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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Knicks Need more Defense and less D'Antoni

Following the Knicks' most recent loss to a mediocre team, 99-95 to the Pistons, it is time for another major change. At 6-6 since their big trade the Knicks can no longer make excuses as they have done all season. Team president Donnie Walsh has done his job in bringing two max level stars to New York, those two stars have done their job combining to average over 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists. Even the bench, which supposedly is the weakest part of the team, has some solid ancillary pieces in Shawne Williams, Toney Douglas and Bill Walker. That leaves only one piece that isn't working right: The Coach.
New York Knicks Ronny Turiaf, Chauncey Billups, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony talk over a play during a break in the action against the Miami Heat first quarter NBA basketball game in Miami

I have been a big D'Antoni fan since his days in Phoenix. I like his style. It's fun to watch and with the right players can win. The problem is that the Knicks don't have the right players. It worked in Phoenix because the Suns had Steve Nash in his prime to perfectly run the offense along some great individual defenders (Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw etc) to cover up for the horrific team defense. Unfortunately for New York it would be virtually impossible for them to go through another major roster overhaul to get a slew of elite defenders. That means they have to start playing some at least passable team defense which you can't and won't get from coach Mike.

Take a look at some of the best defense teams in the NBA (Chicago, Orlando, San Antonio) they all play stifling defense without having great defenders from top to bottom. In fact some of those teams have some really bad defenders in their starting lines: Hedo Turkoglu, Richard Jefferson, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, Jameer Neslon - the list goes on. They all also have two things the Knick's do not a big man who can hold his own (Jared Jeffries does not count) and a coach who understands the importance of defense. The Knicks are garunteed to make a bid for a starting center this summer when Tyson Chandler, Nene and Marc Gasol are all available. That will not be enough. The need Mike D'Antoni out. Completely. He is holding NYK back from being a real contender. While nothing can be now with playoffs right around the corner, if Jimmy Dolan wants real success he'll get a new coach this offseason. Tough but fair.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Don't cry over spilled milk - why Heatles need to regroup, now.

The Heat are playing the worst basketball of their season, losing five games in a row moving them into 3rd in East and 2 games back of Chicago for 2nd. Chris Bosh has struggled hugely, during the losing streak his numbers are down from his season averages in every single category steals and  free throw percentage. He has played terrible D letting opposing Four Men have their way in the paint: 28 points between  Matt Bonner and Dejuan Blair, 24 from Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass, and 48 from LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace. However most of the blame has fallen onto the shoulders of stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James who have missed clutch shot after clutch shot as Miami lost three of the five games by a combined 9 points. They also got blown out at the Alamo 30 and lost at home to Portland by 9. Even worse than the margin of defeat is that 4 of the 5 losses have been at home, and with the playoffs drawing near Miami must be able to defend home court.

 For the Heat, moving into second is very significant as  it would mean they give up home court versus the Bulls in the second round and would have to face The Knicks (2-2 in the season series) in the first. The Knicks who feel that now with the additions of Chauncey Billups an Carmelo Anthony can beat the Heat in a seven game series. They have twice locked up the two and a half men and twice beaten Miami with defense. So while no one wants to face them in the first round, this losing streak has teams feeling confident against the Heat. Also, while things don't look good right for Spolstra's crew, things may get alot worse before they get better. The Heat's next six games are versus plus .500 teams agains whom Miami is only 12-17. The best way for the Heat to calm the storm would be tomorrow's matchup with the Lakers.  If there was ever a time to come together as a unit it would be now, if they fail to do that don't expect much post season success this year.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Coincidence? I think not - the Billups Effect

For the first year-and-a-half of his young career Knicks' guard Toney Douglas has been labeled as an "undersized" "poor passer", "stuck between a one and a two" whose "future at the next level may be limited" During his rookie year whilst playing mostly backup point guard, he endeared himself the the Garden fans and Coach D'Antonio with his tenacious defense, hustle, and propensity for getting hot and knocking down big shots. He was continuing his solid play this season, leading the Knicks' second unit and avering career highs almost across the board. Regardless of his improvement the Knicks were still rumored to be in search of a 'true' backup PG to releive starter Raymond Felton (38.1 mpg) of some of the strain from playing too much.

Things changed when Donnie Walsh made his blockbuster trade to aquire Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups from the Nuggets. Since then Toney, who has started four straight while Billups is out with a hip contusion, has begun to show that he is ready for and wants to be New York's point guard of the future. In his last four games (the Knicks have gone 3-1) Douglas has been averaging 16 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 4.2 rpg on a hyper efficient 62% shooting from the field and 52% from three.

What brought about this sudden change in Toney? What has got him playing the best ball of his NBA career? That would be the guidance and teatching of veteran PG Chauncey Billups. Chauncey has, since his time in Detroit, been known for mentoring and improving young point guards such Will Bynum, Rodney Stuckey and Ty Lawson to name a few. Every one of those young lead guards has shown real improvement playing behind Billups who not only serves as a great role model,  mentor and a steady guiding force; he provides what Duane Rankin calls 'The Billups Effect'.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Knicks' fans come out in win

With 9:26 left in the fourth quarter of the Knicks' 92-79 victory over the Hawks, star player Amar'e Stoudemire stepped to the line to the familiar chorus of M-V-P chants as he knocked down two freebies. The only thing that was unusual about that scenario was that this was not the Garden faithful cheering on their favorite player, it was Knick fans in the Philips Center, home of the Atlanta Hawks. After watching Anthony Carter's hustle and tenacity to close out the third, Knick fans got energized and made their presence felt for the rest of the game.

The Hawks, who have struggled with inconsistent energy and focus all season long, look entirely deflated from then on. They stood and watched as NYK waltzed into the lane and bombed uncontested threes for the remainder of the game. At one point Toney Douglas took a layup without a single Hawk within five feet. The Knicks were able to do all this, and subsequently go on a 22-8 run, all without Carmelo Anthony who sat for the final 10:14. The Knicks, particularly the bench, was able to play great defense, forcing 19 turnovers and only giving up 9 free throws.

For the Knicks this game continues their troubling trend of going win-loss since their blockbuster trade to acquire Carmelo Anthony (14 points, 7 assists and rebounds) and puts them at 4-3 since then. They are however beginning to play better as a unit both offensively and defensively, showing signs of a bright future. Tomorrow they will go back to NYC to face the Utah Jazz who have lost 8 of their last ten now fallen to 10th place in the west. That game will give the Knicks a chance to get a home win in before traveling to Memphis and Dallas for another set of back to backs.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

LAL poised to flop down the stretch

After winning back to back championships over the last two and making it to the finals three years in a row, the Lakers have taken a backseat in the west and even in the staples center as they have been a season long disappointment. They are currently third in the west at 42-19 and sit 8 back of first place San Antonio who they stand little to no chance of catching. While other teams made big moves at the deadline the Lakers management chose to instead sit on an overpaid roster of unmotivated, inconsistant players who have shown their age all season long. While die hard Laker fans (oxymoronic, I know) and casual douchy Kobe fans alike will never admit it, the Lakers will not pull of a threepeat this year and won't even make the finals, heres why:

5) Dallas Mavericks
Between Tyson Chandler, Deshawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Brendan Haywood, and Caron Butler (possibly) the Mavericks matchup better with LA defensively than any team outside of Boston. They have a deep enough bench to keep constant pressure on the Lakers subpar D off the pine. With great size at every position and athleticism up front they also have the unique ability to switch almost every pick and roll. These two teams will almost certainly face one another in the first round, very likely in Dallas where the Mavs are tough to beat and LA struggles.

4)Raymond Felton/Ty Lawson
While it may seem like a stretch to say that the Denver Nuggets can possibly upset LA in the first round, it is more than realistic. The Lakers are notoriously bad at guarding speedy, agressive point guards and these two UNC products have speed to spare. They are both tenacious defenders and love to get into the teeth of the D while pushing the tempo. They will be a matchup nightmare for Steve Blake and Derek Fisher. Coupled with George Karls extremely deep and rugged front line and team oriented style, Denver will give the Lakers fits in the first round. Plus, who doesn't love and underdog?

3) Chris Paul and the Hornets 
However unlikely it is possible that the Hornets and Lakers face one another in the first round, (it would require one of them to move down a spot) and that would be Kobe and friends' nightmare. Between Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry, and David West the Hornets have a talented front line that can D up Pau, Bynum and Odom. They also have Trevor Ariza, one of the better perimeter defenders in the association. None of that however is what scares LA, that would franchise player Chris Paul. While CP3 may not be quite as blindingly fast as he once was (bum knee) he has added a deadly three giving him an extra step as defender must play him that much closer. Paul is a terror in the passing lanes and will really frustrate the Lakers' PGs, making Kobe tire himself out being the primary ball handler. No one on the team except Shannon Brown if cared about defense, could even hope to contain Paul who is known for turning up his game an extra notch in April.

2) The big three of San Antonio
Manu Ginobli is probably the most underrated player in the league offensively and defensively. He does a fantastic job of not only slowing down KB24 but also of making him play defense and run around chasing Manu off screens. No matter how old he is, Timmy D can still lock down Pau Gasoft and the Spurs have a plethora of fours and fives to throw at the Laker front line, keeping them off balance and the offensive glass. Lastly, and most importantly, they have two point guards, George Hill and Tony Parker who are just too fast for LA to handle (are we seeing the theme yet?) and will keep their defense off balance for 48 minutes. The Spurs will pick apart the 20 seconds of Laker defense and score consistently. They have too much age, experience and depth for LA to contend with.

1) Kendrick Perkins
Last year the Thunder pushed LA to the brink and were just one defensive boxout away from a game seven, with new addition Kendrick Perkins that won't be a problem anymore. For all the credit LA gets for its great front court it has no toughness, a weakness KP has/and will exploit in the playoffs. Although it would take some shuffling of the playoff seeds it could happen that LA meets OKC in the second round and would have to deal with Perk and Serge TwoBlockas, two players who play very well against LA. Perkins will bring  the toughness and defensive mentality that has made Boston perennial contenders to OKC making them even scarier. He adds much needed playoff experience and will never back down from the strange and disconcerting faces of Pau Gasol that throw many off balance. He was traded for specifically to help OKC beat the Lakers and he won't disappoint given the chance.