their bubble is shattered by headlights reminding them the outside world won’t quit till it grinds them down. That was the second half.

Washington outscored New York 68-46 over the last 24 minutes. The recipe was simple but effective: turnovers.

Beal penetration opening things up for his teammates.

Beal penetration opening up things up for himself.

Behold the league’s premier Latvian baller:

The game was close throughout, and awful. At one point the teams combined were 8 of 41 from downtown. That, coupled with the unforced turnovers, was ugly enough. The fugly kicked in when the refs decided the All-Star break was the last thing any of them wanted to experience. There were 48 fouls called plus six techs; two players were ejected. Two minutes into the fourth quarter, the Wiz were already in the penalty, though they missed five of their first seven free throws. Told you this one was hard to watch. It would get worse.

After a timeout was called, Ish Smith tried a three. Bobby Portis did that Kevin Garnett thing where he leapt to catch the shot before it could go in. Portis also did that Garnett thing where he’s antagonistic and a bit mental for no good reason, throwing the ball in Smith’s direction as he walked toward the Washington bench. The referees ejected Portis, who is honestly so dense at times he makes mercury jealous and anvils swoon.

Maybe Portis had an early flight to wherever millionaire 24-year-olds go when they finally have a few days to themselves after about half a year of none. Maybe the refs calling 10 fouls in the first 3:40 felt as suffocating Brazil, and Portis wasn’t having no dystopia.

The Knicks who remained appeared to envy Portis his freedom, ‘cuz the ship went from sinking to sank lickity-split. Beal scored 10 in the fourth and ended with 30, his 12th straight game of 25+ points. The Wizards got to the line at least 18 times in the fourth, whereas for most of the quarter the Knicks had twice as many turnovers as baskets.

This has been a strange season, one that shows no signs of normalizing — Team Youth Development played newcomer and expiring salary Moe Harkless two fewer minutes than Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox and Damyean Dotson combined. But are the inmates suffering the asylum or reflecting its madness back? Two weeks ago today, Elfrid Payton shoved Memphis’ Jae Crowder to the ground for daring to shoot a three in the last minute of a blowout. I supported that. Last night, in the dying seconds of the game’s last possession, with Gary Payton II dribbling out the clock, Payton and Mitch double-teamed him near midcourt aggressively, the kind of trapping D we don’t see for some reason the other 47 minutes. What the hell was that?

And what the hell is this: the Wizards have now won 11 of their last 12 games at MSG. Scott Brooks has a losing record with this franchise and yet is still kicking the Knicks’ ass all over the World’s Most Faded Arena. That’s what the Knicks get for replacing him with Walt Frazier when Clyde was 52.

Notes:

  • Four points, five rebounds and one brilliant assist for Harkless in his Knick debut. From Mark Jackson to Lavor Postell to Metta World Peace to Moe from Queens, I always feel a special love for St. John’s kids who play for the Knicks. Plus Harkless played for Team Puerto Rico, so as far as I’m concerned he’s right up there with Patrick Ewing for greatest Knick ever.
  • Barrett went a perfect six of six from the charity stripe, his most makes without a miss as a pro.
  • With 3:21 left in the first half, Beal leapt toward the basket and his hip went right into Mitch’s crotch. I made a point of the time ‘cuz Mitch was initially so shook up he looked like when the Simpsons showed George C. Scott getting hit with a football to the groin. I wondered if he’d be up for another dunk the rest of the night.

LITERALLY 43 seconds later, he dunked! God, the power of youth, yo. If I got hit in the junk on the job I’d be filing for unemployment and workman’s comp.

  • When I started college, I was a music major. The last piece I worked on before changing majors was Rachmaninov’s C major etude. If I wasn’t careful, right at the 1:37 mark I’d get excited by what the music did and it’s proximity to the end, and I’d speed up too much and lose control of the piece.

I think of that whenever Ntilikina does something nice off the dribble and then squares up for a jumper. He’s nearly completed the entire sequence perfectly, but right at the end I wonder if his head butts in and puts everything at risk.

  • Montrezl Harrell is the only forward in the league with more second-chance points than Randle. Mike Breen mentioned it, so I’m passing it on to you.
  • At 29.1 points per game, Beal is the highest scorer ever to not make an All-Star game. There’s a name on that list I never heard of: Purvis Short, who put up 28 a game in 1984-85 but was left off the team. During a career whose prime was spent in Golden State, Short averaged 20+ four times and had games of both 59 and 57 points. Discovering a blind spot is always delish — I never would’ve thought there could be a dude from the mid-’80s who put up nearly 30 a game that I never heard of. Check out the J.
  • Latrell Sprewell was courtside, leading Breen to opine on one of the questions he hears the most from people: “Who are some of more intelligent players you’ve spoken to or interviewed? [Sprewell] is without question in the top ten...he wouldn’t just give the standard answer that you always get, the rehearsed answer. He actually thought about what you asked him and would always give a smart, intelligent answer.” Here. Have some Spree.
  • Three Wizard starters sported first names of three letters (Rui, Ian, Ish). That has to set or tie a record, right? There couldn’t have ever been a starting five with four or five first names that short, right?
  • Before the game MSG posts headshots of each team’s starters. I asked my daughter which player looked like he gave the best hugs. “Barrett,” she said. I can see that.
  • Three months and one week till the lottery. Need a fix till?

Quoth Charles Oakley — the real Charles Oakley, confessing his uncertainty about him and the organization making up in the future — “Sometimes the door’s open doesn’t mean you can come in.” The Knicks had a real shot to enter the break on a six-game winning streak, hot on the trail of a 7th seed five games under .500 and an 8th seed nine under. Instead the Nets and Magic have both won two straight. The door was open, briefly. But the Knicks slipped on a banana peel in Atlanta and stayed down against Washington. Next game featuring any Knick is Barrett in the Rising Stars Game on Valentine’s Day. The Knicks’ next contest is two Fridays from now when they host the Pacers.

Hey. You’ve earned this break, kiddo. Pat yourself on the back. Pour out a tallboy. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. 27 games before we lay down our burden and start building our hopes up.