Friday, 25 October 2013

Knicks Night - Preseason Edition: MSG is transformed, but are the New York Knicks?

As is the nature of the NBA's exhibition schedule, the Knicks returned home to New York for the first time to conclude their involvement in preseason silliness. Much has been written and publicised about Madison Square Garden's $1 billion transformation, and the closing game of the preseason - with New York hosting the Charlotte Bobcats - stood as the Knickerbockers' first opportunity to showcase their reformed lineup before the home crowd. Despite fluctuations to the rotation, Mike Woodson stuck with Iman Shumpert in the backcourt, with his top-heavy frontline trio now firmly entrenched as starting staples, while in a contrast, Charlotte put forth an opening five short of household names, predominantly due to pricy offseason acquisition Al Jefferson's persistent ankle troubles. The Knicks also entered the contest having (likely) finalised their 15-man opening night roster, with sporadic preseason participants Ike Diogu, Josh Powell, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and the partially-guaranteed deals of Jeremy Tyler and CJ Leslie being the casualties of cutting season.

Thus far, New York's exhibition outings had produced mixed results, but have nonetheless afforded a chance for lineup experimentation and a window of time to judge those surviving on basic training camp agreements. Of great importance to the Knicks (unusual to say in a preseason context) was the fact that Amar'e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith, who is confronting a 5-game suspension for testing positive to marijuana, were able to hit the hardwood for the first time and log necessary minutes. Kenyon Martin also made a brief appearance, totalling eight minutes.

Good spacing, ball movement and steady defense were the themes of the opening 24 minutes for the Knicks, although controversial offseason addition Andrea Bargnani struggled to shake his shooting slump, and could not find his range from beyond the arc. Even with Bismack Biyombo's bizarre ability to appear to be in all places at all times and his registering of 20 total rebounds, the reliably pesky paws of Pablo Prigioni led the second unit, and with quick hands of Metta World Peace, allowed the home team to get out on the break and capitalise in transition.

Bobcats journeyman Josh McRoberts, a seemingly unlikely candidate, showed a sweet shooting stroke and canned three from the outside, yet this could not disguise Charlotte's concession of 7 of 11 deep balls on the opposing end. Stability on both ends allowed the Knicks to carry a 55-42 advantage to half time. Given the relative insignificance of the outcome, Carmelo Anthony could not have expected to have been on the floor in the final minutes, but this resulted after the two teams became submerged in a porous display of offense, steadily exchanging bricks with no regard for the viewing audience or Madison Square Garden crowd. Charlotte failed to add to their first half total until the 6:07 mark of the third, as the two teams inexplicably combined for 21 consecutive offline field goal attempts. If such a thing is a possible with October basketball, the third quarter play (or lack thereof) of Mike Woodson's men drew the frustration of an otherwise-buzzing crowd, as the Bobcats' drought-breaking basket instigated a 15-2 spurt, and sliced the Knicks handy lead. Ironically, New York closed the quarter on a stereotypically insane halfcourt heave that was splashed in by none other than J.R. Smith.

The Bobcats remained active on the defensive end in the 4th quarter, with swingman Jeffery Taylor finding a feast of fast break options. This, among other things, was just one of the reasons why the confusion and exasperation of those observing did not subside. It was a case of continued offensive apathy and ineptitude for the home squad, exposing a number of flaws and areas that need to be addressed, not least a 37% field goal percentage. Carmelo Anthony could not hit his tightly contested 16 foot, fading jumpshot to (not to the chagrin of those in attendance) send the game to overtime, thanks primarily to the close checking of Jeffery Taylor. Anthony finished with 13pts and 7 rebounds on a measily 4-17 FG shooting, narrowly 'besting' his Italian stallion companion, Bargnani, who converted just 2 of his 10 tries. Preseason contest notwithstanding, the Bobcats depart Manhattan with an admirable 85-83 victory, a completed 5-3 record in the preseason, and a key cog still to return, while the Knicks (with the roster now set) will hope that their search for answers ends in June, rather than October.

Stoudemire's play was encouraging and efficient, and *if* injuries can be avoided (or at least minimised), he will remain a relevant NBA player and a contributor to this team. The team itself, however, enters the season overshadowed by injuries, a noteworthy suspension, and a myriad of doubts about its ability to put an above-average defense out on the floor. The acquisition of Bargnani is destined for season-long scrutiny, and is an irrefutable factor in the Knicks' quest to defy ESPN's SCHOENE simulator's forecast of a 37-45 regular season record.

FINAL - New York 83-85 Charlotte

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