“Coach tells us they’re sending you to Cleveland!... Not to play, though, just for a weekend vacation. All expenses paid!”
Afternoon Delight! At least, that’s what the New York Knicks are hoping for with the Atlanta Hawks in town for an early Super Bowl Sunday tipoff (12:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC) at the so-called Mecca.
I’ve long been a bit presumptuous about Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek, stemming from his years quietly toiling away in Phoenix and Philly, and then his latter years in Utah, rubbing his face before free throws to say hello to his kids watching from home. He seems like a swell guy! At worst, he looks like an actuarial scientist! I, for one, cannot imagine what magic words Coach Horny could ever utter that would prompt me to loft a towel over his face. Nevermind saying whatever unkind words the banished Joakim Noah laid in his direction.
The Oscars are getting dished out about a month from now, and Noah has been wasting his time not earning any statuettes. C’mon, Lenny Cooke was a classic! Even Spike’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was underrated! Like latter-day Lenny, I would love for Oscar-winning producer Noah to come in from the future, letting Joakim know his true full-time, Hall-of-Fame professional career is right around the corner. Go ahead and retire, then make your tens of millions per year doing something way more productive than standing around and cussing out Hornacek for “only” getting five minutes against the Warriors.
Fans of the Knicks would greatly appreciate Noah exiting stage left soon, so they can more fully turn their attention to another uncomfortable contract. A back-to-back pair of power outages from the perimeter (combined 0-for-12 3FGs) has ex-Hawk Tim Hardaway, Jr. entering today with the worst three-point shooting percentage (32.6 3FG%) of his five-year career.
At least he’s young, though. Junior has ample time to turn it around, and try as he might today against his former team, it will take more than one afternoon to do so. With $70.95 million coming his way over this and the next three seasons, it’s not like he’ll be singing “Goodbye, Manhattan”, anytime soon. Some sports fans from his prior NBA home will be cheering, in hopes that Hardaway is the most successful product of the Michigan Wolverines’ athletic department today.
Hardaway’s three-point attempt as time expired went long on Friday night, leaving him unable to salvage a 92-90 loss at Milwaukee, sealed when Enes Kanter was left Holding That L after the Greek Freak’s game-winning layup sailed over his head.
While Kanter has been an offensive rebounding revelation for New York (15.7 O-Reb%, 3rd in NBA) in a featured role, his contract represents the most realistic means by which the Knicks can create some cap flexibility, if they’re not stuck picking up the tab on his $18.6 million player option this summer. As for franchise-face Kristaps Porzingis (career-high 23.0 PPG, NBA-high 2.3 BPG, 58 points in two games vs. the Hawks), his veteran extension is right around the corner. So, with the Knicks already saddled with Timmy’s deal, it’s essential for them find a way to move on from Kanter and Noah, soon.
One challenge lottery-dwelling seller-teams have as the trade deadline approaches: their players know this may be their final time playing together. They want to look good in case they are on their way out the door, if in part hoping that Golden State or some top-flight title contender is somewhere marinating over acquiring them. This applies to Knicks like Courtney Lee, the Knicks’ minutes-leader whose 42.6 3FG% and former defensive reputation may seem appetizing to opposing GMs, and Willy Hernangomez, the once-exiled All-Rookie 1st Teamer who is suddenly getting playing time.
The conundrum also applies to most members of the Hawks, particularly age-28-plus veterans like Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Babbitt, Miles Plumlee, Dewayne Dedmon and Kent Bazemore, as management expressed their objective to get younger in preparation for the future. All except the then-injured Dedmon appeared in the Hawks 111-107 loss at MSG on December 10. Plumlee’s point-blank bucket giving Atlanta a brief lead late in the third quarter before Doug McDermott surged the Knicks ahead for good.
Dennis Schröder was benched for the final eight minutes of that game, in favor of Isaiah Taylor. But with Belinelli, Ilyasova, and Bazemore combining for the Hawks’ final 13 points in the last two-and-a-half minutes, Atlanta closed the gap to two with seconds to go before Porzingis’ free throws iced the game.
It was good to see Schröder playing well in the opening half of the Hawks’ 119-110 loss in Boston on Friday (25 points for the game, 8-for-8 FTs), along with Taurean Prince at least momentarily shaking off his cobwebs (31 points and 8 rebounds). It took a Kyrie-less Celtics team to break through with 41 third-quarter points to turn the tide, and a fuller defensive effort today could once again make this game a close-to-the-vest affair.
If Noah wants to troll hard, he’d be smart to spend Super Bowl Sunday with Jimmy Dolan’s pal Charles Oakley. Closer to home, perhaps we’ll see Matt Ryan and Julio Jones prepping for a party together. Hey, Julio, catch this jumbo bag of Tostito’s… oops!
Let’s Go Hawks!