Game Notes: Nets at Knicks

by Ryne Nelson

I learned a nice lesson today, and it’s something I feel is important enough to pass on. It’s more of a pattern, actually and it’s something most people—especially hoops fans—should be aware of. It’s not a Law of Nature. It’s not even a theory yet. It’s just a lesson, a parable, if you will. So enough already, let me see if I can put it semi-succinctly here:

The only thing that can result from an unfortunate disposition is more unfortunate dispositions.

OK, so that didn’t quite enlighten any minds… Basically, bad situations and events lead to more unfortunate situations and events. It’s a self-stirring bottomless whirlpool that can only be stopped with a conscious effort to change. You can’t flip it around: Good situations and events do not always lead to more good situations and events. Not at all. If you’re have a positive attitude and good things are happening to you, there’s nothing that will ensure those good things will continue. As a matter of fact, if I’ve got a couple good things going in a row for me—the train comes as soon as I swipe into the station; my Lean Cuisine doesn’t explode in the microwave—then I automatically wonder what negative event will follow.

Bad events are too easy to snowball, and they’re damn difficult to stop. Bad begets more bad, said the wise man. But if you notice a streak of unfortunate happening to you, it might be best to lock yourself in front of the television and think long and hard about what’s wrong. Minimize the damage. Focus on what needs to change.

This was one of the lousiest games of the Knicks’ season, and I think they caught my infection before the game. I’m afraid the team’s Contradictory Club performance can’t be blamed entirely on the players. They caught the bad luck snowball.

There are numerous basketball reasons as to why the Devin Harris-less Nets were able to rip apart the Knicks, but what it all comes down to is getting into that negative slide. It touches the psyche, which translates to the court, which seeps into the crowd and before you know it, you have an epidemic on your hands. Bad situations and moods are the fastest spreading disease in the world, especially in the sports realm, and even more so in the greatest arena in the world.

I’m sitting here in its aftermath and it feels like you just had the wind sucked out of you. You see, I got caught in a series of unfortunate events early today, well before it made its way to the Garden. I woke up with the bad allergies—the dry head cold type, where you toot your nose into completely dry tissues and float away in your balloon of a head. I was able to focus for a few hours after taking a CVS Sudafed knock off pill with my granola. The allergies cause more problems. Whenever I swallow, my ears pop. My mouth dries up. I continue to toot my nose into dry tissue. I have trouble responding to email. I have even more trouble processing information at a quick pace. Reading is like I’m in first grade, carefully going over each word in every sentence. When I talk, I first swallow to wet the throat, pop the ears, and blurt out something in a high pitch. I stutter. I can’t breathe. I look pale. I’m a mess.

But I push through and head down the street to Madison Square Garden. I feel like the hardest thing in the world to do is smile. It’s not easy because I don’t do it often enough in the first place, but it’s just gotten 10 times less appealing with my sinuses feeling like they’ve been injected with Botox. A part of me feels like it can only get better from here. That part of me didn’t know what I know now.

I payed $8 for the worst dinner in my life—pasta, runny mashed potatoes, the leftover scraps of a tuna salad with some microwaved lima beans. Yum. I guess I just missed what looked to be a cross between a beef stroganoff and General Tso’s Chicken. I wonder why I was stupid enough to buy a plate full of pasta in the press room and not just buy a burger and fries just like everyone else in the stadium.

I’m again perched in the rafters of the Garden. It’s somewhat difficult making my way to the top this time because of my heavy, high-starch dinner. I take a seat and minutes later a loud and drunken couple stroll in next to me. Apparently, Garden employees can give friends free “tickets” to watch the game next to the media up in the stratosphere. Make no mistake, I’d have no problem with this couple… if I was at a bar. They’re drinking Miller Lite out of clear 32 oz. cups with lids and straws. He’s shouting obscenities toward the court at the top of his lungs. During timeouts, he’s either on the phone with his pal (“You better call me at 10 o’clock or I’ll punch you!”) or lending wise advise to his girl (“If you say shit too many times, you’re going to puke up your intestines.”). She keeps looking over my shoulder to see what I’m writing, and probably wonders what I’m doing here, talking about lima beans and stuffy noses. It’s tough to write when people are watching.

While I try to ignore this couple, the entire first quarter goes without event. Vince Carter is the highlight, moving in his typical slow-motion. He’s playing point guard, palming the ball at mid-court, waiting 20 seconds and jacking up a 25-foot bombs. He makes them. The closest thing the Nets now have to a true point guard is 6-3 Keyon Dooling, but he’s not getting into the game.

Wilson Chandler is the lone bright spot for the Knicks. David Lee is quiet. Nate Robinson is quiet. Chris Duhon has, in a single season, proved all his doubters wrong… and right. Even Mike D’Antoni is uncharacteristically quiet.

If you watch enough basketball, you’ll notice when teams tend to make runs. No matter how poorly a team plays in the first quarter and early second quarter, they’ll usually finish the half on a hot streak. Why? Teams shoot relatively the same percentage nearly every night. Poor shooting doesn’t last the entire game, unless they’re playing a truly great defensive team. New Jersey isn’t one of those teams. NBA players are too skilled offensively to shoot at such a poor rate for the entire game. Getting back to that average percentage will happen as long as they move the ball and shoot the open shot. Offense is rhythmic—you go in and out of streaks. In D’Antoni’s system, getting back on track is almost inevitable, yet it never happened tonight.

But that’s not the entire story. The Knicks caught themselves in a more powerful series of unfortunate events: the trap of playing poor defense. Defense doesn’t come as easily as offense—teams don’t all of a sudden begin to stop opponents. If you don’t make defense a priority, you won’t ever have it. And if you’re letting teams score often, it affects the offense. Most of all, it affects the psyche. Ever feel like you’re powerless against something? That’s what it was like for the Knicks, who, on their home court, are outscored by 14 points in the 2nd quarter alone. All this is without Devin Harris, who has had nothing but field days against Chris Duhon this season. You’re starting to get the picture.

Meanwhile, I ask the blabbering fan beside me to quiet down a bit so I could write. I feel bad that I shut up the loudest Knicks fan in the building, albeit for two minutes. By the end of the quarter, he is again cursing every Knick as only a true New Yorker can. He tells me he’s never heard of SLAM Magazine, but he will buy it on newsstands tomorrow (“If you remember any of this, you will,” I grumble to myself.).

Chris Douglas-Roberts gets some decent action tonight. Whether it’s due to injuries or otherwise, he’s no longer the 11th man off the bench. He shows off a nice pump fake and a couple dribble drives to the basket. His game is similar to Chandler’s but without the range. His athleticism is actually on a higher level than Chandler’s—CDR put down a dunk in the fourth that drew ohhs and ahhs that rivaled Vince’s dunk in the previous quarter. But I’m always worried about players like him—young second round draft picks without strong fundamentals and who rely heavily on superior athleticism. As time wears on him, Douglas-Roberts could become a quick and easy target of fans’ angst. Sure, Douglas-Roberts has that ever-so-dangerous potential that teams like. His future is likely over with an injury or a off-court misstep. I’m not saying this will happen, I’m just saying I’ve seen it before. Just look at Jared Jefferies and Desmond Mason. What about teammate Sean Williams? CDR is a lesser version of Minnesota’s Rodney Carney, so it’s easy to see how one mishap could cause big implications for his NBA career. Because he doesn’t have a guaranteed three or four seasons to prove himself, I’ll put the over-under on his NBA career at six seasons and lean toward the under.

Fellow rookie Brook Lopez on the other hand, has super solid fundamentals. Right now, I’d say his future could be just as bright as Andrew Bynum’s. Lopez doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as Bynum—who could be a perennial All-Star—but Lopez certainly will be in the L for at least 14 seasons. He has an innate sense of where the proper place to be on the court is at all times. He has a long-range jumper in his arsenal. He can hurt a team at the free throw stripe. He positions himself well in every offensive situation. With all this talk about Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Eric Gordon being just 20 years old, don’t forget that Lopez is same age as well. He’s exceeded almost every expectation I had for him this season. He just quietly gets things done. His toolbox has many polished go-to offensive weapons, and there’s much more room to add to it. He’ll be on the court 80 games per season as well, which is something Laker fans can’t count on Bynum to do. The only great advantage I think Bynum carries is a toughness on defense. Brook by no means will be collapsing lungs of his opponents if they try to drive his lane.

That said, there are only four Nets I’d protect, and Lopez without question is one of them. (The other three, if you’re curious, are Devin Harris, Ryan Anderson and Yi Jianlian.)

In the second half, I move to quieter nook on press row. I know “quiet” in a basketball stadium is a bit of an oxymoron, but believe me, there truly is such a thing. I move down about 30 seats, where it’s just me, my notebook and the crowd’s flowing din in the background. I imagine I’ll be able to bring much more detailed and “clairvoyant” analysis without the distraction to my right. It’s not happening. I’m just sitting next to more fans, with more beer with less noise.

The Knicks gain some ground in the third quarter, but not much. Vince Carter continues to impress. Russ joked at halftime that the only way the Nets can make the Playoffs is if Vince Carter becomes a Michael Jordan reincarnate. I responded that he’d have to start shooting within 24 feet of the basket first. Playing according to the flow, Carter starts to work his “interior” game. He makes a vicious attack at the rim and sinks a couple mid-range fadeaways. Carter’s penetrating and dishing at times—he’s truly still one of the few players in the L with such a complete skill set. More importantly, he doesn’t force a thing when he’s out there, much like Kobe Bryant. These two players can feel the pulse of a basketball game better than anyone in the League right now.

The Nets are converting on offense—they finish the 3rd with 90 points—but they definitely don’t look like themselves. New Jersey has clearly shifted into a one-man operation, with everything going through Vince Carter. Some might think that this offensive barrage shows some hope for the Playoffs. Don’t be deceived—without its point guard, this team is done.

After the game, while enjoying a post-game brownie or two, I try to get a better understanding of Nets fans from Jake. To me, their fans are the most enigmatic group out there. Grizzlies also don’t have people show up for games, but the reasoning behind that is easy—there’s just no interest in professional basketball in Memphis. There’s clearly interest in pro ball in New Jersey, as evidenced by great turnouts during the Jason Kidd era and the diehard fans on the NetsDaily blog. I mention, though, if a game was being played this close in any other city, there would at least be a recognizable fan base at the game. With the Nets’ proximity to New York, you’d figure there would at least be some Nets fans at the Garden. I listened carefully during the entire game, but there’s not a single wave of cheers.

If they move to Newark, would anyone shed a tear? Better yet, will the only way for the Nets to get true fans—you know, the ones who rep the team outside of after work business occasions and family outings—be to move to Brooklyn, where fandom rides no bandwagon? Jake and I can’t come to a good conclusion. I lean this way: The Nets might be in a better location in Newark, but true fans are in the Big Apple. I’m unsure why a couple miles separation makes such a big difference in fandom.

About 10 percent of the crowd gives Carter an ovation when he’s subbed out with about 3:00 remaining in the 4th.  That’s certainly not bad considering the New York crowd has cheered only two players on opposing teams this season. Don’t twist it: New Yorkers haven’t gone soft. Judging from the number of profanities, copious cries of “you suck!” and trash talking (mostly to Knicks players tonight), they’re just not feeling the Knicks’ unfortunate disposition.