Monday, November 26, 2012


Here's how the Eastern Conference is going to shake out this year.  There are nine or ten teams that will be competing for the eight spots that get to the playoffs.  I think Miami, NY, Brooklyn, Boston, Philly, Indiana, and Chicago are all locks for the playoffs this season.  I think Atlanta, Charlotte, and Milwaukee will be fighting for the eighth seed.  Some of the aforementioned "locks" can miss the playoffs if they have significant injuries and lose key pieces, but I am confident that if these teams stays relatively healthy, they are significantly better that the three challengers.

ATLANTIC: This is my take on the Nets: they are an extremely legit contender in the East; they moved into Brooklyn this year and have a great combination of superstars and role players. Brooklyn is a great destination for future free agent stars because this team is very good already. Being in NYC on a contending team team will help them sign older vets (see Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace to the Knicks).  It's the role players that win big playoff series just as much as the superstars. Tonight's huge match up in Brooklyn will be a good test for both teams, but I anticipate both teams will improve as the season goes on and the winner of this game is not necessarily going to be the better team in April.

Given Boston's struggles and Philly's injuries/uncertain future with Andrew Bynum, these teams will have trouble keeping pace with the Knicks and Nets in the standings.  The Celtics remain dangerous, but they don't have a deep bench and Paul Pierce and KG are at the end of their careers. Their top 7 is great, but the Knicks and Heat can go 10 deep.  Philly has a chance to be a very tough team so long as Andrew Bynum can play, but even when he's healthy they will not have a prolific offense. The Atlantic is easily the most difficult division in the East and all 4 teams are forces to be reckoned with. That being said, the Knicks and Nets have the depth and the in-their-prime superstars that puts them a notch above Boston and Philly.

SOUTHEAST: Miami will win the division and is the favorite to win the 1 seed.  However, nobody else in the Southeast division is a championship contender.  The Hawks and Bobcats will be fighting for the 8 seed but even if they make the playoffs the upper-echelon teams would crush them in the first round.

CENTRAL: Milwaukee, Chicago, and Indiana have been ravaged by injuries and aren't serious contenders at this point in time.  I really like Indiana if Danny Granger is healthy, but he's out indefinitely with a serious knee injury.  Chicago is a huge question mark because they were great when Derrick Rose was healthy.  If he comes back to elite status by February, this team will be extremely dangerous. If he is not 100% and logging 32-36 minutes a game until April, I think Indiana would win the division if Granger comes back. Either team will likely be the 3 or 4 seed. The Bucks are in the same boat as Charlotte and Atlanta, although their schedule is favorable as both Chicago and Indiana have been devastated by injuries. If they can keep playing solid ball they could put pressure on the Bulls and Pacers for the Central division crown.

Here are my power rankings of the Eastern Conference, based off the play so far this season and the pedigree of these teams:

1) Miami Heat: (10-3) Defending champs, best record in the conference, enough said.

2) NY Knicks: (8-3) Melo may be the best offensive player in the NBA right now.  Two of their losses were the second game of back-to-back road trips in extremely hostile environments.  The loss to Houston was pathetic but they rebounded nicely against Detroit.

3) Brooklyn Nets: (8-4) They're off to a solid start and are only going to get better once the stars can develop chemistry.  Deron Williams is one of best players in the league and doesn't get the credit he deserves.  Tonight's match-up against the Knicks is a good test for both teams.

4) Philadelphia 76ers: (8-6) They are deep, tough, and talented.  3 of their losses are against elite teams in this league.  If Bynum comes back, they will be loaded,  Their biggest problem is that they don't have a scorer; it takes a toll to grind night-in and night-out, and the best teams in the league have players that can single-handedly take over games offensively (Melo, Kobe, Durant, Wade, Paul, Williams, etc)

5) Boston Celtics: (8-6) After a shaky start, some tough losses, and a tough schedule, Boston is fine with an 8-6 record.  Big win against the Thunder this past weekend.  I wouldn't want to play this team in the playoffs because of their veteran presence and talent at the top of their rotation, but they have shaky depth and may not be close to 100% come April

6) Atlanta Hawks: (8-4) These boys in Atlanta have won five in a row, but the only quality win in that stretch was against the Clippers.  Their a solid bunch, but won't be able to compete with any of the teams above in the playoffs with Al Horford as their leading scorer.

7) Chicago Bulls: (6-6) If they can stay afloat until D Rose is healthy, they will be a legitimate threat to challenge the Heat, Knicks, and Brooklyn.  They have the depth and leadership to persevere until Rose is healthy.

8) Indiana Pacers: (6-8) They are struggling now, but they are well-coached, deep, and big.  They're in the same boat as the Bulls; if they can stay relevant until Granger comes back in February, they will make the playoffs.

9) Milwaukee Bucks: (6-5) This team's lost 3 in a row but if they can create space between themselves and Indiana and Chicago before Granger and Rose are healthy, they will be in the playoff picture until the end of the season.

10) Charlotte Bobcats: (7-5): Great start to the season but I don't think they have a shot in the big picture this season.  Making the playoffs would be a huge success for this young team.

As you can tell from my opinions above, I have a great deal of respect for the Nets as a basketball team.  They are solid and have high-caliber stars on their roster.  This game has a great underlying story-line (battle of NY) and should be full of emotions.  That being said I don't think the outcome of this game is going to be an indication of who has the better team down the stretch.  

The Nets need time to gel as they have new pieces and it takes time to develop chemistry.  They've opened the season pretty hot, but they will reach another level of consistency after getting another 40 games together.  The Knicks, on the other hand, will be getting gradually better as the season progresses.

With Shumpert coming back in January, Camby getting into playing shape after his injured calf heals, and Rasheed getting in better shape every day, the Knicks defense is going to be stellar by mid-season.  Rasheed and Camby give the Knicks a lot of size and depth at the 4 and 5, which bodes well for them from a fouling perspective and one of their biggest deficiencies this season: rebounding. Shump is a game-changer on defense; against Houston he could have guarded James Harden and limited some of the damage.  His return is more important to this team than Stoudemire's return, which says a lot. STAT's return will provide a spark on offense that the Knicks need right now.  As long as he comes off the bench to start and doesn't disrupt the flow of the Knicks' offense as he's eased back in, he could be an extremely valuable part of this team.  The Knicks have trouble generating offense when Melo is out of the game other than JR Smith's street ball.  If STAT can play 25 minutes a game, mainly when Melo is out, he can draw double-teams and finish on the pick-and-roll.  This would open up shooters like Novak, Brewer, Felton and Kidd and make the Knicks that much more dangerous.

Should be a great match-up tonight and I expect an emotional battle the entire way through.  Melo going back to Brooklyn (his hometown) for the first time, could be another huge game for Anthony.

Friday, November 23, 2012


The Knicks lost a heart-breaker in Dallas for two reasons.  One was the awful officiating that charged Melo with two offensive fouls on extremely questionable calls.  Additional no-calls when Melo was trying to drive to the rim and granting Chris Kaman a timeout on what was clearly a travel are only a few of many examples of inconsistent refereeing during Wednesday night's match-up.  The second reason was their inability to put the Mavs away.  They twice had leads of 10 points, but allowed the Mavs to come back with shoddy defense and inept offense at times.  The Mavs were given open 3s all night and the Knicks had no ball-movement and continuity on offense.  Basketball is a game of runs, and anything can happen on any given night, but the Knicks need to maintain focus when they are winning but the game is not over.

I gave my take on the decision to let Lin go this off-season.

Lin hasn't been very good this season to say the least.  Averaging 10 points and 6 assists per night, and continuing his struggles with turnovers and defense, he has been average at best.  It seems that GM Glen Grunwald made the right call to let Lin leave and bring in the veteran tandem of Ray Felton and Jason Kidd.  Felton has been great shooting the ball this year, has been solid on defense, and has the trust and respect of Melo to keep the offense flowing.  Kidd has been nothing short of spectacular in limited minutes; the impact that his intangibles and experience have given the Knicks cannot be understated.

I see tonight's game as a huge opportunity for Carmelo Anthony.  He came out sluggish on Wednesday, but picked it up after halftime.  He was the victim of awful officiating, but almost got the Knicks the win with a solid second half, despite having a poor shooting night overall.  Melo has a tough match-up going up against James Harden, but I expect Melo to have plenty of motivation to play great  tonight.

Although there has been no public animosity, I get the feeling that Anthony and the other Knicks resent Jeremy Lin.  There was a period last year when the public and media felt that Lin was more important than Anthony, an absurd notion given Melo's track record and Lin's blatant deficiencies in his all-around game.  He was given all the credit for their success last year and didn't play when it mattered most.  Players like JR Smith have come out and said the Ray Felton is a much more dynamic player than Lin.  This is all speculation, but if Melo and co. really respected Lin's game, they would have put the pressure on management to re-sign last year's phenom.  Carmelo has something to prove after last game's loss and the Jeremy Lin saga.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd return to Big D, where they led the Mavericks to victory in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.  Although Dirk was the Finals MVP, Tyson made up for Nowitzki's lacking defensive presence and allowed him to focus on scoring the rock.  Kidd guided the Mavs in the same way he does the Knicks, playing the role of the floor-general and bringing the intangibles that allows the team to keep its focus in pressure-packed situations. The fact that Mavericks' owner Marc Cuban has proclaimed that he will not retire Kidd's jersey, despite the fact that Kidd personified leadership during his entire stint in Dallas, is a travesty. I expect the Knicks to come out with a vengeance early in this game and blow the Mavericks out of the water.

Melo may not have the all-around game of a LeBron, but his importance to this Knicks squad cannot be understated.  Look no further than last night's game; the Knicks dominated the first quarter because Melo couldn't miss. He will go through stretches where is truly unstoppable, and can flick the switch on quicker than anyone in the league. When Coach Woodson gave Melo his normal rest to start the 2nd quarter, the Knicks offense came out flat and they lost all momentum.  This lack of effort and continuity carried over to their defensive effort and they let up 31 points to the lowly Hornets. 

Melo has been hustling on defense and hasn't been putting huge numbers just because he's a volume shooter; he's playing smart basketball, taking good shots, and showcasing his all-around talent with phenomenal passing and solid defense.  He's playing the best ball of his career and should he keep this pace all year, the Knicks will be right at the top of the Eastern Conference come April.

I fully expect the Knicks to wipe the floor with the Mavericks all night long.  Without Dirk, Dallas is not have a consistent offense.  They have lost 5 of 7 games and lack the talent to beat a team as hot as NY.  Meanwhile, the Knicks have won 8 of 9 games this year and shouldn't be too tired after last night's victory; nobody played more than 31 minutes and the game was over by the 3rd quarter.  Jason Kidd will be lights out tonight, although it may not show up on the stat sheet. The hockey-assists and deflections he consistently has night-in and night-out are not counted, but they do not go unnoticed.  Look for Woodson to give him big minutes and let him guide this team to victory.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012



Carmelo was on fire from the get-go like he was playing against Nigeria in the Olympics.  He put up 19 points on 8/9 shooting and outscored New Orleans 19-17 by himself in the first quarter.  The Knicks started the game with no ball movement and were lucky that Melo was able to light it up from all over the floor.  Give Hornets' coach Monty Williams credit because he had a great game-plan to stop the Knicks in the first half; they took away the pick-and-roll and forced the Knicks to make plays out of isolation.  New Orleans suffered the fate that any NBA team without a top 10 player does when Melo gets hot; they could not keep up with his torrid pace with the likes of Ryan Anderson and Austin Rivers as their best offensive options.

Ray Felton had another oustanding game; he was +30 in 30 minutes, shot 5/6 from deep, and distributed the ball at the right times.  The eye test tells me that Felton knows when to shoot and when to give the ball up; the entire offense obviously flows through Anthony, but Felton has been successful getting to the rim off the dribble and knocking down jumpers when he's wide open.

Woodson gave Melo a breather to start the 2nd quarter and it kept the Hornets in the game.  When Anthony is on the floor the Knicks can run the fast-break or slow it down and let Melo carry the load.  The problem is that when he is on the bench the Knicks have zero continuity and cannot generate any offense when JR Smith isn't on his A game.  The Knicks need to find another option on offense because it's imperative that they manage Melo's minutes early in the season.

Even more frustrating than their lackluster offense is that the Knicks allowed 31 points (39% of NO's total points) in the 2nd quarter, largely due to the fact that the Hornets were 7 for 13 on mostly uncontested 3 pointers.  Who is Brian Roberts?  Since when is Ryan Anderson  the focal point of an effective offense?  The Knicks turned up the intensity after halftime but they cannot overlook the fact that they got torched for a significant stretch of this game by a bunch of scrubs.  To keep things in perspective, the Knicks won by 22 and it bodes well for them that they can play so awfully for an entire eight or nine minute stretch and still dominate a game.

The biggest positive coming out of tonight's win is that the Knicks allowed 32 points in the second half.  Granted, the Hornets were without Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon, but New York was absolutely superb defending the shooters that could not miss earlier in the game.  If the Knicks want to make a deep run in the playoffs, they will have to play this type of defense consistently because they will be jockeying for playoff position against a deep Eastern Conference all season long and they will need every win they can get.

The Knicks continue their Western Conference trip tomorrow night in Dallas.  Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler face off against their former team with extra motivation after Mav's owner Mark Cuban proclaimed he would not retire Kidd's jersey, despite Kidd quarterbacking Dallas to the 2010-11 championship.  After Kidd signed with NY, Cuban went on a rant that the Knicks will surely use as bulletin board motivation.  Look for the Knicks to get to 9-1 against a Mavs team without Dirk Nowitzki.  



After a one game return to NY, the Knicks are back on the road for the fifth time this season.  This is the first of a three game road trip where New York should be favored in each game.  The Knicks are 3-1 on the road so far this year, with gritty wins in Philly, San Antonio, and Orlando.  Their only loss was to arguably the best team in the league so far this year: Memphis.  New York should improve to 4-1 against an inexperienced but improving Hornets team.  New Orleans was awful last year, finishing with the third worst record in the league and the worst in the Western Conference.  That being said, they added #1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who brings a defensive presence and a near double-double average to the table.  Good news for the Knicks is that the Hornets are missing Eric Gordon, the key piece they received in return for Chris Paul, and by far their best offensive threat.

Anthony Davis' unibrow is something special.  However, his talent and consistency at Kentucky and so far this year are truly remarkable.  Davis was a member of the USA's gold-medal winning Olympic team this summer and is well acquainted with Knicks' stars Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler.  I expect the Knicks to focus their defense on shutting down Davis.  His talent, specifically offensive rebounding (he averages more than 3 per game), is something that Chandler should be well aware of after a summer of practicing with the rookie phenom.  Davis will come out with enthusiasm on this big stage, but I anticipate the Knicks will keep him in check.

The biggest change between this year and last is the mental toughness of this team.  Last year, with a number of young players, a run-and-gun offense, and a lack of accountability, the Knicks lost their composure far too often. This year, starting in training camp, Mike Woodson has established a defensive identity with this team that will carry them all season.  A lot of it can be attributed to the personnel adjustments made by GM Glen Grunwald, but I believe the biggest change has been Carmelo Anthony's accountability and attitude in general.  When NY signed Tyson Chandler, everybody that follows the league knew that he would bring consistency on defense every single time he's on the floor.  However, the fact that the team's superstar -Carmelo - is playing with the same consistency as Tyson every night forces everyone on the team to follow suit.  Kudos to Mike Woodson for managing Carmelo's ego and bringing an infectious attitude to the locker-room.

Monday, November 19, 2012


LINSANITY? No thanks.

With the Knicks travelling to Houston this week, an intriguing story line will be the Knicks decision to let Jeremy Lin go.  When the Knicks did not match Houston's qualifying offer this past summer, fans everywhere started to panic.  Jeremy Lin took Manhattan by storm last year and kept the Knicks alive when the entire roster was crushed with injuries.  That being siad, he never gelled with Melo on the court; the Knicks could not afford to let him run the offense, and the fact that the Rockets were willing to pay him big dollars to leave NY was probably a great thing for the Knicks.  By letting Lin go and bringing in Ray Felton and Jason Kidd, GM Glen Grunwald and Coach Mike Woodson made a statement that has resonated in the Knicks’ locker room: "OUR TIME IS NOW".

Going for a Ring
Jeremy Lin didn't play in last year's playoffs because he was going for a contract and knew that he could only hurt his stock by playing and under-performing.  He claimed he wasn't ready to play, but reports surfaced that his knee was at 80% and he could have managed the pain.  It's understandable that he sat out the rest of the year; his stock was at an all-time high and he did receive a huge contract offer from Houston this off-season.  That being said, his decision to not play was a devastating blow for the Knicks that left them depleted at point guard down the stretch last season.  Felton and Kidd are playing for a championship now and they fit the personality of this team better that Lin ever could.  Lin's a young player that will experience growing pains; Kidd and Felton bring a veteran presence that know how to handle high-pressure situations (see last Wednesday in San Antonio).  

PG Efficiency
Lin does not fit the blueprint of what this team is trying to do.  The Knicks need someone that knows when to feed Melo, when to get the fast break going, and what to do in a half-court set.  Lin was able to create opportunities for himself and was great at running the pick-and-roll, but he was not the efficient quarterback that this team needs.  Felton and Kidd are true PGs that look to distribute the rock.  They make Melo the focal point of the offense, which is exactly what he should be.

Lin was a liability on defense all of last year.  He was consistently out-muscled by bigger point guards and does not fit Mike Woodson’s scheme.  Ray Felton is fast and strong enough to get over screens and play consistently on the defensive side of the ball.  The fact that he is playing with a chip on his shoulder makes him that much more tenacious.  Kidd, although he lacks the lateral quickness of a 20-something, is a defensive genius. His extraordinary awareness and vision allow him to get into passing lanes and disrupt the opposition’s flow, particularly on the fast break.

The decision to not re-sign Lin and go for the veteran tandem of Kidd and Felton may be the best personnel move of this past off-season.  The Knicks offense has been more consistent this season than it was last year, particularly in big spots.  Felton and Kidd are leaders that have the respect of veterans like Melo and Tyson Chandler, which will steer the Knicks in the right direction all year long.

Sunday, November 18, 2012



The Knicks were able to put Thursday night's beating behind them and came out composed and intense.  Over the last decade the Knicks were immature and unable to maintain focus after tough losses.  This year's camaraderie off the court has been great.  More importantly, they are buying into Woodson's philosophy and trust in each other on and off the court.  The defense - which is all effort, awareness, and teamwork - was incredible; the Pacers scored 20 or less points in 3 quarters.

The x-factors in today's game were turnovers and rebounding.  The Pacers are at the top of the league in boards per game, and the Knicks have been out-rebounded in every game prior to today despite their 6-1 record over that stretch.  New York out-rebounded the Pacers 48-47 with contributions from Carmelo, Tyson, JR, and Rasheed.  Additionally, the Knicks were +11 in the turnover margin, a key indicator of the result of the game.  Felton was especially efficient, dishing out 8 assists without turning the ball over.

Carmelo was great today; 26 points on 22 shots isn't great but he got to the line a lot and had a few second chance opportunities that he cashed in on.  He had 4 offensive rebounds and either scored or drew a foul each time.  His 40%  completion percentage is a skewed stat because he missed a few layups and got the offensive rebound before putting it back in.  Melo was 7/8 from the line and was efficient throughout the game, regardless of the stat line.

Frankly, Melo has been much more consistent all season long.  He's still getting his points, but he's also getting offensive rebounds and hockey-assists (which don't show up on the stat sheet), and is playing tough defense.  If the Knicks want to be a legit contender this spring, this is the type of ball and attitude that Melo needs to play with all year long.

The Knicks were dominant in the Garden again today.  It's been a very small sample size, but they've won by double-digits all four games at MSG this season.  The pulse of the city is awesome; the Melo trade re-energized Knicks fans and the fact that the Knicks look like they are for real is going to make Madison Square Garden a tough place for opponents to play all year long.

The Knicks get a much-needed day-off tomorrow before heading on another tough 3-game road trip.  They play in New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston between Tuesday and Friday. Knicks fans should be riding high after this 7-1 start.

*I will be coming out with my take on how Woodson should deploy STAT when he is healthy and a comparison/what-if of the Kidd/Felton vs. Lin situation this week.