Opening Statements: Wizards at Knicks, Game 76
If you’ve looked at the NBA standings recently, you’ve surely noticed a little “x” next to the Washington. That x marks the Wizards’ spot in the 2013-14 playoffs after six long, generally unsuccessful years in the draft lottery. John Wall, one of only two hits for Team President Ernie Grunfeld in the lottery (Bradley Beal being the other one), will extend his season into late spring for the first time in his four-year career. The All-Star guard has averaged 19.8 points, 8.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game this season.
Carmelo Anthony, on this date in 2011, was named “Eastern Conference Player of the Week,” sharing the ball enough to win the Knicks three consecutive games—and their first playoff berth since 2004. That season, ‘Melo averaged 34.3 points, 3.3 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game. This season, Carmelo has been decidedly less effective, but the Knickerbockers have won 12 of the last 15 games to steal the 8th seed from the Atlanta Hawks. They don’t have a little “x” by their name, not yet, so they’ll have to keep winning.
Gus Crawford (@gus_crawford), a prolific pixelator whose work you can find all over the internet, including TrueHoop’s Knickerblogger.net, joins TAI to discuss (and to predict what will happen if, or when, they don’t). Get it on!
Teams: Wizards at Knicks
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Television: CSN // MSG
Radio: WFED-AM 1500 // ESPN NY 98.7
Spread: Knicks favored by 5 points.
Wizards tickets … anyone?
Click to get them served up for cheap via TiqIQ and TAI.
Q #1: “Our guys are hungry,” coach Mike Woodson said after lighting the Nets on fire. “Normally anybody that comes off the West Coast, when you’ve been out there for a while, that game coming back is normally a tough game, but our guys came out with energy and came out ready to play.”
You’ve watched the games. CoachSpeak aside, what’s changed in NYC?
@gus_crawford: Short answer? Not much. Inconsistency has proved the theme of this season for the Knicks, and the team’s performance has (largely) persisted as an unknown commodity. Woodson’s Knicks have wavered in a manner not dissimilar to the currency exchange market and, somewhat ironically, speculation and reckless spontaneity (see: final seconds of the Wizards’ win at MSG in December) have overruled logic, clear thought, and strategizing. Sure, an 11-5 record in the month of March qualifies as an “improvement,” but it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in Woodsonisms to navigate your way to the gaping, cavernous holes—an alarmingly slim point differential (2.7 points per 100 poss.), opponents still swallowing 30 percent of available offensive rebounds (a rate that ranks 29th in the league), and lackluster, double-digit road losses to Detroit and the Lakers left behind a most familiar smog over the past 30 days.
Q #2: Because the Knicks don’t have a draft pick, are you more excited now that they might make the playoffs than you were a few weeks ago? Phil Jackson even said the Knicks will “give teams trouble.”
@gus_crawford: Define “give teams trouble.” I mean, clambering and trudging past the post in order to punch a postseason ticket is, ultimately, the preferred alternative to a useless ninth-place in a pick-less year. If acting as the low-hanging fruit in the first round and instigating a game or two of “trouble” against either Miami or Indiana is all that it amounts to, then so be it. There should be no doubting how the ethereal arrival of Phil upon the MSG throne has careened the collective outlook for the ‘Bockers. Further to that, it would be remiss to deny the way that the elusion of hope and the even faintest possible playoff chance has the capacity to rewrite the end of this hypnotic narrative.
Carmelo Anthony has, to date, not missed the playoffs in any of his nine NBA seasons, and I don’t fancy the notion that age 29 is an ideal time to buck that trend. Every remaining game on the schedule is against above-.500 Eastern Conference foes, so as appealing as the siren song of May and June basketball may be, Mike Woodson is going to have to pull off an Edmund Hillary-like feat if it’s all to come to fruition. The caveat to that is that the hapless Hawks, primary competition in the jostle for eighth, are stuck with four games in five nights next week, and may yet swoop further down the standings. Until then, though, Knicks fans will continue to drink the wood varnish… Uh, I mean drink the Kool-Aid.
Q #3: Raymond Felton took a hard fall on Wednesday, which shook him up, but said he’ll play tonight vs. the Wizards. Is that good news? Or would you rather he didn’t?
@gus_crawford: Felton’s tumble was a nasty one, as can be noted by the various unkind angles on the replays of the incident. Initially it appeared as a severe blow to either his right elbow or shoulder, but he later complained of discomfort with his ribs. Nevertheless, he has endured as the veritable dartboard for fans’ frustrations all year long (and for the most part, rightfully so), and hasn’t exactly done much to correct it of late. Over his last 15, he has still shot 42.7 percent from the field—the worst of any starter, and the second-worst of any rotation player—while being responsible for the lowliest individual net rating (plus-2.8 per 100 poss.) of any rotation member in the same span.
With Raymond Felton, seldom is it a matter of eliminating him from the equation entirely. The backcourt cupboard for this Knicks outfit is relatively bare, and thus he’s almost worthy of “minutes” by default. How one chooses to distribute these “minutes” is altogether another conversation. There isn’t, and has not at any point been, vague justification for Felton to receive over 20 minutes of burn each and every game, let alone average 31.2 minutes per contest. I expect that Randy and the ‘Zards will make Ray public enemy number one, especially with these recent ailments.
Q #4: If you were in Mike Woodson’s place, what would be your game plan to stop the Wizards from sweeping your Knicks in a season series for the first time since 1984-85?
@gus_crawford: Anything and everything about this game for the Knicks, from a tactical standpoint, should revolve around John Wall and Bradley Beal. Heck, you might as well throw “savvy veteran,” Prof. Andre Miller (and Martell Webster) into that basket, too. Fronting up against the Knicks’ backcourt/perimeter defense has been a gateway to heaven for opposing guards throughout 2014, with 15 different players recording season-high point totals against New York. Further to that, Marco Belinelli, Lance Stephenson, Evan Turner, Jimmer Fredette, DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, and Brandon Knight, all set new career-highs against these Knicks. (That list is courtesy of Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal.) Not exactly a star-studded cast of household names. Even though the Knicks have “held” opponents to 35 percent from deep across their past 15 games, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see that revert to the mean via one of Beal, Webster, or Ariza canning a host of 3s (and at a friendly clip).
Hence, if I’m in Mike Woodson’s place for tonight, Eddie-style, I’m locking in on the Wiz’s perimeter personalities. With Felton a little uncertain and the knowledge that Washington are the league’s second-most potent outside shooting team (38.8%), it might be time for Iman Shumpert to break down the 35-minute barrier, something that has only happened a total of five times this year, and hasn’t taken place since Jan. 13. I’d be deploying plenty of Prigioni-Shumpert led units, too. There’s a lot to be nervous about with respect to this game, from a Knicks perspective, and the idea of the artists formerly known as the Bullets carrying elite marksmanship beyond the arc is chief among them. I don’t anticipate that pinning the team’s hopes to merely outgunning these Wizards would serve as a resilient approach.
Q #5: The Knicks have recently tried to stitch together a contender through free agency. How do you see this summer’s NBA edition of Game of Thrones playing out? And will Phil call for a new approach to team-building.
@gus_crawford: All things considered, Phi Jackson is the silver-haired lining on the mucky, polluted, charred cloud that is this Knicks season. He even spoke to the media earlier this week, fancy that! Transparency is alive! In terms of this summer’s game of musical chairs and moving parts, unfortunately for Philip, his hands are tied. The Knicks are not going to even graze the vicinity of “cap space” territory and, as has already been noted, as it stands, won’t be partaking in the 2014 Draft. Room to move is scarce, and that’s with cavalry that has transported the team to five games under .500.
I wouldn’t expect the Knicks, in a broader sense, to divert from the path of faulty free agent frenzies. The team brass can continue to hawk and pitch their shiny new toy, the “big market,” to prospective free agents and in doing so, portray the possibility of grandeur to the fans. As for Phil’s influence and chosen route, he had a few interesting, albeit generic and with a broad-stroke, remarks during his introductory press-conference:
“I know you all know about the vaunted Triangle offense, and it’s been maligned in the past few years, but I believe in system basketball.”
He stressed the value of “developing the system so that balls are moved, and passes are made, and people make cuts to create open opportunities for teammates,” however that may manifest itself. This summer will likely be a subdued one for the Knicks, yet even the lesser maneuvers on the periphery should indicate the frameworks of what Phil is trying to build here. There are still decisions to be made: Iman Shumpert is entering the final season of his rookie-scale deal, and the roster has an plethora of holes that could be plugged. Perhaps more importantly than anything else that Phil hinted at with his “system basketball” rants, he dropped one simple, yet necessary, item of wisdom:
“The idea of developing a ‘culture’ is an overwrought word in the NBA right now, but that’s the cachet, I think, that brought me here.”
“Culture,” team-bonding, and chemistry is something that has seemingly not always been at the forefront of the Knicks’ decision-making process when it comes to personnel, and thus, I’m curious to see where this highly-touted philosophy may lead the roster-building efforts.
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