When it was over, I was upset about last night’s 102-88 loss and I still am. But a couple of hours of distance has given me some perspective: the sky isn’t falling, we just have a better sense of where it is. Sure, now it’s clear that the Knicks didn’t go from playoff-missing disappointment to true contender over the course of the last three weeks but in the back of your mind you already knew that, didn’t you? The 2011-12 Knicks are a work in progress and that work will continue through this season and into the next. Taking this loss as a sign that our optimism about this team’s direction is misguided is an overreaction. Let’s take it for what it is: evidence that the Knicks aren’t quite ready to hang with the league’s biggest boys. That leaves about 26 teams that should be afraid of the Knicks. At this point, I’ll take that.
- It was 51-47 at halftime, despite the Knicks turning the ball over at an absurd rate. Not too bad. But in the second half the Knicks just couldn’t keep up with the Heat and the outcome wasn’t in doubt at any point during the last 24 minutes. Some people are saying that this game was closer than it looked. I don’t agree. I think the Heat just played with their food for a little while before they got down to business. Still, I don’t consider this loss a disaster.
- Jeremy Lin had his worst game as a Knick, going 1-11 and turning the ball over eight times (six times in the first half). He finished with just eight points. I said before the game that if Lin turned the ball over the way he has been lately the Knicks would lose. At least I was right about something. The turnovers - two of which led directly, and I mean directly - to dunks, one by Chalmers and one by Cole, were a problem the Knicks couldn’t overcome. The Heat’s game plan of attacking him off the pick and roll worked great and Lin struggled with the athleticism of Cole and Chalmers. Lin can take contact and keep his dribble and has thrived against older players who muscle him but can’t quite keep up. But Chalmers’ combination of athletic ability and length and Cole’s strength and explosiveness made it hard for Lin to even keep control of the ball (he said as much) and doubles from the screeners’ man in the P&R made it even harder. When Brendan Haywood shows hard, turning the corner isn’t too difficult. But when it’s Anthony, Bosh, James or Wade, that’s a whole different issue. Lin looked overmatched out there last night.
- Really though, with the Heat devoted to stopping Lin it was Stoudemire and Anthony who needed to rally the Knicks. I thought that with Lin struggling the Knicks needed to go to Carmelo more, especially early in the game. He got plenty of shots by the end, finishing 7-20 for a team high nineteen but in the first half I thought they should have let him (gasp) isolate more often. As for Amar’e, and I’m planning a longer post on this over the weekend, his decline is as much the story of the first half of the Knicks’ season as the emergence of Jeremy Lin is. He had six turnovers and thirteen points. Last night, the two of them just didn’t give the Knicks enough. About a year ago, on February 27, 2011, Carmelo and Amar’e led the Knicks to a 91-86 victory over the Heat in Miami. Carmelo had 29 and nine and Amar’e had 16 and ten to go with a thrilling block of LeBron as the game wound down. Their combined 45 that night came on 18-36 shooting. Last night’s 32 came on a combined 11-27. That was as much the difference in this game as anything. There’s a difference between finding your game in the flow of the offense and not doing enough to impose your will. Both did the latter last night.
- Another thing that killed the Knicks is their limited athleticism. Coming back from injury, Melo isn’t particularly explosive at the moment, Amar’e moves like a corpse, we already talked about Lin and Landry Fields isn’t going to be confused with Bo Jackson (I don’t know) anytime soon. The Heat’s athletic ability overwhelmed them on both ends of the floor last night. Loose balls, rebounds out of area, separate your man from the ball strips, you name it, the Heat were able to do it. Yes, Iman Shumpert will help in that department and is the exact size you want to match up against Wade. But team athleticism needs an upgrade in the offseason.
- On a positive note, Landry Fields has been excellent for about a month now and he was good last night. He did his best against Wade (22 points) and contributed a solid eight and six boards. The numbers aren’t eye-popping but they were a solid contribution. This is like last season’s January-February decline in reverse.
- Speaking of athleticism, I love JR Smith. He was 5-11 for fourteen last night, was tasked with guarding LeBron at times and didn’t take many ill-advised shots. He also seems to have influenced Steve Novak to add step-backs and jab-steps to his repertoire (he had twelve points and one “discount triple check” on 4-5 shooting). I can’t wait for their screwball comedy. I’m thinking DJ Qualls plays Novak and Anthony Anderson plays Smith (kidding).
- I’m going to give Baron Davis time, but 0-7 and 0-4 from three just sucks. He hasn’t been good - just kind of carefree and loose with the ball and the offense. So far, I don’t like it. Shouldn’t he be cautious and careful as he integrates himself?
- A year ago Toney Douglas would have played a big role in this game. With Lin and Davis struggling and Shumpert out with an injury, you would think that if there was ever a time for him to get a shot, it was last night. It’s sad that he’s just not an option.
- I’m glad Norris Cole is alive after that spill he took off his rip-and-run dunk in the second quarter. Oh, youth.
- Wade’s brief takeover in the third quarter really did the Knicks in. The run was keyed by - you guessed it - turnovers, and by the time the Knicks got ahold of themselves it was pretty much too late.
- Battier, Haslem, Cole and Miller - not a bad second unit.
- Chris Bosh was excellent. I don’t mean it as an insult when I say he was opportunistic. He took what was given to him and converted, seemingly every time on his way to a game-high 25 points.
- How about this line from this year’s lock for MVP, LeBron James: twenty points, nine boards, eight assists, five steals and two blocks.
- Everybody knows this by now (except for some of the Knicks) but hesitate for one second in transition and get burned by LeBron and Wade leaking out. They’re the first basketball team I’ve seen that can be described as having a vertical passing game. Scary.
- The Heat have won eight straight by ten or more points. Very impressive.
Alright folks, try not to let the loss ruin your All-Star Weekend! Next up for the Knicks: Cleveland on Wednesday.