We're holding out for a hero...

Previewing Cavs-Knicks II

Last night, as I wiped the tears from my eyes while watching Gallo and Co. on TNT, I couldn’t help but notice that George Karl had some strong words for his former superstar.  Not Renaldo Balkman, the other one.

“He’s the best offensive player I’ve ever coached,” said Karl of Carmelo Anthony in a pre-taped spot aired during the game.  “But his defensive focus, his demand of himself, is what frustrated us more than anything.”

So, fine.  He’s the coach.  Nobody knows better than Karl about the defensive effort of his players, and although it’s always surprising to hear such a condemnation from a coach, calling Melo’s defense into question is certainly fair game.  On offense, he’s a killer; on defense, he’s in and out.  The same can be said of Amar’e Stoudemire at times.

What I can’t deal with is when national media types go past the defensive shortcomings of individuals and lambaste the system as a whole.  Here’s a comment from Mike Greenberg (himself a New Yorker!) on Tuesday morning’s Mike and Mike in the Morning that about brought my Banana Nut Cheerios back for round two:

Neither Amar’e nor Carmelo plays any defense, and Mike D’Antoni doesn’t want them to.

It was said in passing, of course, as if we all know this to be true, and it’s never going to change.  But let’s stop to marvel at what a profoundly idiotic statement this is.  Is there any coach who just doesn’t want his players to play defense?  How would such a coach get hired?  Will there ever come a day when a defensive-minded coach isn’t a hard-nosed, blue-collar gritster, and an offensive one isn’t a reckless cowboy who plays a losing style?

The Knicks are 19th in defensive efficiency; not good, not horrible, but that’s all you need to know.  Unfortunately, all the national media needs to know is…absolutely nothing.  I fail to see how one guy who’s fourth in the league in blocks and a small forward who grabs eight boards a game add nothing on defense.

As for Carmelo himself, he’s a small forward grabbing eight rebounds a game. Rebounding is a part of defense, and that number has real value.  Looking forward, the bottom line for the Knicks is that he’s here to win a ring.  He said it himself, and Amar’e and Billups won’t let him slack off anyway.  Come playoff time, when he’s facing off against LeBron James or Paul Pierce, does anyone really think he won’t bring it?  Defense is like baserunning is like special teams: it’s about attitude and effort.  When the lights are on, I trust Melo to flip a switch of his own.

Now, to throw some water on that little pep talk: Wednesday, the Knicks allowed 108 points to the 30th-ranked offensive team in the league, and their defensive rotations had a vibe of “I would talk more on defense if I knew any of these people’s names.”  Tonight they face number 29 in Cleveland.  Can they avenge their overtime loss in December?  Let’s see which Cavaliers remain to stand in their way.

Projected Starters:

PG – Ramon Sessions: 19 PER?!  His shot is improved – not that it could’ve gotten much worse – and he’s getting to the bucket more often while turning it over less.

SG – Anthony Parker – Shooting 20-39 3PT in his last 11 games.  Which is good, because, you know, look who we’re talking about here.

SF – Christian Eyenga – Can’t shoot and just isn’t nearly ready for this much exposure.  Tough spot for him.

PF – Antawn Jamison – Doesn’t seem willing to take his rightful place as a true number one offensive option for this team.  It’s a credit to his unselfishness, but no one would blame him for chucking. 12 for his last 24 from three.

C – James Edward Hickson – Really good at dunking.  Not in a Blake Griffin-type way, but more like, “Hey if you give me that open dunk, I’ma make that.  Every time.”  Has basically doubled his rebounding in about 1.3x the minutes since January 1.

More Randos than a Charlie Sheen Key Party: The big news in the wake of Cleveland’s big trade yesterday was that Baron Davis is not expected to report to Cleveland until tomorrow.  Celtic imports Semih Erden and Luke Harangody are also not expected in uniform this evening.  Jamario Moon was included in the Clippers deal, and Booby Gibson missed Wednesday’s tilt against Houston for personal reasons but should be back tonight. The Cavs will be a little shorthanded with or without Gibson, so tonight off the Cleveland bench you can look forward to seeing such luminaries as Manny Harris, Joey Graham and Samardo Samuels.  Just throwing it out there: I like Samardo Samuels. I’ve been a fan since college, although that could just be because Louisville is shown in New York every weekend as part of Rick Pitino’s plan to recruit a whole team full of Rice HS grads.  Anyway, I’ve admitted it, and that’s the first step; I’m getting help.

Aside: Gibson’s wife is expecting, but I’m pretty sure his “personal reasons” stem from a recent tweet calling Baron Davis “one of the best PG’s of all time.”  Byron Scott probably saw that and told Booby to take a personal day.

The Conquering Hero Returns: It’s been widely reported that once he completes his buyout with Houston, Jared Jeffries will return to the adulation of the New York masses.

And the Isiah Thomas Greatest Hits Tour continues – I just hope Qyntel Woods is next.  Jeffries should be a nice fit here, in all honesty, but we aren’t likely to see him for a few days as he would need 48 hours to clear waivers before he can report to the team.  Seeing Jeffries on the waiver wire may cause a riot in a few offices.

Tonight’s rotation figures to be much the same as Wednesday’s.  The Knicks had their first practice together yesterday and it seems like Mike D’Antoni kept things pretty basic as he ingratiates the newbie’s. D’Antoni wants to try to get a glimpse at other guys and hopes to add at least one of them to the rotation.  Priority number one is to make the playoffs.

The Melo-wich: Salami, corned beef, pastrami, bacon, lettuce, tomato, Russian, on rye.  Check the video here – required viewing for anyone looking to make fun of New York.

And Baron Davis Applied for Browns’ Defensive Tackle: Citing a need of real, live basketball players, the Cavs held a career fair ten days ago at which they themselves and other local teams, naturally, were looking to hire.  Admission was $27 and included a ticket to a Cavs game (in the upper tier, hilariously rechristened “Loudville”).  Luke Harangody and Semih Erden applied and were accepted to positions in the Cleveland frontcourt.  It’s a good career move for both – as Brian Scalabrine can relate, being a white benchwarmer on a Boston team is demeaning.  They cheer for you like you’re slow or something, and after 50+ years of doing this they still haven’t figured out how condescending it is.  Wait, wasn’t I supposed to be making fun of Cleveland?


Last time in Cleveland, the Knicks looked weary off a road back-to-back and lacked the crunch-time chops to will themselves to victory.  They weren’t mature enough to close the door on an inferior team without playing their best.

This incarnation of the Knicks should have no such difficulty.  D’Antoni has stressed that priority number one is simply to make the playoffs, and that should mean being content to take care of business tonight rather than run a controlled scrimmage where they try to get everyone acclimated and prepare for the playoffs.  I like the organization’s mindset in sticking to the “let’s just make the playoffs” mantra; this team shouldn’t be shooting higher, not until next year when it’s had time to replace the complimentary pieces.  For now, let’s just win.

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