"Thanks be to John Calipari, who totally paid for this dinner."

D'Antoni Puts Gallo in a Corner, and a Look at Knicks-Wiz

Just got author access from the FS gods.  I’m a real boy now…

In Saturday’s game preview I asked when Mike D’Antoni would sacrifice touches for other players to keep Danilo Gallinari in rhythm.  It seems the answer is “not any time soon.”  After shooting 5-6 in the first half Saturday in Oklahoma City, Gallo went 0-4 in the third quarter and took just one shot – a made three – in the fourth quarter as Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton brought the Knick offense to a grinding halt down the stretch.

Seth from P&T had a deeper look at Gallo’s game, but I’ll piggyback on this topic as it’s something I’ve been harping on lately.  Here are a few thoughts on why phasing out Gallo was a horrible idea, done in Bill Simmons’ bullet-point style to save myself from having to arrange them coherently:

  • In the last four minutes of Saturday’s game Amar’e and Felton combined for ten FGA, and made just two. The Knicks have proven time and again they are not good enough to become this predictable in the fourth quarter.
  • Gallinari is very hesitant to break our offense to try to get his own shot; he really only does it when he’s open for three or when he sees a defender closing out too aggressively.
  • When Wilson Chandler is sitting in crunch time there should be no doubt as to where the Knicks go for their wing scoring.  And still, Gallo can’t get touches, because apparently we wanted Kevin Durant to burn as few calories as possible on defense.
  • As Seth noted, Gallo only touched the ball three times the whole fourth quarter.  Although he’s an underrated defender, is it even worth having him on the floor if he’s not going to be part of the offense?  As a floor spacer, maybe, but when was the last time Amar’e kicked out off an iso?

One small positive I drew from our fourth quarter offense: it represented a change of gears to which the defense had to adjust.  The Knicks scored four points total in the final four minutes, so clearly the defense adjusted, but I appreciated that our fourth quarter battering ram bang-your-head-against-a-brick-wall offense was at least different from what they had been doing most of the game.

As for the rest of the game, well, sometimes Kevin Durant breaks your heart.  The Knicks played pretty well, could’ve beaten a top team on the road, and that’s about as much energy as you’ll see in this league for a back-to-back and third game in four nights.  They’ve been serious about breaking this streak the last two games, but sometimes the schedule has other ideas.

Tonight the Wizards, those winless road warriors, give the Knicks a great opportunity to get back on track.  The Wiz showed some mettle defending home court against the Celtics on Saturday, and figure to be hard after their first road win after an incredible 20 straight losses to start the season.  Here are a few things to think about for tonight:

Projected Starters:

PG – John Wall: Handled crunch time on Saturday by pounding the rock before dishing or launching a bad shot.  Wasn’t able to create for others down the stretch, and interestingly, was completely unable to get Rondo to his hip off the dribble.  So Toney and Raymond, it can be done.

SG – Nick Young: The Celtics win is even more impressive when you consider that Young scored just six points off 1-13 shooting.  Despite that, he’s been dead-eye from three all year and Fields will have to respect both the jumper and the dribble drive.

SF – Rashard Lewis: Quietly averaging 14-8-3 in January.

PF – BoB Favorite Andray Blatche: Shooting and distributing less efficiently this year.

C – JaVale McGee: An improved rebounder and defender this year, and less inclined to hit the ceiling on an up-fake.  Still does a few things a night on offense that are totally out of his skill set.  For instance, I’m not sure he can dribble with his left hand.

First Time against Washington: The Knicks had 11 blocks, 11 steals and forced nine turnovers from John Wall alone en route to a 112-91 victory.  A two-shouldered Toney Douglas ripped five steals, had 19 points, and was all over the court causing trouble for Wall and the departed Gil Arenas.  23 turnovers in all for the Wizards.  Also, as I look at the box score, it seems we had an Anthony Randolph sighting; he shot 1-7 and had seven boards, a steal, two blocks, three fouls and three turnovers.  All this…in ten minutes!

Second Time against Washington: The Knicks again kept Wall out of the paint, and although Arenas and Young went off a little bit, the Wizards had nothing in the frontcourt on either side of the ball.  Stoudemire completely overwhelmed McGee, and looking at his recent struggles against smaller, more compact defenders, I wonder if Amar’e might break out tonight against McGee.

Wiz Rotation: Obviously the Wiz are going to look a little different than they did last time.  Al Thornton has mercifully been sent to the bench with the acquisition of Lewis, and Young has flourished with his ascension to the starting five.  Washington still offers a potpourri of suck off the bench in the frontcourt – of Yi Jianlian, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker, only Booker shows even flashes of NBA readiness at the moment.  At point guard, Kirk Hinrich will miss tonight’s game with a hyper-extended elbow, and the Wiz have signed Arizona product Mustafa Shakur, who made his NBA debut with 10 energetic minutes Saturday against the Celtics.

I’m the Wiz and Everyone Beats Me: The Wiz, as stated above, are an incredible 0-20 on the road.  They’re starting a stretch of five road games in their next six so I’m betting the energy will be high tonight as they go all out for road win number one, and capitalize on their win over Boston.  Also, the Wiz haven’t won at MSG in the last five years; I was pretty sure Maccabi Tel Aviv was the only team that could say that.

This is our Point Guard: Friday night against San Antonio, ESPN showed an interview with Felton in which he said that he could shoot poorly the whole game, but in crunch time would want the ball in his hands and would trust himself shoot it more than anyone else.  Saturday, he shot 1-6 on shots of over 15 feet before the final four minutes; he then decided to put up another 1-6 in the final four minutes alone.

This is our Point Guard, v. 2.0: Saturday, I noticed for the first time Felton simply making the “elbow” sign to Amar’e to call for the elbow isolation.  It’s nice that the whole defense knows the offense has no play called, and can just collapse once Amar’e puts it on the floor.

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Not much to say about tonight – they better win.  Last time against Washington the Knicks did a much better job of keeping Wall out of the paint than in preseason, and they’ll obviously need to replicate that feat tonight.  More importantly, though, I’ll be watching the possessions down the stretch, not just to see whom D’Antoni decides to feature, but to gauge the poise of this group.  The Wizards are 0-20 on the road, and it’s not because they’re untalented – it’s because Wall is prone to poor crunch-time decisions and they end up giving away possessions late.  Let’s see the Knicks make them pay for that.

Finally, a plea to NBA coaches about Felton’s All-Star candidacy.  I know you all want to send the most deserving players to February’s Black Super Bowl, and some of you may feel compelled to vote for Felton because your team is horrible and made Felton look like Isiah Thomas.  Would it be nice to see him there? Yeah.  Does he deserve it? Eh. Do I like to structure an argument by answering my own questions? Absolutely.  But nobody needs a week off like Ray Felton.  The guy’s been waddling around like he has a ladder up his ass for about three weeks now.  There are plenty of deserving players this year –show the Knicks some compassion, and find another guard.

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