Is there such a thing as a moral loss? This isn't an existential question, or perhaps it is.
What comprises this Knicks team's soul? I can't say that I know anymore. Last time I wrote about these topics, the Knicks were a tough, defensively tenacious, old school Eastern conference beast. Now? Well, now I just don't know what we are.
Yes, the Knicks beat the Golden State Warriors 109 to 105 and all of New York breathed a collective sigh of relief, but the final score seems like an afterthought to me at this point. What will I take away from this game? First and foremost, Steph "I Grew a Billy-Goat Beard to Cover Up the Fact That I Look Prepubescent, But In the Process I Somehow Look Even More Prepubescent" Curry dropped 54 points, the most points in a single game in the NBA this season. (Side note: I think this new nickname is primed to takeoff, if only because it would be the first nickname in history to have a comma in the middle of it, but I digress).
What else comes to mind when I think of this game? Tyson Chandler's 28 rebounds are certainly prominent, but even more, I'll remember Tyson Chandler dutifully marching from ball-handler to ball-handler, setting great screens. But after watching Chandler for a couple of seasons now and seeing him always have such a passive role in the offense (i.e. he doesn't demand the ball on the block), I'm left to wonder: is this all he will ever do offensively, set screens and roll to the hoop? I don't mean to diminish his role (no pun intended, har har) -- Chandler's screens are huge for us offensively, not to mention that his offensive rebounding ability and defensive supremacy are both paramount to our success.
I feel blessed to have Chandler as the center for my team in large part because he is one of the best if not the best screen-and-roll big man in the game today. But I know he has more to him than just that and we may need him to get us some easy points in the paint come playoff time. Teams have figured out how we use Chandler offensively and no longer let him role as freely to the hoop.
I would love to see Chandler on the block more, especially when he is out there with the starting lineup of Felton, Kidd, Shumpert and Anthony. The few times the Knicks have thrown Chandler the ball on the block and let him post up this season, he's done relatively well (the dude is leading the NBA in field goal percentage at 66.1 percent after all), but he will need to demand the ball to get the rock down low and I'm not sure he wants to do that because that's never been his game. That being said, for the Knicks to go anywhere this year, he may need to change that and help the starting unit get easy baskets inside.
What else will I take away from this game? Sadly, that the Knicks let another lead slip away far too easily. After jumping all over the Warriors in the first quarter and leading by 9 going into the second, the game seemed in hand. With David Lee not playing due to a suspension after an altercation with Roy Hibbert in the Warriors last game, the paint was wide open and the Knicks, especially Carmelo, were taking advantage early. (Side note 2.0: NBA, come on, let's stop suspending players for such minor skirmishes. Yes, the Malice in the Palace was, shall we say, less than desirable, but if a guy can't push another guy for elbowing him (here I'm talking about Roy Hibbert), and then if that guy that got pushed can't run up on the pusher and give him an awkward, arms-at-sides, sumo-style chest bump (that would be Lee), then I think we should just retire the NBA completely and bring back SlamBall. Regardless, let's bring back SlamBall.). After that first quarter, it was all Steph Curry and the Knicks were lucky to hold on at the end thanks to some clutch shots from Melo and J.R.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm worried. I love these Knicks, but lately they've looked as if they are lacking in something deep and important -- and I'm not talking about Rasheed Wallace's strange, eternal bald spot which is also deep, important and out the rest of the season. In this instance, I'm talking about heart.
Lately, I think that J.R. is sick of passing the ball to Melo because Melo always shoots it and J.R. wants to get his. He wasn't like that as much earlier in the season -- at that point, J.R., Melo and all the Knicks were swinging the ball beautifully, and hitting their threes too. I think that Melo did a great job facilitating last night: he hit Stoudemire for a number of open dunks and finished the game with 8 assists. But far too often, Melo just starts jacking up shots as if he is on a perpetual heat check. I realize Melo is second in the league in scoring right now, so I'll concede that he knows better than I, but often I wish he had better shot selection.
Mainly, I'm super worried about Kidd. He seems to have regressed to his rookie season three-point shooting ability (which is to say, lack of ability. In actuality, since coming back from injury, Kidd has been far worse at shooting three's than he was in his first year in the league, which is scary because he really used to suck). That being said, I still believe in Kidd because he's clutch, he's a veteran and he's a champion. I know he'll hit the big shot when we need him to, or at least, I really, really hope he does because his shot looks freaking terrible right now -- like he-doesn't-even-intend-to-make-the-shot-he's-just-trying-to-help-out-Chandler's-offensive-rebounding-stats terrible. What I'm saying is that he looks bad.
You see, my concern for the Knicks is carnal, self-protective in nature. I am preparing myself for a first round exit because, as a Knicks fan, I know little else. The Knicks teams of the '80s and '90s -- with Ewing and Starks and Oakley and success -- they were not my Knicks. My Knicks are perennial bottom feeders stuck in an alternate universe where we keep trading all our first round draft picks for Eddy Curry and spend what little cap room we have on Jerome James' room service bills. My Knicks think that signing Shannon Anderson and Howard Eisley are a harbinger of success. My Knicks trade for Malik Rose. My Knicks start Clarence Weatherspoon. My Knicks are caught in a hole of despair so deep and dark that the only way out is to keep digging. My Knicks...
Of course, there were good times too, mainly in '99, with Houston's silky stroke, Sprewell's lightening quick first step and LJ throwing up the "LJ" sign with his arms (though I always had trouble seeing the "J" when he did that). The team we have now is better than that '99 team. Top to bottom, we have way more talent and experience. The '99 team got hot at the right time, this current team could be the real deal. But we aren't putting it all together anymore; unlike that '99 team, we aren't getting hot at the right time (or so it seems). We look disinterested defensively, as if we're always trying to just get it back on the other end instead of getting the stops we need. If we don't commit to defense 100 percent right now just like the Heat have done in the second half of the season then it will be our undoing, that I know for sure.
So, Glen Grunwald, you've done a heck of a job putting this team together. And Mike Woodson, I love your defense-first mentality and your perfectly shiny head. And all of you -- from Copeland to White and everyone else who actually plays -- I love you all, but don't hurt me. I know there is good in you -- rediscover your soul -- you have the potential to be great, I've seen it, but you need to get it together right now. I just can't take any more disappointment, so if we get bounced in the first round again, you can find me in China, I'll be kicking it with Marbury, eating all his Vaseline.