Trying to reassemble the Knicks

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It was supposed to be different. It really was. With the roster expunged of the mess outside of Wilson Chandler who is still serviceable and Eddy Curry who at least keeps the bench firmly weighted to the ground, things were supposed to be different for the New York Knicks. They had a superstar in Amar’e Stoudemire, a winning coach in Mike D’Antoni that had made the mess win an underwhelming but decent number of games, and the GM at the top to get them the moves for the next level.

It was supposed to be different, but it’s not.

There they sit, at 3-7, the eleventh best team in the Eastern Conference, losing to the Timberwolves before a loss to the Rockets put them on a five-game skid. Amar’e Stoudemire is blasting the team. It’s an abject disaster ten games in, as much as a ten game sample can constitute a disaster.

Here’s where I’m supposed to talk about how Mike D’Antoni’s defense once again proves that his run and gun style can’t win in the NBA. I’m supposed to discuss how soft the Knicks are, and how it’s only a matter of time for this team to fall apart like all the others. According to script I need to throw out cliches about toughness and determination and the chemical makeup of champions. That’s the standard sportswriter script. Good news, though: I hate stuff like that.

Thing is, it’s not the defense. Kind of.

If you look at the Knicks they’re currently 14th in defensive efficiency. That’s about four spots outside of good, and it’s a solid six outside of bad, and about 11 outside of where most people tend to think of them, which is “terrible.” So, no, they are not defensive stalwarts, but they’re also not sieves for you to plunge the knife through. And lest you think that those estimated figures don’t reflect real world results, Synergy Sports has the Knicks giving up an average of 1052 points on 1118 possessions for an average of .94 points per possession allowed, which is 18th in the league. That’s not good, obviously, but it’s also not bad. The Knicks are also average to good in transition, isolation, post-up, and pick and roll defense. They’re really only suffering in spot-ups. So they don’t close out well but it also means teams are simply shooting really well in those situations (51.5% eFG compared to 42.3% FG% which means a lot of threes). The Knicks’ defense isn’t the problem.

Like I said, kind of.

In the span of two weeks, the Knicks gave up 24 assists to Rajon Rondo and 31 rebounds to Kevin Love. Those aren’t just statistical outliers, they’re gigantic spikes through the roof of the chart. But we’re not talking Earl Boykins scoring 42 or Andrea Bargnani rebounding 25 times, things which you simply can’t predict. The Knicks take good players with phenomenal individual skills and turn their production into some sort of nuclear, “TMNT-ooze” like monster version of it. It’s stunning and bizarre and yet wholly predictable.

Meanwhile, the rebounding, which you’d assume sucks, doesn’t. They have a zero differential in offensive rebound rate produced and allowed. So, it’s not the defense. And it’s not the rebounding. And it’s partially psychotic outliers, but not totally. So what is it?

The answer, of course is the offense. Which is wholly dysfunctional. Amar’e Stoudemire not having terrific numbers every night, Raymond Felton very much not looking like a point guard, an early shooting slump from Danilo Galinari, and below average PERs from every bench player. The Knicks can’t function on offense, and that’s why they’re losing.

Sure, chemistry is off. Sure, the formula hasn’t come together. But it’s not failing in the way you’re expecting. And if we’re giving Miami some time to get it together, maybe we should do the same for New York. Oh, wait, I forgot, we’re not doing that because everyone hates them. Got it.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.