Over the last couple of weeks, as news reports have placed Carmelo Anthony closer to agreeing to a trade to the Nets — even if it makes no sense whatsoever for Anthony; that said, his agents do stand to profit from an immediate trade — Knicks fans have responded defensively. We don’t want Carmelo anyway; we like our team just fine. On one hand, this makes sense, considering the Knicks are six games over .500 and have won as many road games already as they did last season. (Also: With two wins, they’ll equal the total of Isiah’s last season here.) On the other hand: There are nights like last night.
The Knicks lost to the two-time defending Lakers 109–87 last night, in a game that was a little closer than the score indicated, but not by much. Of all the nights for Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton to be bad at the same time, a game against the Lakers isn’t ideal, but there it was: Amar’e was off all night, and Felton was 4-for-14 from the field with seven assists.
When you look at the line score, it seems amazing the Knicks were even within 22. They shot 36 percent from the field and were outrebounded 61–42. Lakers fans who had been waiting for one of those Andrew Bynum domination games finally got one; he looked like an older brother hiding yarn from kittens all evening. The Knicks’ size disadvantage was profound in this one, and starting Shawne Williams instead of Ronny Turiaf was an obvious admission and an attempt to spread the floor so much that you didn’t even notice how much bigger the men in yellow were than the men in blue. That might have worked, had the Knicks not had their worst shooting night of the season. For the first time since Danilo Gallinari went out with his knee injury, the Knicks really missed him.
To the Knicks’ credit, they kept fighting in that way they’ve been fighting all year, and it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Lakers finally put them away. And it even led to some chippy Lakers; Bynum was ultimately thrown out of the game with two technicals, Kobe Bryant should have had two as well, and Ron Artest hammered Amar’e with an elbow. (It was one of those times you wished the Knicks had a Charles Oakley hanging around.) But the Lakers, obviously, are better than the Knicks, by a lot.
And that’s your Carmelo concern. Yes, this Knicks team is fun — gloriously so — and yes, they’re looking at a 97.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, and yes, they clearly love playing together, and yes, they have more heart than any Knicks team in a decade. They’re still really tiny and have big gaping holes on the roster. They still aren’t a championship contender. As Carmelo finally gets around to opening the Nets’ mash notes, and prideful Knicks fans wave their hands and say, “Let ‘em go,” these are important facts to remember. The Knicks are back, but they’re not all the way back. Last night was clear evidence of that.