By John Schmeelk
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It's games like the one Monday night against Milwaukee that make Knicks fans wonder why they waste energy investing passion into this team during modest win streaks.
Whenever this team has the fan base on the verge of believing, the Knicks put up a performance like they did against the Bucks. They looked downright disinterested for three quarters, and when they turned it on to try and win in the fourth quarter, it was too little too late. It was the same thing that happened after the team's winning streak to start 2014, and it is beginning to happen again.
In order to fully appreciate how bad the Knicks were Monday night, please take into consideration that the Bucks are the worst offensive team in basketball, scoring just 96.4 points per 100 possessions. That number jumped to 111.9 on Monday night. A 111.9 offensive rating for the entire season would make the Bucks the best offensive team in basketball. In short, the Knicks' defense made the worst offensive team in the NBA play like the best offensive team in the NBA.
That doesn't happen to a team that was giving even a decent effort.
Mike Woodson's switching defense has been a problem all season, but that was not the source of the Knicks' problems against the Bucks. It started with the effort, or lack thereof, for the first three quarters of the game. The Knicks' defensive strategy actually seemed to allow the Bucks to shoot as many wide open jump shots as possible. That's how Milwaukee finished the game 11-for-18 from 3-point range, a whopping 61 percent. There was never a hand in anyone's face.
No individual should avoid blame, and the biggest finger gets pointed at Raymond Felton, who continues to be one of the worst defensive guards in all of basketball. He let Brandon Knight score 25 points, including the biggest baskets at the end of the game. Until the Knicks start guarding opposing point guards better, their fortunes are never going to change.
Tyson Chandler also got into the mix in the first half, the highlight coming when he watched Nate Wolters take a slow motion right handed layup a couple minutes before halftime. The Knicks seemed to think they could cruise against a team like the Bucks without giving their full effort.
Trailing by six in the fourth quarter, the Knicks tried to turn it on but by then it was too late. They scored 29 points over the final 12 minutes, outscoring the Bucks by three, but it wasn't enough. Dominating fourth quarters was how the Knicks won so many games last season, but so far this season they have been outscored in the game's most important period. The Bucks had gained so much confidence by the final quarter of Monday's game, the Knicks' added intensity still couldn't slow them down. Brandon Knight was hot and he finished the Knicks off with a big backdoor cut past an oblivious Felton, and then canned a 3 over the top of him.
The Knicks simply cannot relax against any team. They simply aren't good enough, and on Monday they paid the price. The players should know better, but it is the coach's job to make sure they are ready to play every night with an intensity that can win games at the NBA level. On Monday, that intensity did not show up until the fourth quarter.
For that to happen to a team playing for their playoff lives is unacceptable.
* Whether it is his knee finally getting healthy or the benching setting him straight, JR Smith finally looks like the same player that helped the Knicks last season. His shot selection has improved and isn't doing his usual dribbling around for eight seconds before launching a 20-foot step-back jumper as often.
* It should be noted how badly the Knicks' starting backcourt performed once again Monday. Felton, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni combined to shoot 4-for-16 for 11 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and handed out 8 assists. It's just not good enough. If there's one thing the Knicks' front office needs to do to improve this team over the short and long term, it's getting a real point guard to play with Carmelo Anthony. Until that happens, this team is never going to take that next step forward.
Follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk
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