For the first three quarters of last night's Knicks game against the Orlando Magic, the Knicks were almost a parody of the team most of their detractors spent the summer mocking them for being. They were bewilderingly lazy on offense — that ball movement that marked the first four wins was nonexistent — they were slow on defensive rotations, and they generally looked like a team that was too old and too bored to be bothered. In the fourth quarter, they turned all that around, but that team everyone was afraid would show up this year did, at least for a while, arrive.
One shouldn't get too carried away: The Knicks still beat the Magic 99–89, and when you win by 10 after playing terrible and with little apparent effort, well, maybe it was good that you saved the energy after all. (The Magic aren't very good in the first place, and last night, they were without their best three players.) But it was a little disturbing to see that iso-heavy, defensively slacking team everyone had hoped the Knicks had left behind.
Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points to lead all scorers, but it was one of those ugly 25-point nights in which he just sort of did his own thing, like he used to, like he hadn't in the first four games. He was even more lethargic on defense, and coach Mike Woodson even yelled at him a few times. (Woodson looks so cute when he yells, like a charming grumpy old Muppet.) He picked up the pace in the fourth — and Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith played well enough earlier to keep the Knicks hanging around — but it was generally discouraging. Though not nearly as discouraging as Rasheed Wallace, who was so lousy last night we're ready to get him back to his Brian Scalabrine role.
It was a night you'd rather forget ... except of course the Knicks won. And yes: This is probably a lot of grousing after the Knicks just raised their record to 5–0 and remain the only undefeated team in the NBA. It's their first 5–0 start since the 1993–94 season, which, you may remember, ended in the NBA Finals. So obviously, the Knicks are going to the Finals again.
Hopefully the Knicks got all the rest they needed last night because they will need it. After a day off tonight, they have a brutal back-to-back with San Antonio on Thursday and Memphis on Friday. The Knicks' first loss will almost surely come in one of those two games. It'll be a legitimate step forward if losses don't come during both. The Knicks will surely play better in those games than they did last night. They'd have to.