Knicks-Magic II: Escape from Florida

To think, the Magic aren't taking this guy seriously as a leader...

Before Friday’s game in Cleveland, Mike D’Antoni assured reporters that priority number one was simply to make the playoffs.  He wasn’t going to make sure all his new guys got a look, or insist on running his own offense to acclimate the players for the playoffs.  It was Play Your Game, Get Wins, and Let’s Get to the Dance.

It’s easy to say the Knicks took that game for granted, but I think they did it in more ways than one.  You don’t lose to Cleveland a second time without some mental lapses, sure, but did they even post up Carmelo Anthony once? Did Renaldo Balkman show anything at all either in Cleveland or Miami? (To be fair, he was +15 in 8 minutes, though I’m chalking that up to coincidence.)  I think D’Antoni used Friday night to try to work out some offensive kinks, and realized by Sunday that if he didn’t let this nucleus play its own style, he might have a serious losing streak on his hands.

And really, he’s allowed to think that way – he doesn’t want to say it, but this team is going to the playoffs, and they probably don’t care whom they face in round one.  We saw more isolation against Miami, and tonight they face Orlando in another game the Knicks probably can’t afford to use to iron out the Seven Seconds or Less.

Projected Starters:

PG – Jameer Nelson: Shooting has taken a slight dip in the last month, and he won’t compensate by shooting less.  Good strength for size but much like Brandon Jennings, a good post-up candidate for Chauncey Billups should the Knicks desire.

SG – Jason Richardson: Whose stats have dipped nearly across the board despite receiving more minutes since arriving in Orlando.

SF – Hedo Turkoglu: Ten for his last 17 3PT.

PF – Brandon Bass: From John Hollinger’s Bass bio: “I’ve been told he fell out of favor [last season] because he couldn’t remember the plays.”

C – Dwight Howard: With whom you’re familiar.  You may not be familiar with his much-improved post game, and if so it’s my hope that you’ll be no more familiar with it after tonight.

Who is Derrick Brown?: If you missed Mike’s updates earlier today, the Knicks made a roster move in the wake of the Kelenna Azubuike release, claiming Derrick Brown off waivers.  Brown, who won’t be available for tonight’s game, is a 6’8” second-year forward from Xavier who started one game in his two seasons with Charlotte.  Brown is most noted for his leaping ability, but for a little more detail let’s see what John Hollinger had to say in his bio written before the season:

Brown offers some promise and could emerge as a rotation player this season. His rookie numbers indicate several strong, positive markers — sixth among small forwards in free throw attempts per field goal attempt, fourth in offensive rebound rate and passable ballhandling numbers.

Physically, it’s obvious how he’d take a step up. He can really jump and had some wicked finishes at the basket, and his length helps him challenge shots. He’ll be able to play a lot of four once he fills out, and while his shooting numbers last season weren’t good, he doesn’t look hopeless out there.

Considering Hollinger spends most of those bios making fun of players and using words like “comical” and “horrendous,” I consider this an encouraging sign.

Waiting…: Just when I think the Knicks are good, I remember how eagerly we’re all awaiting the arrival of Jared Jeffries, who recently completed his buyout with Houston.  Jeffries would clear waivers today and is expected to sign with New York, but wouldn’t be eligible to suit up until tomorrow night against New Orleans.

We Don’t Want to Get Technical: Tonight’s game features four of the top six technical foulers in the league.  Howard and Amar’e Stoudemire are each one T away from suspension with 15 for the year, while Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups have 10 apiece.  Interestingly enough, rounding out the top six are Stephen Jackson (14) and Kobe Bryant (12).  Shocking.

One Matchup to Like: Anthony on Turkoglu.  With the caveat that if Hedo gets lazy, he may just let Anthony shoot over him, and then it’s up to Melo to bring his mid-range game.

One Matchup to Hate: Howard vs. anyone.  Obviously.

Don’t Do It!: Within this video, Melo attempts to offer Dwight Howard some advice as he approaches free agency.  The Orlando Sentinel tried to twist Anthony’s response of “Don’t do it!” to mean “Make your decision as soon as possible,” but the way Melo said it came off more like “Just don’t be a basketball player in the first place, and you’ll never have this problem.”

Magic Rotation: In two of the great mercy killings by good teams in recent years, Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson now make only cameo appearances, if they even take off their warm-ups at all.  Orlando remains one of the deepest teams in the league, bringing the likes of J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson off the bench.  Of course, we’ll also see the God-awful Gilbert Arenas, whose FG% sank under 30% for the month of February, although he nevertheless managed to average 9 shots in his 21 minutes a night.  Before going 4-6 3PT Sunday against Charlotte, Gil had missed 38 of his last 41 treys, and his last 18 in a row.  Arenas should get about 20 minutes; the PT hasn’t really declined despite the poor play.

Aside: I’m interested to see if Earl Clark gets some burn against a depleted Knicks front line.  Clark has seen increased action lately and has even been used over Anderson in the rotation on a few occasions.  This might be a good time for Stan Van Gundy to get him some more confidence.

Trap Game? Please?: The Magic have hit a rough patch in the schedule of late, and we can only hope they’re looking ahead to their back-to-back against Miami and Chicago this Thursday and Friday, and their west coast swing that begins soon after.  Tonight’s game finishes off a seven-game homestand on which Orlando is 4-2, with losses to New Orleans and Sacramento.  Surely with those losses they can squeeze one in for the Knicks!

Questions for Orlando: I’ve been there twice, and I never got the sense I was actually in Orlando – or in a city, for that matter – the entire time I was there.  Is it an actual city?  Are there people who live there, or is it just a bunch of golf courses and convention centers?  Is there a downtown where you can get someplace without a 15-minute drive?  Do they pack the arena’s upper tank with tourists to make it seem like there are people there?  And doesn’t the name “Magic” only make one more apt to think that there’s nothing more to this town than Disney World?

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After the Magic began the second half of the year with a home loss to Sacramento, Dwight Howard privately scolded his teammates for a lack of intensity, in what Orlando seems to have dubbed “The King’s Speech.”  First of all: ugh.  Second of all, maybe if Dwight Howard didn’t define leadership by grinning like an idiot all game, they wouldn’t have letdowns in intensity.  Just a thought.  Anyway, much like the Knicks, the Magic seem to be slowly figuring out how to win with their new alignment.  This will be the toughest test yet for the new Knicks frontcourt, but after Sunday we know this team has the ability to raise its game. Plus, they should be amped for the opportunity to leave Florida with two wins.

Actually, if you ask me, they should be amped for the opportunity to leave Florida in general.  Just secede already.  Anyway, enjoy the game – Mike will have the recap on the other side.

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