5 thoughts on the loss:
1. It seems to always come back to this one word: defense. You can go 10 games averaging 109 points per game and shooting 49% from the field and 42% from three-point range – just as the Knicks have – and if you don’t play defense, all of it is rendered useless.
The Knicks defense has been a major issue over the past month, but what’s strange is that it isn’t about how well teams shoot against them or even shoot the three. The numbers say the Knicks are a top-10 team in three-point defense, but yet they seem to give up an awful lot of uncontested threes.
The numbers say they block a lot of shots, too. In fact, over the last 10 games, the Knicks have averaged 7.3 blocks per game, which is the best in the NBA over that span.
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So what is it?
How did they go from a team that spent most of the first half of the season in the top-15 in the NBA in several defensive categories to a team that is giving up over 113 points per game despite mediocre shooting (46.6% over the last 10, 34.6% from three over the last 10) by opponents?
Courtney Lee talked about accountability and how the players need to police themselves on the court. That points to an issue involving a word we hear a lot at this point in the season from poor defensive teams: trust. It could be trust in the help defense, trust in the effort and trust in the system.
Jeff Hornacek continually points to a different emotion: desire. Hornacek often laments a lack of intensity or determination on the defensive end. That points to a few numbers that really jump off the page when you try to find a statistical explanation for the Knicks’ troubles on defense.
For most of this season, the Knicks have been one of the top rebounding teams in the league. One of the most overlooked aspects of a good defense is what comes at the end of most defensive stops: the rebound. But if you don’t get the rebound, a team gets extra possessions. Over the last 10 games, the Knicks have allowed opponents 12.1 offensive rebounds per game, which is the second-highest rate in the league over that span.
That produces 16.1 second-chance points per game, which is the highest in the league over the last 10 games.
Now here’s what Hornacek has to figure out: is this issue on the defensive glass and the resulting second-chance points a product of small-ball lineups? Poor positioning? Simply a lack of effort?
As you look back over the last three weeks of games, ask yourself how many times you noticed the opponent getting to a loose ball or a long rebound.
2. Another issue has been an issue all season: turnovers.
In this game, the Knicks had 17 turnovers and gave up 23 points off those turnovers. They had 9 turnovers in the first half that turned into 14 points for the Lakers.
So when you marvel at how many points the Knicks allowed in this game — a season-high 127 — you realize 23 of them came off self-inflicted wounds.
This is a serious issue. An offense that generates as much scoring as the Knicks offense does is undone by so many ill-advised or poor passes. The film doesn’t lie. On the season the Knicks are averaging 15.4 turnovers per game, which is the 8th most in the NBA. They allow 18.1 points off turnovers per game, which is the sixth-highest rate in the league.
Guards often get the blame for turnovers because they have the ball most of the time and run the offense. Frank Ntilikina (3.3) and Jarrett Jack combined average 6.0 turnovers per 36 minutes.
But it’s not always them. Against the Lakers, Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn each had four turnovers, which means 8 of the 17 came from your centers.
Just like offensive rebounds, these turnovers lead to more possessions for your opponent and less for you. That’s how you shoot 49% over a 10 game stretch and lose seven of them.
3. Let’s dive into a third issue that needs to be fixed: closing out quarters. We talked about this on a recent Knicks Fix segment during the pregame show on MSG Network and it isn’t exclusive to the second quarter, though that has mostly been the problem area.
For the Knicks, late in quarters seems to be a time when they soften up. We’ve seen it far too often this season and it happened again against the Lakers. The Knicks came out for the second half on fire from downtown, as they drained six of their first seven attempts from three and turned a four-point halftime deficit into an 84-78 lead with 7:28 left in the third. They were up by two with about five minutes left in the quarter when Tim Hardaway Jr. had to go to the bench because of his minutes restriction and the game seemed to change at that point. The Knicks last held a lead at 89-87 with 4:29 left on a Courtney Lee three.
The Lakers closed the quarter on a 10-0 run. The Knicks missed six shots and had three turnovers on their final nine possessions of the quarter.
Just like that, they were down 9 and had to chase. Unfortunately, their easy time on offense ended when the Lakers started locking down on defense.
The Knicks went on to make just 9 of their last 26 attempts from the field after shooting over 60% for most of the first three quarters.
4. It’s no secret the Lakers plan to make a huge splash in free agency this summer, with names such as Paul George and even LeBron James linked as possible targets. So with the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaching and the Lakers headed for the lottery, there is talk the franchise wants to clear out some contracts to create as much salary cap space as possible.
That reportedly includes 25-year-old Jordan Clarkson, who put up 29 points on the Knicks after posting 33 points against the Pacers.
What kind of value does Clarkson have on the trade market? You would think plenty. He’s still young and has already proven he can be a big-time scorer while playing either guard position. At 6-foot-3, he projects to be more of a point guard, but in today’s NBA that isn’t what it used to be.
Clarkson is a decent enough shooter at 45% but can be erratic from three (33.5%). He has great size and athleticism. He’s also under contract for another two seasons after this one after he signed a four-year, $50 million deal in 2016.
5. Enes Kanter loves living in New York and the stardom that it brings, but he seems to love even more his role on social media as the official thorn in the side of LeBron James.
Kanter’s most recent post apparently has again gotten under the skin of The King.
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) January 20, 2018
The 148 is in reference to the number of points LeBron and the Cavs gave up to the Thunder, Kanter’s former team, on Saturday.
After giving up 127 to the Lakers, Kanter revealed that a former Thunder teammate relayed a message to him, from LeBron, that he’s looking forward to the home-and-home with the Knicks to end the season.
“You’re about to get 50 dropped on you, boy,” Kanter said the ex-teammate told him.
The Cavs are having major issues right now, but they expect to have clinched a playoff spot by Game 81 or 82. Generally, you would expect LeBron to sit out one of those games or, at least, play sparingly, in those situations.
But if this keeps up, LeBron may be more than willing to suit up just to play the Knicks, who hope to be contending for a playoff spot at that time.
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