Friday night, the Knicks lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was the second Knicks loss to the Cavs, which was particularly remarkable because those were two totally different Knicks teams yet each still found a way to have a crushing, inexplicable loss to the worst team in the NBA. It was a terrifying night: The team lacked even the slightest semblance of what an offense was supposed to look like and was indifferent on defense, at best. And also Carmelo Anthony complained of a sore elbow. All those nightmare scenarios, post-trade, popped into one’s head. And then they played the Heat last night, during the Oscars.
The Knicks beat the Heat 91–86 last night, in Miami, in the type of win that was so stirring and so potentially inspiring that you’re fairly certain they’re going to lose four in a row now. This is the sort of thing that’s going to happen for a while, as they figure this out. The Knicks threw out some crazy lineups last night — our favorite was Amar’e/Fields/Douglas/Walker/Billups, which height-wise is like a junior-high team playing a college one — and some of it worked, some of it didn’t, but the Knicks played their arses off on defense all night. Making fun of Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks for their defense was grand fun before Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups came here; it’s obligatory now. But the Knicks played as strong defense last night as they have all season. It really is all about trying.
That last possession, with Carmelo and Amar’e shutting down LeBron James, will lead the highlights today, but the real fourth-quarter story was Billups, who already, three games in, feels like the lifeblood of the team. His massive three-pointer with 1:30 left last night was the first real “Oh, wait: The Knicks have closers now” moment of the evening; the Knicks have gone from “Amar’e and the kids” to “grizzled, collects vets” so fast there has been no time to adjust. (Ask Landry Fields, who still doesn’t seem to quite get where he fits just yet.) The Knicks weren’t terrific last night, but they made the shots to win that the Heat, with LeBron and Wade and Bosh and nine men named Joel, just couldn’t.
We’re serious about this: There’s every reason to think the Knicks will lose the next three or four games, not because they’re not good, but because they still obviously haven’t nailed down how they work together, particularly on offense. The Knicks don’t know each other’s strengths on offense, aren’t spacing correctly, haven’t deciphered the Carmelo-Amar’e quandary yet. Most of the time they look like everyone just met, probably because everyone just did. And since the trade, they are 2–1, including a road win against the team with the most wins in the Eastern Conference. As far as works in progress go, this is an awfully entertaining one.