There is something uniquely infuriating, as a fan and (one suspects) as a coach, about a defensive possession that ends with an offensive rebound. You do everything right: You stick with your man, you trap at the right time, you switch when you have to, you keep your hands up, you force the opponent into a bad shot as the shot clock is running out. You have won the possession; you have stopped an NBA-caliber team full of the greatest basketball players in the world from scoring. And then they grab the rebounds off the missed shot and you have to do the whole damned thing over again. It is the basketball instance most likely to inspire us to whatever's unfortunate enough to be near us across the room.
Last night, during the Knicks' 98–86 loss to the Chicago Bulls, we threw lots of things across the room. The Knicks didn't play all that horribly, and despite that final score (and despite the Bulls missing Derrick Rose, unlike Sunday), they weren't even all that rough on defense. But man, they could not rebound. They were out-rebounded 51–33, which led to a 25–5 deficit on second-chance points. It's going to be awfully difficult to win a basketball game when that's happening. This is a problem every time the Knicks play the Bulls, so if it turns out that these two teams meet in the playoffs, we're going to have to hide our valuables.
You certainly couldn't blame Carmelo Anthony for the loss. He was 11-for-19 from the field, scoring 29 points, and (in an uncomfortable echo of some early season games) was often the Knicks' only real option on offense. It is undeniable that Anthony is raising his game during the stretch run, playing better than he has in two seasons. The question is whether or not that is enough. Just like the beginning of the season, the Knicks have the rather serious problem of lacking a point guard. Baron Davis appears to be getting worse every game, and Iman Shumpert and Toney Douglas, as has been established over and over this year, shouldn't be there. Barring some sort of magic elixir for Jeremy Lin, this is not a problem that is going to resolve itself. The Knicks miss Amar'e Stoudemire right now. But they really miss Lin.
Also, the planet just doesn't seem aligned correctly when Steve Novak is 0-for-8 over two straight games.
Ordinarily, a loss on the road to the best team in the Eastern Conference wouldn't seem like the worst thing in the world. But the timing stinks. Both Boston and Philadelphia won last night, and it's probably time to stop pretending the Knicks have any chance at winning the Atlantic Division. They're four games behind the red-hot Celtics — seriously, they look just as scary as the Bulls or Heat right now — and one game behind Philadelphia for the No. 7 seed. Oh, yeah, also: The Knicks have to protect their flank. They're only one game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks for the last playoff spot and, as it turns out, they play the Bucks tonight, in Milwaukee. A loss would put the two teams in a tie, which is a problem, because the Bucks would have won three of the teams' four matchups this year, giving them the tiebreaker. A Knicks win could (mostly) secure a playoff berth. But a loss could cost them everything, particularly with games against the Heat and Celtics coming up next week.
Tonight is the most important game of the Knicks' season. Again. Secure the valuables.