-The Knicks team bus arrived about 15 minutes late so while standing in the hall I saw former Washington Wizards forward Jared Jeffries. Jeffries is currently out with a left leg injury, but that did not damper his spirits at all. There were at least 15-20 people in the hallway before he could get to the locker room and he shook the hand of each and every person and said hello to everyone including me. After he ducked into the locker room some members of the New York media commented that Jared is always that classy and they love talking to him. I could certainly see why.
– I saw Stephon Marbury walk in just behind Jared Jeffries before the game and it is as if he is a ghost. None of the players were talking to him, he had his headphones on, and even after the game, he mainly stayed by himself until it was time to head to the bus. It is definitely an odd situation right now with Starbury, and I don’t see how the Knicks can go the entire season without playing or trading him.
-Prior to the game, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni mentioned that Wilson Chandler would start, not David Lee. He mentioned that Chandler matched up better with the Wizards’ power forward Antawn Jamison. Chandler responded by scoring 17 points tonight. When D’Antoni was asked about what Chandler’s best position was, D’Antoni said, “To be honest with you, I just like him on the floor, I don’t care where he plays.”
-Spoke to Mike D’Antoni twice before the game, and he mentioned that for now Chris Duhon will be the starting point guard because he likes how Duhon controls the game at the start while he likes Nate Robinson coming off the bench because of the energy he brings to the floor. I asked D’Antoni who he would play in crunch time and he said the flow of the game would would dictate that. He also stressed that this would be the arrangement for now, but he wasn’t against switching the lineup around if the team got in a slump or if it was crystal clear Robinson was better. He didn’t think that was the case right now. He added that in some instances, he would consider playing Duhon and Robinson at the same time, and during several moments during tonight’s game they did just that. Duhon looked to pass first, then shoot, and he did that by scoring seven points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out 12 assists with zero turnovers. Robinson looked to score a bit more, and he did just that by putting up 17 points with six assists of his own.
– In his pre-game press conference, Wizards’ coach Eddie Jordan said that he wasn’t worried about his team’s horrid free throw shooting in the previous game. He said it was an anomaly that happens sometimes in basketball but not a major concern. He also said that Wizards center Etan Thomas’ ankle had healed enough for him to start this evening. Coach Jordan mentioned that he would monitor his starters carefully and if their was any substandard play, he would not hesitate to put substitute. When DeShawn Stevenson, Antonio Daniels and Etan Thomas struggled during the game, Coach Jordan put Nick Young, Juan Dixon and JaVale McGee in to take their place.
– Coach Jordan mentioned before the game that the run and gun style of the Knicks presented matchup problems for the Wizards because they shoot quickly and from any and all angles. He said getting back on defense is a must, as is contesting all shots. With the exception of a few blocked shots from Andray Blatche and McGee, the Wizards defense was non-existent. The Knicks scored 64 points in the first half and they gave up 114 points total, their second highest total in this young season. There were numerous instances when one of the Knicks would have a wide open shot and they would have time to set and look at their feet and then shoot the ball before a Wizards player even got close to them.
– I got a chance to meet Madison Square Garden Network and CBS March Madness announcer Gus Johnson before the game. Even when he isn’t in front of the camera or on the radio, his voice is still full and gregarious mode even behind the scenes. He gave me a hard time about going to Hampton University, and not Howard University, his alma mater. He also wished me luck in my first year of covering the Wizards, and he left me with a bid of advice, which was “to look alive out there.”
– Although Coach Jordan said he was healthy, Etan Thomas seemed to be struggling on both ends of the floor. One the offensive end, he was slow to make his move in the low post, and on the defensive end of the floor, he could not keep up with the quicker Zach Randolph. Although he started both halves, he only played 13 minutes, and he scored six points and grabbed two rebounds. McGee and Blatche picked up the slack.
– Speaking of McGee, tonight was his official coming out party despite the loss. He played a season-high 29 minutes, scored 12 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots. He was slow to rotate defensively on a couple of occasions, he missed two early alley-oops and was called for goaltending on both ends of the floor. Those mistakes were minor details on this evening. The two alley-oops he did convert on brought the entire Verizon Center to its feet and McGee himself was visibly pumped up. The more time McGee gets on the floor, the more confident he seems to get. He is still susceptible to head fakes because of his eagerness to block all the shots that come his way, but he’ll get the timing down with more playing time.
– Andray Blatche had yet another erratic game tonight. In the first half he showed why the Wizards are so high on him with 7 points, 2 assists and 3 rebounds and he did a great job at letting the game come to him. In the second half, he forced bad passes, did not run the offense as effectively, and he just seemed two steps behind. After playing nine minutes in the first half, Blatche only saw four minutes of action in the second half.
– Nick Young continues to be the surprise of this young season. He scored 16 points, got his shot off at will and he even brought the ball up the court a few times. While DeShawn Stevenson played sluggish all evening, Young was the complete opposite and I would not be surprised to see Young getting more of Stevenson’s minutes in future. “I’m getting more confident (each time I get in the game),” Young said after the game. “I’m just trying to stay reliable for them. I just want to keep them having trust in me and keep putting me out there.”
– Guard Juan Dixon has improved his ball handling exponentially since ’05 when he was last with the Wizards. Back then, Dixon was not at all confident bringing the ball up the floor and when opposing guards would pressure him he would turn the ball over, pick his dribble up prematurely or shoot a bad shot. Tonight, Dixon handled the defensive pressure from Robinson and Duhon, and he unleashed a series of perfectly timed passes. He only scored five points but he had 11 assists and eight rebounds, and he played particularly well with Young and McGee. When asked about this after the game Dixon told the media, ““We’ve been playing with each other since preseason and we’ve gotten really familiar with each other. I know what JaVale (McGee) likes to do; when he picks, he’s going right to the rim. He is very athletic and long. With Nick, I can just give him the ball in certain spots and let him go to work.”
-The Knicks look much more cohesive and organized this year under D’Antoni. The season is still very young but already the roles are defined. Jamal Crawford, Robinson and Duhon handle ball handling duties, Randolph and David Lee man the paint area, and Quentin Richardson and Wilson Chandler play inside and out. When Jeffries comes back they will be even more potent. Their defense is not very strong, but if they can score 114 points every night, much like D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns’ teams used to do, it won’t matter.
-Zach Randolph will easily averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds this season. Tonight he scored 22 points, snagged 13 rebounds and blocked two shots, and as Marv Albert would say, “he showed the full repertoire.” He hit a three-pointer, he hit mid-range jumpers and he had powerful moves when he got the ball on the block. No one on the Wizards could stop him.
– The Wizards’ most effective lineup this evening was Dixon at the point, Young at the shooting guard, Butler at small forward, Jamison at power forward and McGee in the middle. It will be interesting to see if this becomes Coach Jordan’s new starting five over the next few games.
– Butler played like a man possessed all night and he was the only starter who Coach Jordan seemed to be pleased with. From the opening tip, Butler was looking for his shot inside and out, no matter which Knick was guarding him. He finished with 30 points and seven rebounds, and it looks like if the Wizards are going to be in contention he will need to produce numbers like this on a nightly basis.
– This is the second consecutive year that the Wizards opened the season with four straight losses and clearly the fans are getting restless. They started booing with about two minutes left in the game and they did not stop until the final buzzer. As folks filed out of the arena, they longer for Gilbert Arenas return, they wanted more court time for Young and Dixon, and some openly questioned why Coach Jordan had not been fired. Things do not get any easier for the Wizards, as they play Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic on the road tonight then they come back home next Wednesday to take on the always tough Utah Jazz.
– I spoke to former Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks guard Allan Houston after the game. Earlier that day he had been given the front office job of “Assistant to the President,” which will have him working closely with Donnie Walsh as well as the other Knick players. I asked him if he was officially retired, he reluctantly said yes, and that he was always going to enjoy the game and feel like he could get back out there. I also asked him if he was interested in coaching at all and he said given the fact that he has five kids and one on the way, that he really didn’t himself being away from his family that much and putting in the necessary time. In his role as “Assistant to the President” he can spend time with the family, and still be an asset to the team. Like Jefferies, Houston is very much a class act.