***********Record during the week: 3-1Game results: Win @ Orlando (99-89); Win @ San Antonio (104-100); Loss @ Memphis (95-105); Win vs. Indiana (88-76)Overall record / Place in standings: 7-1; 1st place
Late Game Grit: Last week we focussed on the second-half defense; this week, the team impressed with its fourth quarter effort. After a sloppy first 36 minutes in Orlando and nursing a one point lead, the team turned it on over the final 12, surrendering a mere 13 points en route to beating the Magic by 10. They followed that up with the best Knicks fourth quarter in recent memory (stripping the title from the stretch of last April's game against the Bulls) when they erased a 12-point deficit over the final 7 minutes. And in case you haven't watched the NBA in the last 15 years, the Spurs don't blow double-digit fourth quarter leads at home too often. Or ever. So brava, ya know?
Guarding Their Guards: The defense has been great all around, but this week Felton, Kidd and Brewer shined in stopping opposing 1s, 2s. Parker, a career 49% shooter, went a meager 7-for-20 from the field and did not make a field goal after the 5 minute mark in the third quarter. Shutting down a scorer like that is one-half the equation to enable the comeback that ensued. The team's lack of blocked shots - a discouraging stat in seasons past - is also more a nod to its perimeter defense than it is a concern about our ability to protect the rim. With guards who can actually keep their man in front of them (J-who?), our big men are able to stick with their defensive assignments rather than constantly hedge to help. Sure, that style of defense results in a handful of blocks, but more often it ends up an offensive rebound, a put-back dunk and the associated head-shaking and finger-pointing that comes with it. I'll take the former and kudos to first line of defense for getting the job done and making everybody else's day that much easier.
Bill Pidto: While it's true that anybody seated next to Wally "I'm From Long Island So I'm Relevant?" Szczerbiak is bound to be engaging, Pidto and his "MSG 150" during halftime are the best. I mean 7-1 is cool and all, but 150 seconds of pun-filled highlights are consistently worth tuning in for, even if we were our normal 1-7.
Raymond Felton: Felton's swagger and general on-court facial expressions are the best. He walks around like he's convinced the guy he is guarding either (a) thinks he is fat and bad; or (b) just told him to thank his sister for a good time last night. Regardless, behind his nightly defensive effort Felt has quickly re-endeared himself to the NYK faithful after his season-and-a-half absence. But he gets the nod this week because of his offense, averaging just under 19 ppg. His play was highlighted by his 25 (on 10-of-20 shooting) and 7 assists (two of which led to wide open fourth quarter looks from deep by Kidd and Smith that gave the Knicks the lead for good) in a Spurs game where Melo was cold and ineffective. Stepping up when the team's best scorer isn't on is something this team was desperately missing last year, and it was great to see Felton recognize the situation and audible into Plan B.
Crying Foul (A Lot): Rasheed Wallace has brought a lot to this team over the first three weeks of the season, but one thing that the team does NOT need to emulate from the emotional veteran are, well, his emotions. Known as a "bad boy" or "hot head" or "kinda crazy homeless person" over the course of his career, Sheed loves talking trash to opposing fans, players, and at times, the guys in stripes. Not to say that Sheed started complaining and the rest of the team followed suit, but there was far too much bitching and moaning on the Knicks' side during the Grizzlies game, so much so that it carried over into the first quarter of the Pacers game on Sunday. Yes the refs were awful in Memphis, and yes the team had a legitimate gripe with four huge calls over the course of four minutes in the deciding third quarter (Melo's fourth foul; a tech for protesting the bad call; Tyson's fifth; and JR Smith's flagrant for hitting a guy in the arm), but the team looked silly doing the "who me?!??!" every other whistle. A frustrated night is completely fine, but let's not make this a trend.
Depth Down Low: The Grizz game exploited it, but with Camby coming along, let's say, gingerly, the team looked very thin at the 4-5. Against the Bynum-less 76ers we had the luxury of trotting Melo out as the 5 for a while, but that option isn't going to be available against healthy, playoff-caliber teams. Rasheed has played well, obviously, but Camby and Kurt Thomas have been conspicuously planted on the bench, even with foul trouble plaguing Chandler and Co. Old and injured aren't encouraging explanations for why these guys are not playing this early in the season.
Prigio-no: Remember when this guy looked pretty good during the preseason? Me either. Thus far, the Argentine rookie has done little to impress. Save for a pick-and-roll bounce pass to Rasheed in Sunday's game against Indiana, Pablo looks lost and over-matched far too often. He commits the cardinal sin of passing (leaving his feet before knowing what he wants to do with the ball) at least once a game, which is acceptable only because we get to hear Clyde make the above comment. JR Smith is able to bring the ball up half the time with our second unit as is, so Pirgioni isn't really hurting us, but whenever Shump is able to come back into the lineup, I expect Pablo's minutes to get slashed rather unceremoniously.