The good ship HMS New York Knicks is just barreling into one iceberg after another these days.
Tuesday night's 92-86 loss did not come from a lack of effort, but from a lack of maturity and focus. The Knicks' two highest-paid players, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, collected a technical apiece. The coaches decided to go with zero point guards down the stretch, and the ball movement predictably suffered. The Knicks allowed backup guard Rodney Stuckey to torch them for 21 points.
These are the mistakes of a team that came into a game unprepared and unfocused. These are the mistakes of a team that isn't nearly as good as it thinks it is.
One of Those "Melo Loses His Mind" Games
Make no mistake: No Knick has played harder this season than Carmelo Anthony.
He came into Tuesday night's game averaging 40 minutes a game. His career-high per-game averages of 2.4 offensive rebounds and 6.4 defensive rebounds show a player who is spending a great deal of time both on the court and also in the paint on both ends.
Melo's intensity has been inspiring, even during an otherwise terrible stretch for his team.
But Melo let down his teammates in Detroit; not because of a lack of effort, but because of a lack of maturity. Melo ran the gamut of dumb Melo moves: too many shots (8-of-20), only one assist, seven turnovers, five personal fouls, one technical foul for mouthing off at the refs and at least one of those patented "I'm so mad at the refs that I'm just going to barrel blindly toward the rim, dare the refs to call a charge and then cackle in disbelief when they call it" charges.
If you'd prefer visual aids, check out this photo.
That's right: Even J.R. Smith is pointing at Melo to pass.
Sure, Melo is frustrated by his team's poor play, and perhaps it's just his passion boiling over, but he also had these kinds of games last year, when the Knicks had a comfortable division lead and a roster full of wise old vets. Melo has finished third in the league in technicals in both 2011-12 and 2012-13, so this isn't an isolated incident.
Perhaps Melo doesn't get the calls he deserves. But if games like this are his strategy for getting more calls, then he has a serious problem.
And any team that wants to sign him to a max deal has to understand his tendency to blow up when the calls aren't going his way.
In the offseason, the Knicks' front office was obsessed with building a stronger, more rugged frontcourt, regular-season results be damned.
|Knicks' Frontcourt vs. Pistons|
|Points in the Paint||42||44|
Looks like the Knicks played Detroit even up front.
They lost the game for the same reason they always lose games: They didn't defend pick-and-rolls, dribble penetration or the three-point line.
That the New York frontcourt could even play close to Detroit's level is something of a minor miracle considering 15 of those frontcourt minutes belonged to Amar'e Stoudemire.
Amar'e did have a few vintage dunks, but the story of the night was his defense. He lit up Twitter with perhaps the most inexplicable defensive play in basketball history.
Monday night's game is yet another step in a disturbing trend: The Knicks are now 0-5 when Amar'e plays more than 10 minutes, according to Basketball Reference.
Even accounting for Amar'e's "defense," the biggest mistake the Knicks made in defending the Pistons' frontcourt came not from the players, but from the coaching staff.
Before the two-minute mark in the fourth quarter, the Knicks has a chance to get back in the game by fouling Detroit center Andre Drummond—he of the pathetic 17.6-percent free-throw shooting. Instead, the Knicks earned the distinction of being perhaps the only NBA team not to foul Drummond off the ball in a close game.
Was the "hack-a-Drummond" strategy even discussed in that fourth quarter? Not according to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, who spoke to Kenyon Martin after the game.
Headed for a Beating?
From here, things only get worse for New York. Wednesday the Knicks will face a well-rested Indiana Pacers team, still smarting from their first loss of the season. Last year, this game would have been a marquee matchup, but right now the Knicks will be lucky to keep the game within single digits.
After that, the team will head on the road for five of its next six games, including three out West. The Knicks are scrambling just to survive without Tyson Chandler, and the schedule-makers did them no favors.
With the tempestuous James Dolan as owner, there could be some major moves on the horizon. They might not be good moves—they rarely are when Dolan's involved—but they will be major. Will they move Stoudemire for a bad player with an even larger contract? Will they trade Iman Shumpert for some random dude who just happens to be represented by the Knick-friendly CAA agency?
No matter what happens, this is a frightening time to be a fan of the New York Knicks.