Two weeks ago the Knicks looked dead in the water. But five wins later they're back in the playoff conversation--and about to announce Phil Jackson as their new team president.
|2013/14 NBA Season
| (13-52, 5-26 road)
|| (26-40, 14-20 home)
|March 15, 2014
|Madison Square Garden | New York, NY
FS Wisconsin / MSG | 620 WTMJ / Audio League Pass
|2012/13 Advanced Stats
Linkage: Posting And Toasting | Knickerblogger | Buckets Over Broadway | Bucks Game Notes | Knicks Game Notes
Knicks update. You know how every announcer loves to point out that the NBA is a game of runs? Well, look no further than the New York Knicks' season. A nine-game losing streak in November put the Knicks at an ugly 3-13 to start the season before winning streaks of five games and four games pushed Mike Woodson's bunch back to a respectable-for-the-East 19-27 as January drew to a close.
But right when things finally seemed to be coming together, everything fell apart again. A double-overtime loss in Orlando on February 21 kicked off a string of seven straight losses, stoking the wrath of protesting Knicks fans, the talk of Melo's free agent discontent, and only further cementing the inevitability of Woodson's dismissal.
But before we could get to that bit of fun, the Knicks' schedule eased up and, lo and behold, the wins have suddenly started piling up again. New York carries a five-game win streak into Saturday's early tilt at Madison Square Garden, with all five against non-playoff teams and the last four coming against teams 15+ games below .500. The Bucks of course fit in nicely with that narrative, and after facing the Pacers next Wednesday the Knicks get another four games against the likes Cleveland, Boston, Philly and Sacramento. Needless to say it's a golden opportunity for New York to make one last push for the final Eastern playoff spot currently occupied by the Hawks, who were last seen losing 14 of their last 17 games and hold a 3.5 game lead over the Knicks entering Saturday
Phil. Knicks owner James Dolan's futile battle for credibility appears to be getting some much-needed reinforcements: after a couple weeks of rampant speculation, it appears that Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings are indeed headed to New York. Jackson will reportedly rake in $12 million annually as the Knicks' new team president, though our guy Seth Rosenthal at Posting and Toasting notes that it's not altogether clear what that title means.
This is a beginning. In a way, the Knicks got their guy. In a bigger way, they got the guy who'll get the guys, and that's where questions emerge. Jackson, though he will reportedly make $12 million per year (of Dolan's money, not the Knicks'), is expected to live only part-time in New York and to leave the hands-on stuff to his subordinates. So:
- Who runs Phil Jackson's Knicks? Who negotiates with agents, makes trades, signs players, drafts players, and so forth? Reports suggest Steve Mills could stick around, but in what role? And what becomes of the rest of the front office, including a CAA guy like Mark Warkentien? If Jackson adds or replaces people, to whom will he look? What positions need filling? What will the interview process be like to fill those positions? How much will this new front office value analytics? Will they aim to improve immediately, or concentrate on longer-term goals?
So in summary: who knows. No one can question Jackson's abilities as a coach--especially when he has the stacked rosters he had in Chicago and L.A.--but as a team president of the Knicks it's a brave new world.
Carmelo. Don't let the Knicks' struggles or the rumors about his uncertain future distract you from a simple and unassailable truth: Carmelo Anthony is still an awesome, awesome basketball player. After a career year last year, Anthony remains an unstoppable scorer (28.1 ppg on 56% true shooting) who's also putting up the best of his career on the boards (8.3 rpg, 12.5% rebound rate) and from deep (41.3% threes). While his 32.9% usage rate is also tops in the league, he's turning it over on a career-low 9.1% of his possessions (2.5 overall) and his PER this season (24.9) is actually a tick above the personal-best 24.8 he posted last year.
So yeah, the Bucks are going to have their hands full defending him today, namely Ersan Ilyasova. In years past the Bucks generally contorted their assignments by cross-matching more mobile guys (Marquis Daniels, Luc Mbah a Moute) on Melo and leaving Ilyasova to defend everyone from Jason Kidd to Iman Shumpert, but in the teams' last meeting in Milwaukee it was Ersan who matched up with Anthony for long stretches and shockingly didn't get completely destroyed. Yes, Melo still got his 34 points, but the Bucks pulled out the win and I'd argue Ilyasova had as much luck as Khris Middleton or Giannis Antetokounmpo in making Melo work for his points.
Small fries in the Big Apple. Tyson Chandler (personal reasons) and Amare Stoudemire (sore knee) both missed Wednesday's win in Boston, Cole Aldrich was thrust into the starting lineup next to Carmelo Anthony and played a huge part in the Knicks' win with season-bests of 12 points and 10 boards in 25 minutes. Still, the absences of Chandler, Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Kenyon Martin meant Jeremy Tyler and Earl Clark were the only guys taller than 6'5" available off the bench, and it's not clear whether they'll have much more help up front on Saturday. Bargnani and Martin are both out for the foreseeable future while Chandler is listed as questionable due to the undisclosed personal matter that forced him to miss Wednesday's game, leaving Stoudemire as the only reinforcement expected back.
The return of Amare. Stoudemire will never come close to earning the $45 million he's set to earn this year and next, but don't let that obscure the fact that the six-time all-star can still play. Though his balky knees have limited him to just over 20 mpg this season, Stoudemire has averaged 18.0 ppg over his last five games and continues to put up well above-average efficiency numbers (18.2 PER, 59.0% true shooting); as we've seen against the bucks in earlier meetings this season, he's just damn tough to stop near the basket even without the athleticism that earned him a $100 million deal in 2010 (66% shooting at the rim, 49% from 3-10 feet).
Hold the Mayo. Only a couple weeks removed from looking like he was getting back his mojo a little bit, O.J. Mayo is back on the bench. Charles Gardner reports that Larry Drew last week told Mayo he was reverting back to a three-guard rotation of Brandon Knight, Nate Wolters and Ramon Sessions, leaving the Bucks' highest-paid player once again on the outside looking in of the rotation.
"He had a really good game in the Philly game and we know he's capable of that," Drew said. "Right now he doesn't have a real good rhythm and I don't think his conditioning is where it should be.
"We're not giving up on him, by no stretch of the imagination. We just have to make sure we go about our business in the right way.
"I've sat down and had conversations with him and we're all on the same page."
The primary beneficiary of Mayo's demotion has been the recently acquired Ramon Sessions, who continues to do and say all the right things in his second stop in Milwaukee. Via Andrew Gruman:
Struggling to adapt to the trade that sent away someone he considered a friend and mentor in Luke Ridnour, 19-year-old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has quickly taken to Sessions.
"Ramon is just really textbook," Bucks coach Larry Drew said. "I saw him pull Giannis to the side (during a shell drill during practice) and just show him how to do it from a technique standpoint. Just picking out little things. I can see Ramon has really embraced our group.
Fellow rookie Nate Wolters has already picked Sessions' brain about how he gets to the free-throw line so much.
"That's just so, so smart of Nate to do," Drew said. "The hard part is not getting here, it's staying here. When you can take something from a veteran player's game and incorporate it into your game, I think that's a smart thing to do."