1. A Night Full Of Woe For The New York Knicks
There are few for whom the storied hardwood of Madison Square Garden has served as a more incendiary stage than Kemba Walker -- UConn hero, Bronx native, bona fide Big East legend.
He just never thought he'd be playing the role of World's Greatest Villain.
Buoyed by Walker's 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds, the Bobcats outlasted the Knicks -- and overcame their own late-game snafus -- to eke out a 102-97 win Tuesday night, bringing Charlotte's record to 2-2 and sending Knick Knation into full-blown early-season panic.
After buying the game's first bucket -- a baseline jumper by Carmelo Anthony that found a friendly rim soon to disappear -- the Knicks would play catch-up the rest of the night, pulling to within a basket multiple times but never so much as knotting the score through the final 47 minutes.
For New York, the third loss in a row and second straight at home was frightening enough. But it pales in comparison to the blow the Bockers were dealt late in the first quarter, when a freak collision between a stumbling Walker and the rotating Tyson Chandler sent the Knick linchpin limping to the locker room.
Initial reports from New York's medical staff stated Chandler suffered a right leg injury. And while the resulting X-rays were deemed inconclusive, Chandler's belabored limp suggests the potential for sour news later Wednesday, when the veteran center will undergo further evaluation.
Absent their interior anchor and leading rebounder, the Knicks failed to keep the Bobcats off the glass, surrendering 16 offensive rebounds and a slew of second-chance points, many of them in the midst of would-be Knick runs. While no Charlotte player finished with double-digit rebounds, seven Bobcats registered at least five boards, with nine grabbing at least one on the offensive end.
Meanwhile, the Knick offense -- a paltry 23rd in efficiency through four games, and producer of 100 points only once -- continued to sputter and stagnate. Without Chandler's pick-and-roll presence, New York turned to the struggling Anthony, who finished with 32 points on 28 shots, most of them contested, many of them off-balance.
Metta World Peace, conscripted to heavy minutes in Chandler's absence, chipped in 18 points and six rebouds (on 7-for-13 shooting) in 32 minutes of mixed relief, while Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton tallied 14 apiece.
Entering the contest, the prevailing knock on Mike Woodson concerned the Knick skipper's insistence on pairing Anthony with Andrea Bargnani in the frontcourt. This despite mounting evidence pointing to units featuring two point guards (Felton and Pablo Prigioni especially) as New York's most effective -- and most efficient.
But big once again won out in Bockerland, and the Bobcats -- without Al Jefferson, and starting Josh McRoberts and Bismack Biyombo up front -- became the latest benefactors of the Knicks' flat-footed attack.
Ironically, it was only after Chandler's departure that the Knicks were forced into the very lineup configurations their coach has seemed hell-bent on resisting. Owing in part to limited minutes for Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire -- who looked a washed-up shell in 11 turnover-heavy minutes -- New York played its best two-way ball going small down the stretch.
But as with their previous pair of losses, it was too little, too late for the suddenly hot-seated Knicks. Following a Sunday night defeat to the Timberwolves in which New York surrendered a MSG record 42 points in the opening frame, the Knicks -- who struggled throughout to contain Charlotte's cadre of darting guards -- were once again on their heels early, falling behind by 10 at the half.
Even when they appeared poised to make a run, it was the little things -- a late rotation here, a silly foul there, botched boards -- that wound up unwinding the team in white.
Trading Bargnani, drafting the quick-triggered Tim Hardaway Jr., bringing on World Peace: These were supposed to be stopgaps. Instead, it's looking more and more like a spiraling drain, and a far cry from where the Knicks began last season: 6-0, spirits high, and with a clicking chemistry owing to a bevy of veteran voices.
The Knicks will have 72 hours to recoup and regroup ahead of Friday night's rematch in Charlotte. Two weeks ago, the game would've signified one thing and one thing only for most fans of the orange and blue: the final tilt minus J.R. Smith, currently serving a five-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Now, with Chandler's status uncertain and the team's direction in doubt, the Knicks find themselves staring down a familiar barrel, albeit six months ahead of schedule: a must-win game.
Jim Cavan's work appears regularly on Knickerblogger
2. Around The Association
MVP: Dwight Howard finished with 29 points on 13 shots, nailing nine of 12 from the stripe and grabbed 13 rebounds. All the while, he kept LaMarcus Aldridge at bay and coerced Robin Lopez into foul trouble. He was, in a word, dominant.
X factor: The free throw line. Houston was accurate on 28 of its 34 free throw attempts, allowing it to muster a proficient offensive performance despite 20 turnovers and an uncharacteristically abysmal showing from beyond the arc.
That was ... deceivingly entertaining: Despite just three lead changes and Houston's comfortable cushion throughout, this was a delightful game of runs. Portland's small-ball was intriguing and James Harden's long shots were crushing.
MVP: Monta Ellis carved up the Lakers from the opening tip. His 30 points and 9 assists look great in the box score, but his penetration resulted in defensive breakdowns and open looks for his teammates all night.
X factor: Per-minute wonder DeJuan Blair caused havoc on both ends of the floor. Despite playing only 19 minutes, he scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished four assists, had five steals and made one block.
That was ... high scoring. In what feels like a return to the early 2000s the Mavericks have become a scoring machine, putting up an average of 114 points per game, while allowing 106 through four contests.
MVP: Tony Parker was his usual Tony Parker self, navigating screens and unleashing deadly floaters, as he lead the Spurs with 24 points on 13 shots, throwing in six assists for good measure.
X factor: Timofey Mozgov fouled out of the game early in the fourth quarter, and despite putting up a pedestrian 11 and 5, he was by far Denver's most capable big on the floor as both the defense and offense cratered in his absence.
LVP: The Nuggets offense in the fourth quarter. After leading for nearly the entirety of the game, Denver submitted a fourth quarter in which it shot 4 for 19 from the field and yielded 30 points on 56.5 percent shooting to the Spurs.
MVP: Paul Millsap, who finished the night with 25 points, 11 rebounds, four dimes, four steals and a block. He also hit what was probably the pivotal shot of the game; a stepback corner 3 in the fourth quarter with the shot clock running down.
X factor: The Kings were down 17 at the start of the fourth, but little Isaiah Thomas rallied his team back to give the Hawks a game at the end. He had 26 points in the game, 18 of which came in the final period.
That was ... erratic: DeMarcus Cousins was clearly frustrated against the Hawks, with Al Horford and Millsap having their ways with him in the lane. To make matters worse for the enigmatic big man, he was sitting on the bench when the Kings made their comeback at the end of the game.
MVP: Brook Lopez. He set the tone early with his dominance down low and never looked back. He finished with 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
That was ... painful, to watch. The Jazz were crushed, troubled by their injury-plagued roster and the Nets' size. There wasn't a run made to make things a bit competitive, just a classic basketball romping.
Defining moment: Brandon Rush returned! A terrific 3-and-D wing before missing 368 days (!) of NBA ball prior to tonight, Rush looked out of sync but that's to be expected. Welcome back.
MVP: LeBron James. With 35 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, he was everywhere. His assists included three 3-pointers and a pair of shots at the rim, and his defense was its usual disruptive work.
LVP: The Raptors bench. D.J. Augustin had three turnovers, two fouls and nothing else; Tyler Hansbrough confused himself for James; Landry Fields regressed a bit from his early success. At least Terrence Ross hit some triples.
That was ... predictable. The Raptors had an early edge by playing big against Miami's small lineup (no Chris Bosh). Then they matched up, lost their rebounding edge, and James decided he wanted this game.
MVP: Paul George has been other-worldly through his first three games, but this may have been his best. It's one thing to score 31 points, but he's just spoiling fans with 10 boards, 4 assists, and 4 steals.
Defining moment: The Piston bench brought energy and pressure during a 27-9 second quarter, erasing a 15-point first-quarter deficit. However, the Pacers opened the third with a 13-3 run over the first four minutes, never looking back.
X factor: Without George Hill, the Pacers were forced to go with the point guard tandem of C.J. Watson and Donald Sloan. Watson scored 15, and Sloan added 5 key fourth-quarter points as Indiana pushed the lead to 19.
MVP: Eric Bledsoe. The Suns guard got to the rim seemingly at will in the second half, and he knocked down two free throws to ice the game in the final seconds. He scored 25 points on 12 field goal attempts and dished five assists.
That was ... unexpected: The Suns are not a big team, so to limit Anthony Davis to the tune of 17 points was surprising. Davis had his big moments on defense, but Phoenix snapped his streak of three straight games with 20+ points.
X factor: Gerald Green. With Goran Dragic missing the game due to a sprained ankle, Green entered the starting lineup and knocked down 6 triples to help bring the Suns back from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter.
MVP: The Knicks had absolutely no answer for NYC's own Kemba Walker, who routinely broke them down off the dribble to the tune of 25 points and 6 assists, including a backbreaking fadeaway jumper in the final minute.
LVP: Amar'e Stoudemire. If you're a fan of the game of basketball, it has to be painful to watch a hobbled, severely diminished STAT commit 5 turnovers in 11 minutes or bark at himself in inchoate rage.
That was ... painful: In an unruly, disjointed game, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Raymond Felton both were bloodied, Walker had a scary fall, and Tyson Chandler suffered possibly the worst injury of all -- a blow to the knee that sent him limping to the locker room.
LeBron James, Heat:
James scored a season-high 35 points as the Miami Heat beat the Toronto Raptors 104-95 without Chris Bosh. With a putback dunk at 2:31 of the first quarter, James became the fifth player in NBA history to score 10 points or more in 500 consecutive games. He also had eight rebounds and eight assists.
4. Tuesday's Worst
The New York Knicks: When you're counting on J.R. Smith's return to right the ship, the good ship Knickerbocker just might be heading toward some shoals. After a 102-97 loss the Bobcats, the Knicks are off to a 1-3 start. Get well, Tyson Chandler.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"David and I have banged heads a couple times, [but] the truth be told, David Stern made me. Nobody knew who Mark Cuban was until he started fining the hell out of me and sent me to work at Dairy Queen. So he made my job of selling tickets a lot easier."
-- Mark Cuban, the oft-fined Dallas Mavericks owner, now appreciating the David Stern era as it approaches its end.
8. Last Of The Unbeatens
9. Stat Check
Monta Ellis scored 30 points, made 11 of 14 shots from the field (.786) and handed out nine assists in the Mavericks' victory over the Lakers. The last player with that many points and assists while shooting that high a percentage from the field in a game against the Lakers was Wilt Chamberlain on March 18, 1968. Wilt scored 53 points, handed out 14 assists and shot 24-for-29 from the field (.828) for the 76ers in a 158-128 victory.
10. TrueHoop TV