The atmosphere at Madison Square Garden in the moments before tip-off at the first game of the post-Mike D'Antoni era was less tense than just off-kilter. The crowd was late-arriving and awkward, the vibe just sort of chaotic and confused. Just an hour beforehand, Jim Dolan had another of his non-press-conference press conferences, and no players were available to comment on the madness of their afternoon. Former St. John's guard Felipe Lopez announced the starting lineups in Spanish for Latino Night, and when he got to Carmelo, there were audible boos. How was this going to turn? Which direction would the crowd go? Then Carmelo hit his first three shots and the Knicks blew out to a 25-12 lead and then, for one night, there was absolutely nothing to be upset about. The Knicks had their biggest laugher of the year. Go figure.
Yep, the Knicks beat the Portland Trail Blazers 121-79 last night, a full-on wipeout that did have a little padding with a 43-23 fourth quarter in which Steve Novak and J.R. Smith would not stop hitting 3-pointers. (The Knicks still somehow found a way to lose the third quarter.) It was a well-rounded first half, and it's worth noting that new coach Mike Woodson used ten players in the first quarter, opening up that bench right quick. The blowout even allowed Mike Bibby and Jerome Jordan to play. It was that kind of game.
Perhaps predictably, Anthony played his best game in weeks and looked to have real energy. He even shared the ball, notching seven assists to go along with his sixteen points. This was our favorite.
It was the platonic ideal Knicks game we've been waiting for them to play for a while, but we wouldn't put too much on the "free to be away from D'Antoni" idea. The Trail Blazers have actually been dealing with more chaos than the Knicks — it's perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the Knicks right now that such a statement is even possible — and the Knicks took advantage. The Trail Blazers are terrible right now, disjointed, disinterested. The Knicks, for whatever their myriad faults, never looked disinterested. And it led to the most lopsided win of the season.
Did we learn anything about a Mike Woodson regime last night? Maybe. Woodson was quick to replace Jeremy Lin with Baron Davis, and Lin only played five more minutes than his backup. (Davis's ten assists might have had something to do with that.) Woodson's clearly more free with his rotation, with nine players notching at least fourteen minutes. But last night, perhaps because of the opponent, perhaps because he left the team just a couple of hours beforehand, the Knicks looked like the D'Antoni Knicks, running, jumping, shooting, up and down the court.
Forgive us for skepticism, but this was an easy win against a terrible team that's actively cheering for the season to be over. We shouldn't take too much from this, and be suspicious of anyone who tries to pull a "see, they're away from D'Antoni and they're happy!" card. But the six-game losing streak is over, and for one night, if you squinted, you could convince yourself that everything will be okay. Tomorrow night they start a home-and-home series with the Indiana Pacers, a team six and a half games ahead of the Knicks in the standings. If they look like they did last night, then we're talking.