he True Fans Bleed Blue and Orange: December 2006h

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Knicks Head West With Chance to Inch Closer to Raptors

The Past:
It's been quite awhile since the Knicks have had a five game stretch like the one the Knicks just lived through. The Knicks were up against the Utah Jazz, the third best team in the West, with only eight players, following the infamous brawl. Much like I said in my article, the Knicks pulled together for a heart-filled overtime victory against the Jazz. Next the Bobcats came to town. The Cats were without two of their better players, point guard Brevin Knight and forward Sean May, but nevertheless the Knicks were equally short-handed and after a miraculous David Lee tip-in the Knicks won their second straight game. Next came the surging Bulls. The Bulls had won five straight games and 12 of their last 13 heading to the Garden, which is why the Knicks's eleven point victory was that much sweeter. The Knicks then hit a brick wall against the 76ers who were energized because it was newly acquired point guard Andre Miller's first game as a 76er. On top of that the Knicks were more than winded playing their fourth straight game with 8-9 players, and the 76er game was the second of a back-to-back. So, as Walt Clyde Frazier said we should just "86" that game, and not worry about the negatives and look onward. Onward came another surging team, the Detroit Pistons. Then again, the Pistons are always surging. Anyways, the Pistons had won five straight games, and seven of eight. However, these new Knicks found the Knack against the Pistons, and would not quit. Showing hard work and hustle that would of made the 90's teams proud. After an incredible triple overtime game the Knicks came out victorious, and had their confidence as high as the sky. Now that the Knicks have solved their home trouble (winning seven of their last ten games at "the mecca") they will go back to the road for five games, which was the only place the team could buy a win the first month of the year.

Upcoming games:

The Suns, Clippers, and Kings highlight the next five games, along with Portland and the Sonics. I will preview the next three games right now, and the final two games following the completion of the first three games. This is because I don't want to leave my readers without new posts for nearly 10 days, and news changes and some information may be wrong by the time the fourth and fifth games come. Lets start with the Suns.

The Suns look to be an elite team this season, recently ending a franchise best 15 game winning streak, and with the best offense this league has seen in awhile the Suns are always a threat to win. But since the Suns are such a threat with their run and gun offense they also threaten themselves during back-to-back stretches. The Suns record during the second of back-to-back games is a mediocre 3-3, and they also score a handful of points less than they normally do. As you might of guessed by now, the Suns played Thursday night against the Mavericks. A shockingly similar game the Pistons played against the Nets the night before the Knicks played Detroit. The Suns lost by two to the Mavs in the final seconds, and left heart-broken. Leaving the perfect chance for the Knicks to strike. However, the loss can backfire and anger the Suns, and force them to take out their anger on the Knickerbockers.

Next up the Knicks will play the struggling Clippers. A Clippers team that has been rumored to be moving GF (no not girlfriend) Corey Maggette to the Kings (a team the Knicks will later play) for Ron Artest, which can't be good for team chemistry. To boot veteran point guard Sam Cassell is declining and will most likely miss the game, as Shaun Livingston continues to prosper in Cassell's place. The Clippers, a marvelous story last season, outplaying the Lakers, have been lackluster this season. With a record of 12-16 and in last place the Clippers are searching for answers. The Clippers score only 95.5 points a game (18th in the league), compared to the Knicks' 100.1 points a game bodes well for the Knicks. The Knicks allow about two points higher than they average, while the Clippers allow three more points. 11 of the Clippers 16 losses this season have come when the opposing team scores over 100 points. Of the 12 games all season when their opponent scores over 100 points the Clippers have won only once. Showing that the Clippers need to play defense and can't afford to get into a shooting contest. Proving to me that the Knicks need to run and gun and tire out the Clippers early, and run up the score. The Knicks are very good at high scoring games, considering on average both teams in their games score over 100 points. One thing working against the Knicks is the Clippers struggles have mainly come on the road, as shown by their dreadful 2-10 record. However, the have played well at home to the tune of a 10-6 record.

Thirdly the Kings will be facing the Knicks for the first time this season with the "new" leather ball. In what promises to be a sloppy game the Knicks will play the Kings who are lead by Kevin Martin. Martin leads the team in points, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and three point percentage. Martin's 21.7 points per game makes him one of the better young players in the league, however the Kings seem to depend on him a bit too much. When Martin scores 15 points or less in a game they are 2-5 (counting one game where he did not play), compared to their 10-9 record when Martin does play. The Knicks will need to focus on stopping the 23 year old. However the Kings have other options with point guard Mike Bibby and flamehead Ron Artest. Bibby is averaging 16.5 points a game and 6.0 assists, and whenever Bibby scores 20+ points the team is an impressive 6-2. As I mentioned earlier Artest is reportedly unhappy in Sacramento, and Corey Maggette may be there by the time the Knicks arrive, but right now Artest is still on the Kings, which makes them a much more complete team. Artest's lock down defense will shut down whoever the Knicks have at small forward, which may make it a good idea to start Jared Jeffries, even if Quentin Richardson is healthy. The Kings have lost nine of their last thirteen games, and are struggling to find the identity that pushed them into the playoffs and into a surprisingly competitive series with the Spurs from last season.

What will the Knicks need to do:

As for the next three games the Knicks will need to win at least one game, which is easily in the realm of possibility. However, it is more than possible to win 2-3 games and head Seattle and Portland with high heads. Nevertheless, the Knicks will need to survive the harder three games with their heads held high, and still within reach of the Raptors. As for the Raptors during the three game stretch the Raptors will play only twice, against the Bulls at home on Friday and against the lowly Grizzlies on Saturday in Memphis. However, the Grizzlies are now a better team with Pau Gasol, and usually when a coach is fired a team gains a small spark and plays better for their new coach for a few games until reality sets in. One can only hope.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Marbury's buzzer beater should lift the Knicks

As the world knows by now, there was a brawl at the Knicks-Nuggets game on Saturday night, leaving the Knicks with four suspended players. Combined with an injured Steve Francis and Quentin Richardson, the Knicks were left with only eight players available for Monday night's game against the team with the second best record in the NBA, the Utah Jazz. 41 minutes of terrific defense (it wasn't too good in the first quarter) and Stephon Marbury domination later the Knicks are victorious. Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford were the only two true guards available for the game, although Renaldo Balkman played a little guard, but only when Crawford or Marbury were sitting. Combined the two guards played 88 minutes in the 53 minute game. Crawford struggled mightily from the field in the game, but Marbury had his second straight terrific game. With season highs in rebounds (five) and in free throws made (nine) to go along with his 29 points, and eight assists. However, Marbury had the two biggest points of the game, a layup with time expiring, after running full court after a jumper that gave the Jazz a one point lead with 3.0 seconds remaining. Marbury's buzzer beater was the first true buzzer beater in his career, and capped off a terrific night for him. Marbury has been vilified by the fans this season, and this was his second straight game where he heard cheers.

The Knicks haven't beaten a team all season that figures to make some noise in the playoffs, with the exception of Cavaliers, who didn't have Larry Hughes, the team's best defender and third scoring option, at the time. The Jazz were 5-2 in the month of December before the loss, and the Knicks showed themselves that they can compete with the better teams in the league. In fact, the Utah Jazz were a remarkable 16-2 whenever Carlos Boozer recorded a double-double, and he had 23 points and 10 rebounds in the victory. The team's inspiring victory, despite the injuries and suspensions should raise the spirits of the Knicks, and the run that we have all been waiting for may be coming.

Upcoming games:
With the Charrlote Bobcats coming in on Wednesday, and a good but beatable team in Chicago coming in on Friday the Knicks have a chance to do some damage. The Bobcats are going to be without sophomore Sean May, who was averaging 17 points and 7 boards in only 25 minutes for the month of December. In addition, super-assist man, Brevin Knight, will miss his second straight game. Knight was averaging nearly a double-double in December with 9.0 assists and 10.0 points a game. The Bobcats are 1-5 without Knight this season. The Bobcats averaged 18.2 assists per game (counting a game where Knight left after ten minutes) in Knight's five missed games this year, while averaging 21.6 assists with him in the lineup. With Knight and May out expect the Knicks to come out strong, and playing hard right away. The Bobcats are 2-8 on the road.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have been on a tear ever since their home and home series against the Knicks. Including that series the Bulls are 11-1, with a game against the Lakers pending tonight. However, only three of those wins came at home, and the Knicks will be home against the Bulls. Chris Duhon has been battling a thigh injury and he missed one game, but he is playing against the Lakers tonight. Meanwhile, P.J. Brown has been complaining about his time in Chicago. Also, Brown has suffered from plantar fascia, the same injury that plagued Jerome James earlier this season, and Jalen Rose last season. The Bulls have many threats at the guard position so it is hard to prepare for their team, because if one guard has an off night the other two may light up your team for 30-40 points. The Knicks will need to compete with the Bulls good shooting and enthusiastic play in order to pull out a victory.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Reaction to Brawl

By now everyone has heard about the Knicks and Nuggets brawl during Saturday night's blowout loss. Down by 19 points with a little over a minute remaining Mardy Collins committed his second flagrant foul is as many days, and after some shoving and pushing JR Smith and Nate Robinson fell into the first row swinging wildly at each other. After those two were separated and all peace seemed to be restored Carmelo Anthony cheap shotted Mardy Collins, causing Jared Jeffries to chase after Anthony like a madman. Reminiscent of Joe McEwing and Mike Piazza during the infamous basebrawl between the Mets and Dodgers in a spring training game in 2003.

Now that Anthony's cheap shot has been shown nation wide, it's time to settle down, and think how this affects the Knicks. Despite the fact that all ten players on the floor were ejected it is very doubftul that all ten players will be suspended. Nate Robinson, Mardy Collins, Carmelo Anthony, and JR Smith will all definitley get suspensions. Jeffries may receive a suspension, although Jeffries was merely protecting his teammate after the sucker punch, and I would be against a suspension for Jeffries.

Jeffries' suspension will probably be the smallest suspension of the five players. Collins will probably get the next smallest suspension considering he didn't do much after the flagrant foul, and Smith was the one who escalated the problem. I could see Jeffries getting 1-3 games, with Collins getting 5-8 games (not that his presence on the team will be missed much). Nate Robinson and JR Smith will most likely get mildly long suspensions of around 10 games or so, which will hurt the Nuggets more than the Knicks, seeing as Smith is the Nuggets second best scorer and best three point shooter. Meanwhile, the league is most likely to come down hardest on Carmelo Anthony. Despite his public apology Anthony is a top three player in the league, and the league will should use him as an example to all stars that they are not above the game. I can see Anthony receiving anywhere from 15-20 games, which could kill Denver's season.

The Knicks, on the other hand, should rally around this brawl. Jared Jeffries showed the true value of teamwork, putting himself in harms way, three folds. One, he was running to Denver's bench to attack Anthony, and if he didn't get knocked over likely would of been up against the entire Nuggets team. Two, he will receive a fine for the brawl, as will a lot of players. Three, he'll un-rightfully get suspended by the league, which will cost him games and minutes after he just came back from his injury. Teamwork is the way to success, and this brawl could also spark an "us against the world" motto for the team. A motto that fits perfectly for players who had little growing up, most notably Stephon Marbury, and coach Isiah Thomas.

This brawl has Pistons-Pacers all over it. In the aftermath of the crazy 2004 brawl the two teams took two opposite paths to be where they are today. The Pistons went on to play in the championships against the Spurs, and make it to the Eastern Conference finals last season. On the other hand, the Pacers have been on a consistent downfall since the 2004 brawl. Despite making the playoffs even after all of the suspensions the Pacers lost in the second round of the playoffs. Ending Reggie Miller's career. With Miller gone Pacers entered 2005-2006 looking for revenge against the league with an apparently changed Ron Artest. However, it turned out to be the same Artest who, a few games into the season, requested some time off from the team to work on promoting his album. The Pacers would later trade Artest for Peja Stojakovic, Stojakovic left in the off-season for free agency. The Pacers were eliminated in the first round, after finishing exactly at .500 for the NBA regular season. Enter this season the Pacers will likely finish around the .500 mark for the third straight season, a remarkable collapse considering this team won 61 games the season prior to the brawl.

As clearly shown above the Nuggets and the Knicks have one of two paths to take. One of victory or one of decline. Considering the Nuggets will most likely receive the worst of the suspensions, and tarnish their top two player's images I would think the Nuggets will be in for the worst future, in terms of where they are now, and the direction the team was heading before the brawl. The Knicks can't get much worse and they have no choice but to rally around this event, and it is up to Isiah to save his job and use this unfortunate circumstance as a positive.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mets non-tender Victor Zambrano

The Victor Zambrano era has officially come to an end. Exactly 864 days and 8 hours (approx. depending on when you read this) later the Mets have rid themselves of Victor Zambrano. Zambrano was the last and main mistake made by former-Met and current Baltimore Oriole GM, Jim Duquette. On July 31st, 2004 the Mets dealt one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, in Scott Kazmir for 29 year old Victor Zambrano, a former minor league catcher whose career era at the time was 4.47 and he owned a 35-27 career record. Considering he played for the lowly D-Rays 35-27 was pretty darn good. Once Zambrano arrived it was leaked that Rick Peterson claimed that Zambrano had a mechanical issue which was causing his control problems, and that Peterson could fix him in "ten minutes". The same infamous quote that is now used whenever Zambrano's name is mentioned in a conversation.

Three starts into his Mets career Zambrano is finished for the rest of the 2004 season. So a pitcher who was supposed to complete the Mets rotation, and help the Mets make it to the playoffs barely pitched for them. It later came out that Duquette was told about Zambrano's balky shoulder. That same season a 20 year old Scott Kazmir made his major league debut, and pitched in nearly three times as many games for the D-Rays as Zambrano did for the Mets.

Then 2005 came around and Victor Zambrano and Scott Kazmir were both in their team's rotations to start the season. By the end of the year Zambrano had lost his starting job (he finished the year with a 4.17 era which isn't terrible, but he was maddening to watch and the Mets had other options), and Scott Kazmir had out-pitched Zambrano to the tune of a 3.77 era in 186 innings pitched and 174 strikeouts.

Then came 2006. Victor Zambrano was dreadful throughout. His 6.75 season era is painful to type, much less watch. What's worse was Zambrano walked eleven batters all sason, and struck out only 15, a terrible ratio. Zambrano finished with only five games appeared in all season after running off of the field in his fifth start after throwing a nasty pitch to strike out Andruw Jones. Then Scott Kazmir took over the league. Not only did Kazmir become the all-time k's leader in Devil Rays history (pretty said, huh?), but he pitched to a 3.24 era with 163 strikeouts in 144.2 innings pitched. The era and the strikeout totals would have led the Mets pitching staff by far. Kazmir solidified himself as a future in major league baseball, while Zambrano solidified himself as a fixture of jokes from Mets fans.

The Mets dealt Kazmir citing that they didn't believe his body would hold up over the years, and so far they have been right. Despite having a terrific season Kazmir was on the DL twice and made only 24 starts. So, so far, the Mets were right to deal Kazmir, just not for the pieces they received.

Now that the Zambrano era is officially over Scott Kazmir's name will only be mentioned when the prospect of dealing top notch minor leaguers, like Lastings Milledge, comes to fruition.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Knicks Notes

On Saturday night Eddy Curry had the biggest and best game of his career, shooting 71% from the floor, and scoring 36 points. Curry left the game in the final seconds to the chants "Eddy, Eddy, Eddy," and, as someone who was at the game, and chanting along with the crowd, Curry has officially gotten on the Knicks' fan's good side. However, Stephon Marbury, one of the most hated (and loved) Knicks left the game early with an apparent arm injury.

Sitting in the stands I noticed Marbury's injury before the coaching staff even did, and I did not know if it was an injury worth mentioning or not. Until Mardy Collins entered the game in the fourth quarter to give Nate Robinson a breather, so the Isiah Thomas could talk to him. With Jamal Crawford, Nate, and Quentin Richardson all in the game Mardy Collins was the only other guard on the bench, which showed me Marbury's injury was serious enough for him to be inactive for the rest of the game. This all coming on Marbury's best night passing the ball (9 assists and 1 turnover in 23 minutes), despite Marbury's 2 points, and 2 missed free-throws on 2 attempts.

Later that night it became apparent that Marbury had a right arm contusion, and he was only day-to-day. No matter how many Knicks fans want to see Marbury dumped for a sack of potatoes the Knicks need him to play like he is capable of for them to go anywhere this season. Even though the Knicks wound up winning the game against the Bucks, Marbury is still one of their most talented players, and he has played better of late. As for the injury he suffered the North Jersey Media reports that Marbury will most likely play against the Boston Celtics on Monday.

Jared Jeffries is also expected to make his season debut against the fourth place Celtics, who beat the first place Nets on Saturday, fueled off of Al Jefferson's 29 points, and Paul Pierce's buzzer beater. Wally Szczerbiak, who has averaged 18 points against the Knicks in Knicks-Celtics games this year, is listed as doubftul.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jeffries to play tonight?

According to the New York Post Jared Jeffries may make his season debut tonight against the Bucks. If Jeffries does not return against the Bucks, he will most likely play against the Celtics on Monday. Once the 24 year old returns David Lee may move to the bench, where Isiah Thomas says that he can return as a candidate for the "sixth man of the year". However, with Steve Francis' recent injury I wonder if Crawford will be playing shooting guard if Isiah will make the inevitable move of Quentin Richardson at shooting guard, and Jeffries at small forward.

Jeffries, who was hurt in a pre-season game taking an offensive foul, will be the Knicks best defender. Jeffries' defensive versatillity makes him a very imporant factor for the Knicks.

Eddy Curry has ditched the braids, at least for a few days he has. At yesterday's practice the 24 year old center sported an afro, much to the chagrine of Curry's teammates. Curry quickly earned the nickname "Buckwheat" (shown left), and Isiah Thomas joked that if Curry wasn't playing so well they may have to make a rule against his hair. It's good to see that the Knicks are still loose and having fun in practice, despite their recent struggles.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jeffries problem may fix itself

There has been a lot of buzz recently surrounding what Isiah Thomas might do with the Knicks' starting lineup once Jared Jeffries and Channing Frye return from their injuries. However, as is so often in sports, Isiah's problem may have solved themselves. David Lee, who has had his moments in the starting role, will return to the bench once Jeffries returns in a game or two. That change was expected, however, then the question became what happens when Channing Frye returns.

Isiah Thomas answered that question a few days back, kind of. Isiah hinted that Quentin Richardson, one of the Knicks worst players under Larry Brown, will take over at shooting guard, with Jeffries at the small forward, and Frye at the power forward. But which high priced point-guard will ride the pine? Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury have near identical numbers for the season. Although, over the last five games Marbury is starting to play better than he did at the start of the season. Marbury is averaging 14.6 points, 5 assists, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.0 turnovers a game, while Francis is averaging only eight points, 2.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.8 turnovers per game.

Marbury was seemingly beginning to pull away from Francis, who was benched for one game this season, and the latest news may seal the deal for Marbury's starting role. Francis was quoted today as saying that he has tendinitis in his right knee, which has affected his play. He claims it was afecting him over the past "4-5 months", and that nothing showed up on the x-rays other than very hot spots. Francis says the act that he hasn't dunked all season has shown the impact the injury has had on him thus far. Therefore, I wonder if Francis' tendinitis will put him on the bench to put less strain on his knee. Francis says he doesn't believe it needs surgery, before knocking on wood, but that in Wednesday's loss to the Wizards he claimed he "could barely move". Sounds a little more serious than tendinitis, and I wonder if he does recover will we see the old Franchise again?

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