The New York Knicks have played two early-afternoon weekend home games thus far this season — a 12 p.m. ET tipoff against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, Nov. 10, and another noon Sunday start on Dec. 8 against the Boston Celtics. The matinees were the worst losses of the Knicks' very disappointing season to date; they lost the two games by a combined 72 points. Not to get all Statrick Ewing on you, but that's a lot of points.
The losses featured multiple common elements, including awful New York shooting (37.8 percent against San Antonio, 34.2 percent against Boston), a total hammering on the boards (the Spurs outrebounded the Knicks by 18, the Celtics by 20) and woeful Knicks defensive rotations leading to wide open 3-pointers (San Antonio went 12 for 28 from deep, Boston went 14 for 25). Perhaps the biggest shared issue, though, was the Knicks' slow-motion start. It took New York nearly five minutes to notch a second made basket against the Spurs, and nearly nine minutes to register a second bucket against the Celtics. San Antonio scored the first 10 points of their game, while Boston scored the first 12. San Antonio led by 14 midway through the first quarter, Boston by 17; San Antonio led by 18 after the first quarter, Boston by 23. The Knicks have seemed downright comatose in the early stages of these early games, graciously giving their guests whatever they've wanted and looking too tired to take anything of their own until it's too late and the boos are cascading down from the rafters of Madison Square Garden.
Why, exactly, the Knicks have been so sluggish on those early Sundays remains unclear. Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has said in the past that he's spoken to his players about not staying out late before early games, and that he hoped his professional charges would do no such thing. If they had trouble with that, he joked (?), he might shake things up:
Woodson says, maybe jokingly, he could consider putting the team in a hotel the night before early home games to make sure team is prepared.
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
Evidently, that was not a joke. From Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:
Taking no chances after the last two noon games the Knicks played at home resulted in their two most lopsided losses of the season, endangered coach Mike Woodson planned to have the entire team holed up together at an area hotel Friday night before Saturday’s 12 p.m. against [the Memphis Grizzlies] at the Garden.
“Yeah, we’ve had those troubles and you know, we’re going to all get together tonight and huddle together,” Woodson said after practice Friday in Greenburgh. “I’m not going to let them hang out.
“We’re going to all get together, ourselves, as a team.”
Asked if he felt the need to “babysit” his players [...] Woodson replied, “Well, we’re going to be together. Put it that way.” [...]
“I don’t know why we’ve gotten off to such bad starts and hadn’t played well. I don’t think it’s anything of guys hanging out. I don’t know why that is. But we’re going to do something a little different this time, see if it helps.”
"All get together tonight and huddle together." You mean, like when your high school team travels really far for an away game, and the coaches come around to make sure nobody's screwing around? From Newsday's Al Iannazzone:
The Knicks [will spend] the night in a hotel and Woodson instituted somewhat of a curfew. When's bedtime?
"I think 10," Carmelo Anthony said smiling. "That's what I'm hearing." [...]
(See, Iannazzone says that 'Melo smiled, which makes me think this is a joke, but I thought that Woodson thing from before was a joke, and it totally isn't. Congratulations, Knicks: You've found yet another way to confuse and confound me.)
I'm not too sure whether Woodson's tried a curfew before, but the Knicks apparently have gone to this "tourist in your hometown" approach before:
#Knicks stayed in a hotel before the noon tip against Boston. They did not before the noon tip vs. San Antonio. Take from that what you will
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) December 20, 2013
Well, considering the outcomes achieved by the disparate preparation styles, I guess what I'll take from it is, "The Knicks are doomed either way."
For his part, Anthony doesn't seem to put a whole lot of stock in the notion that where you sleep the night before a game dictates how you play during it, according to Botte:
“It’s just a matter of us coming out the gate and establish that early. I don’t think it has anything to do with us staying in a hotel or not. That’s what Coach wants to do and we’re going to do it.” [...]
“We want to come out the gates, establish the tempo, establish the style of game we want to play. We want to win. That’s the goal, to get back winning on our home court,” Anthony said. “I think it’s a mental thing. When you have them early morning games you start thinking too much. Should you go to sleep early? Should you get this amount of rest? I think it’s all mental.
“Besides it being an early ass game, I think it’s all mental at that point.”
It remains to be seen whether the Knicks will deploy Anthony's chosen branding going forward; I mean, I think "Knicks Face Grizzlies in Saturday Early-Ass Game on MSG" has a real ring to it, but the suits upstairs might be a little too conservative for all that.
Anthony's feelings on the mental challenge of getting ready for early-afternoon tip-offs echo the take Doc Rivers offered while coaching the Celtics last season, according to ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg:
"As a coach, I love [early-afternoon games] — not because of the game, because it gives you a ton of time after the game to prepare for the next game," said Rivers [...] "But as a player, I never liked them. They just come too quick. Most players are creatures of habit. And it just takes you out of your routine. I think this is our only one this year, so that's the good news." [...]
"I never liked them, but we had a lot of them. You always thought — during an afternoon game as a player — if you're playing great, then you loved it that day. But if you're playing poorly, you thought it was very difficult to pull yourself out of it. You haven't had your normal mental preparation to get ready for a game. It felt like when you start struggling in an early game, you couldn't just pull yourself out of it."
The Knicks have certainly shown that in their first two matinee tips this season. Whether a seriously depleted Grizzlies team — one expected to welcome back injured point guard Mike Conley, but that's still dealing with injuries to center Marc Gasol (sprained MCL), swingman Quincy Pondexter (broken foot) and small forward Tayshaun Prince (sore left knee) — can follow in the footsteps of San Antonio and Boston to force New York into a third straight bout with quicksand remains to be seen.
Sleep well, Knicks. And don't go ordering any weird movies from the Spectravision. They'll show up on the bill.
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