9:23 am Apr. 11, 2012
There's nothing surprising about the Knicks' 98-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night.
After all, the Knicks were playing the Eastern Conference's best team on its own home court. New York had just beaten Chicago on Sunday in thrilling fashion, and the Bulls could have been expected to play better.
The problem is that Chicago didn't play better on Tuesday night. The Knicks, instead, played worse, and have a number of concerns heading into an absolutely vital game Wednesday night at Milwaukee, the team New York is battling for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
In terms of raw numbers, the Bulls were a bit better on Tuesday than they were on Sunday, but not much. Shooting percentage edged up to 43 percent from 39 percent, and turnovers dropped from 19 to 12. But the Bulls actually pulled down more rebounds on Sunday, got to the free throw line more on Sunday, and shot better when they got there. Effectively, despite missing Derrick Rose on Tuesday, the two performances were a wash.
The Knicks, however, simply couldn't take advantage. The only reason they managed to stay in a game on Sunday when only Carmelo Anthony was scoring with any regularity was to stay relatively close to Chicago on the boards--59-47 overall, 18-16 in offensive rebounds--and protect the ball, committing just nine turnovers all afternoon.
On Tuesday, the rebounding margin widened to 51-33, Chicago, with the Bulls holding an 18-5 edge on the offensive glass. The Knicks committed 16 turnovers, a season-long problem returning.
It makes sense that they'd struggle in both areas, given current personnel. While Baron Davis sputters toward the finish line, a portrait of him somewhere getting younger, no one else on the team can play the position of point guard. Toney Douglas was his ineffective self Tuesday night, and the only people with more than one assist were Davis, Iman Shumpert with three, and Carmelo Anthony with five.
As for the rebounding, Anthony is a very good rebounder at the small forward position. But he is being asked to play power forward, leaving the entire team, other than Tyson Chandler, undersized. Jared Jeffries is still working his way back from a knee injury, and Josh Harrellson, arguably their best rebounder off the bench, played one minute, total, in the two games.
Had they improved their performance slightly in any of these areas, they might have had a shot, as they would have if Steve Novak had ended his two-game slump with some threes.
While Tuesday was a missed opportunity, Wednesday gives New York no room for moral victories. A loss to the Bucks would put the Knicks out of playoff position with eight games to go. They'd be tied with Milwaukee, but the Bucks would hold the tiebreaker.
If it was foolish to believe that the Knicks would beat the best team in the Eastern Conference twice in three days, it is equally so to believe that they'll have an easy time of it against Milwaukee or, with such glaring problems, any of their other remaining opponents.