Friday, February 17, 2012

New York Times Lowly Hornets Bring Knicks' Run to an End

Maybe the precious few who predicted something close to Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise are the same few who could have predicted that the Knicks’ seven-game winning streak — a thrilling run that has made the term Linsanity a global brand — would come crashing down Friday night in an 89-85 loss to the New Orleans Hornets at Madison Square Garden.

Along with their own listlessness on offense, the Knicks succumbed to Gustavo Ayon’s rebounding gusto, Greivis Vasquez’s sterling defense and game management, and timely 3-pointers by Trevor Ariza (25 points) from the corner. As the Knicks wait to insert Carmelo Anthony and J. R. Smith into the lineup, the spotlight was once again on Lin (26 points, 5 assists, 9 turnovers), who rebounded from a nightmarish first quarter and a poor first half to commit only one turnover in the second half.

“I just told him he was trying to make the hardest pass out there, he was trying to make the home run pass,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Lin’s turnovers. “That’ll happen for young guys.” When Lin ripped the ball away from Vasquez and sank a pair of free throws to bring the Knicks within 2 points with 66 seconds remaining, it looked as if he simply could not lose. But Ayon made a perfect off-the-ball cut on the ensuing possession, and his layup sealed the outcome. Amar’e Stoudemire finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks. The players who have thrived around Lin offered little help Friday. Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Bill Walker and Steve Novak shot a combined 7 for 31 from the field. One supporting Knick who made his presence felt at a critical juncture was Jared Jeffries. Midway through the fourth quarter, Jeffries took over. He corralled an offensive rebound, and Shumpert’s subsequent jumper brought the Knicks within 73-68. Jeffries then nailed a rare baseline jumper before stealing the ball from Chris Kaman. On the ensuing possession Jeffries drove the lane and got fouled, sinking one of two free throws to make the score 73-71 to set the scene for a tense final few minutes.

Two nights after their whirlwind of early alley-oops and swift ball movement overwhelmed the Kings, one of the Western Conference’s worst teams, the Knicks looked out of sorts against the West’s worst. The Knicks and Lin (five first-quarter turnovers) started the game atrociously.

The first quarter saw the Knicks play uninspired ball, fail to box out at the free-throw line, miss their free throws (3 for 8) and hoist up poor shots as the Hornets built a 27-13 advantage on the strength of 56 percent shooting. They stifled Lin, who had a trying time with the feisty 6-foot-6 Vasquez. It was a quarter that called for the presence of players like Anthony and Smith, who can create their own offense.

The Knicks fought back into the game in the second quarter largely on the strength of Stoudemire’s game as he sandwiched two layups around a dunk on three consecutive possessions. A discrepancy in fouls — 16 called on the Hornets, 6 on the Knicks — also helped the Knicks claw back.

Before the game, D’Antoni said he anticipated that Anthony, Smith, Baron Davis and Josh Harrellson would be rotation players when they suited up. How this alters Lin’s magic carpet and those who have ridden it remains to be seen. Those additions could result in less playing time for role players who have thrived with Lin — players like Novak, Fields, Shumpert and Walker.

“I’ve got to make sure that we don’t lose guys that are playing well,” D’Antoni said. “Like we said, I think everyone plays a little bit less minutes, but we should keep our high-octane group out there and then we should have a lot of” playing time to spread around.

Novak said he could not remember being a part of any team in his N.B.A. career that was looking to incorporate so many players in such a short amount of time.

“I think that the chemistry that we have right now and the flow, and kind of guys just feeling that they can just be themselves out there has gotten us those wins,” he said. But the wins have stopped, at least for a day, and suddenly those additions to the lineup are looking better for the Knicks. “I don’t think he expected to go without a defeat this year,” D’Antoni said of Lin’s first loss as a starter. “I think he’s fine.”

It remains unclear if Carmelo Anthony will play Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks. He did some shooting on the court before the game. Asked if he would practice on Saturday, he said, “I’m going to try.” ... J. R. Smith will not arrive in New York until Saturday night, so he will miss practice that day and the game on Sunday. To make room for Smith, the Knicks waived Renaldo Balkman. They will be on the hook for his $1.675 million contract next season. ... This was the ninth straight game in which the Knicks have held an opponent under 100 points.