NBA

Soft Knicks not meshing well

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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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CHICAGO

This is never going to work. The parts don’t add up, don’t fit together. Two superstars, a great rebounder and a bunch of Linsanity. That’s what the New York Knicks should be. Instead, they are two whiners with huge egos, a super-soft coach, and a young point guard, Jeremy Lin, who is confused and hopeless in a toxic environment.

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The Chicago Bulls, missing three key players with injuries, beat the Knicks 104-99 on Monday night. It was the toughest team in the league whipping the softest team in the league.

“This town loves guys that put forth effort,’’ said Bulls forward Taj Gibson, who fought for every last rebound, getting 13 off the bench.

Meanwhile, Knicks superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire combined for 11.

Afterward, Stoudemire was still moping about no one giving him the ball.

“The ball was coming to me in the third quarter,’’ he said. “I was ready from the start of the game to have a phenomenal game, but the ball just came to me in the third, as opposed to the other (quarters). I just take advantage whenever I get the ball.’’

Yes, that was a shot at Lin, who is responsible for distributing the ball. And in some ways, Stoudemire is right. But Lin was just dropped into this mess, right in the middle of Stoudemire’s and Anthony’s egos, and the malfunctioning system of coach Mike D’Antoni.

When Linsanity was at its height, the egos were out, hurt, and Lin led the Knicks to eight wins in nine games. Before that, before Lin, the egos didn’t know how to play together. But with the egos back now, and with Lin as an established phenomenon, the Knicks are a disaster again.

They have lost six games in a row, and are 2-8 since Anthony returned.

Put it all on Melo if you want. He doesn’t know how to move around without the ball, and just stops things when he gets it. But this is just as much about D’Antoni’s system, which doesn’t include some of the side-issues of basketball – as he sees them -- such as defense and rebounding. That’s exactly why the Bulls won Monday night, outrebounding the Knicks 56-38.

But also, the whole Linsanity thing was just way out of whack. Lin is a fine point guard, worthy of being a starter on a lower-level team. But he is not a magician. He’s just a young guy, trying to find his way.

He played better when the egos were on the bench, and the Knicks were in a favorable part of their schedule. But now, everything with this team is too complicated. And Lin has dropped off dramatically. He’s not attacking the basket the way he used to, apparently looking to get the ball to the egos when necessary. His own flow and rhythm are shot.

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He did play well Monday, but isn’t much of a defender and had to try to stop Derrick Rose, the MVP. Rose scored 32 points.

“He had a couple of turnovers,’’ D’Antoni said, “but he played good for a rookie in a tough position.’’

It could be that the egos don’t have much respect for Lin, or maybe for D’Antoni. They want the ball, and need someone to blame. Lin isn’t able to run the team -- not this team, anyway -- and no one else is doing it. It has no direction.

At one point, the Chicago crowd chanted “Over-rated’’ when Lin was on the free-throw line. There’s some truth to that, but mostly because the hype about him put expectations way too high. Remember: Lin is not supposed to be the guy running this team. The egos are.

In so many ways, Lin was the NBA’s Tim Tebow. And now, the Broncos are looking for another quarterback. The Knicks aren’t sure they have theirs, either. But they’re going to stick with Lin, as D’Antoni’s future is tied to him. Meanwhile, Baron Davis was supposed to be the point guard, but isn’t a winner. He’s one of those guys too good to leave on the bench, but not good enough to put on the court.

No, Lin has more upside than Davis, but just has to have time and space to learn. Not to mention, a decent environment.

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The Knicks stand in such contrast to the Bulls. Chicago was without Luol Deng and the fragile Rip Hamilton, as well as backup point guard C.J. Watson. Still, the Bulls were looking to punch the Knicks in the mouth.

Rose was not his best, and was overly jacked up to stop Lin. In the fourth quarter, Rose took a pass from Joakim Noah and power-dunked it uncharacteristically.

“I kind of blacked out (after that). .. .’’ Rose said. “I was mad cause they weren’t calling (fouls) the whole game. I’ve got to be the only superstar in the league that’s going through what I’m going through right now (with calls).’’

Rose called himself a superstar.

Afterward, the Knicks all talked about what great effort they had given, and then came around to the same conclusion for why they had lost. “Offensive rebounds, loose balls, second-chance points were the difference,’’ D’Antoni said.

Those things also are the difference between a tough team that’s fighting and a soft one that isn’t.
So now, the Bulls move on to play Miami on Wednesday night, hoping to make the statement that they are ready to beat the Heat and get to the NBA Finals. Meanwhile, the Knicks are falling fast, back into a tie for the final playoff spot.

Team Dysfunction plays on like a bunch of mismatched ingredients with no chef. Yuck.

Tagged: Bulls, Knicks, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Jeremy Lin

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