Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Raining on the Melo Garden Party

So I caught the tail end of the new era in Knicks Basketball, where the Melo Boyz shook a pesky Bucks team for a win... and if you just watched the ESPN highlights, you would have thought the Knicks won in a runaway, seeing how a 6-point win was accompanied by a full minute of Knick-only highlights, and a postgame Melo serenade from the Garden faithful. And while the home team was really never in danger of losing this game, if you actually *watched* the flow of the game, rather than the highlights, you saw a very different story.

Milwaukee is not, to be kind, any kind of a team. Last year's 46-win feel-good bunch is now 22-35. They have one mildly tolerable big man, center Andrew Bogut, who has never really recovered from an elbow problem. The ball is dominated by "point" guard Brandon Jennings, a low-percentage shooter who seems more interested in highlight films than winning hoop. Tonight, they were carried by John Salmons, who had 27 and should never, ever, be the best player on the floor for an NBA team. And yet they were right there in this game, with Anthony going for 27 and 10, and Chauncey Billups contributing a 21/6/8 line, and streaky scrub Toney Douglas firing in for 23 on 10 of 12 shooting.

How did the Bucks do it? Well, here's a microcosm moment. With 2:50 left, after a Bogut travel, the Knicks led by six and looked poised to put it away... but Melo's driving layup was blocked by Bogut cleanly, with the ball going to Jennings. He got out into transition for a 3-on-3 break, got the ball back a solid seven seconds after the block... and beat his man, rookie shooting guard Landry Fields, off the dribble for an uncontested layup, since no New York big man had gotten back to defend. Thirty seconds later, Salmons dunked on a baseline drive, once again on an unprotected rim.

Am I making too much of the lapses? No, and here's why. Only eight Knicks got minutes tonight, with Amar'e fouling out in 34. Carmelo played 39 minutes, Fields played 42. The point, and it's a simple one, is this: this team isn't good defensively when they are fresh, and they aren't going to ever be fresh, because their bench, especially in the bigs, would shame a D-League team. And if you go hard at Stoudamire, as any intelligent team will, you can make them even worse defensively, since he's fairly foul-prone.

If they can be tested at home by a pretty terrible club, how exactly are they going to fare against, well, a good team? Probably OK, actually: the Bucks did hit a mess of threes tonight. But the bad defense late told me a lot more than any of the post-game highlights did. These guys are frauds until proven otherwise.

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