12:05 pm Jan. 5, 2012
The boos came pretty quickly at Madison Square Garden during Wednesday night's 118-110 loss to the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, which dropped the Knicks to a 2-4 record.
They began as extensions of discontented murmuring when Charlotte repeatedly got to the basket untouched en route to scoring 30 points in the first quarter. They grew in volume as the exasperating Toney Douglas, ostensibly on hand to set up other, better shooters, instead launched ill-advised shot after shot himself.
By the beginning of the second half, with the Knicks down 62-52, Madison Square Garden was ready to render a decisive, brutal assessment: Fail. No one, except the returning Iman Shumpert, was safe from the ire of the crowd over the remaining half. A fan base that has waited years for the team to rid itself of albatross contracts and useless players seems to be unwilling to wait even a second more for a contending team.
Which is too bad, because it is highly unlikely that the Knicks will become a championship-caliber team in the immediate future, but also because it is highly likely that by spring, they will be the basketball team their fans expect them to be right now.
On Wednesday night, the Knicks allowed a Bobcats team that had scored more than 100 points just once in five games to shoot a blistering 55 percent from the field, 63 percent from three-point range. Easy layups gave way to open jumpers, with Charlotte shooters given plenty of time to set their feet before launching.
“The offense was good—just bad defense,” Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said in his press conference following Wednesday's game. “Rotations just weren't there. Got to give them some credit—they shot well with nobody guarding them.”
Two days earlier, D'Antoni had sat in the same chair and said the opposite thing about his team, after a 90-85 home loss to the unintimidating Toronto Raptors. He was right then, too—in that loss, the Knicks shot just 35 percent from the field and took a ridiculous 35 three-point shots, negating a largely strong defensive effort.
It is the inconsistency of their failings that speaks to the real problem facing the New York Knicks right now: They aren't even fully assembled yet, let alone coalesced as a team, yet the presence of three stars on the roster has raised expectations to unreachable levels.
Remember, thanks to an ankle injury to Amar'e Stoudemire, he and Carmelo Anthony have only played together in four of the Knicks' six regular-season games so far. They have yet to figure out how the offense will flow through the two of them, though they are sharing the ball nicely—Wednesday night, Anthony took 24 shots, and Stoudemire 19. But sharing the offensive load by taking turns in isolation is fundamentally different from utilizing one another to create open looks.
Right now, they are dependent on the distributive abilities of Toney Douglas, a point guard who seems to hate being a point guard. Once again, Douglas rivaled Stoudemire and Anthony in the number of shots taken on Wednesday night—and he made just six of his 17, one of six from three-point range. Meanwhile, Tyson Chandler, the new Knicks' center and one of the most efficient two-point shooters in the league, got just four shots, most of them early in the first quarter.
The Knicks are still learning to defend as a team, too.
After the game, Chandler stood at his locker explaining this, in response to questions about why his arrival hadn't turned the Knicks into a team like the one he'd just come from—the Dallas Mavericks, who won the championship last season in large part because of their outstanding defense.
“It takes time,” Chandler said about what makes a team excel defensively. “It's difficult because of the way the timing is. With no training camp, no preseason, the games are just piling on us. And it's hard to actually get practice time, get on the floor, get live bodies moving around, simulate a game. It's almost impossible to do right now.”
In other words, the early part of the Knicks' lockout-shortened 2012 season is to serve as both practice and preseason rolled into one. The league's 66-game schedule, down from the usual 82, nevertheless allows for this. But in the meantime, the Knicks are going to look like what they are: a work in progress.
In addition, help may be imminent for the short-handed Knicks. Iman Shumpert, a rookie guard who can create offense and force turnovers and who was New York's first-round draft pick last June, is working to return from a knee injury. He will invigorate any lineup he's in—for now, the second unit—with appearances like his 18-point, five-rebound, three-assist performance on Wednesday night.
And Baron Davis, the former all-star point guard, is expected back within a few weeks from a back injury. Davis, even if his skills have eroded, will still provide a base level of competency in distributing the ball that the Knicks flat-out lack right now.
By the time the Knicks travel to Charlotte for their regular-season finale on April 26, they'll probably bear little resemblance to the team that lost to the Bobcats last night. Most likely the result will be quite different, too.
But their fans, antsy and skeptical after years of managerial malpractice and on-court futility, will clearly need to see it to believe it.