From time to time it’s great to play a game like this, to welcome a team like these Sacramento Kings into your house, because in many ways they are like the perfect enemy of Game Homecoming. They are fun to watch, with lots of dazzling full young stars.
And they can’t keep a stop sign.
Here’s how a team that will never be confused about Loyola Marymount’s old West Westhead teams can score 140 points in a basketball game, as the Knicks did before a contented gathering of just under 2,000 fans at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
There were times when Tom Thibodeut, the defender’s whisper coach, looked as if he might darken as he watched the Knicks 1
“We’re getting there,” Thibodeau said.
At 16-17, the Knicks are also slowly approaching the middle of the season, three games out of 36, so we’ve officially gotten to the point where we can wonder, with data and information and 33 testimonials, exactly what our recalibrated standard is for this season should be.
Is it still good to focus exclusively on the process?
Now is it okay to focus on the playoff opportunity?
“I would say it’s just as important,” Thibodeau had said about 90 minutes before the game. “I do not want to get lost and go too far. I just want us to focus on what lies ahead. I think you start the season with [playoffs] in mind and all the things you need to do.
“You want to build these habits consistently. Important practice is important, knowing your opponent well. If you start to deviate from this and start looking too far down the road, then you will get a haircut and fall. “
Fair enough. Still, victories have a much more habit of winning than anyone thought realistic in Thibodeau’s first year. They are, remember, through the virtual consensus in Vegas, which won over / under 22.5 wins. They are well ahead at this pace. In fact, they are square in the middle of the Eastern Conference, which currently appears to be divided into three different castes:
The Elite Elite: The Sixers, The Nets, and (despite some crappy games lately) Bucks.
Teams that have fought, but logic and common sense insist, will recover and make a comfortable push to the top five: the Celtics and Hate.
Stirring for slots 6 to 10.
And this is where the Knicks’ season becomes terribly intriguing, because on Friday morning they wake up tied to the Raptors for fifth place, engaged in an almost certain rock battle of seven teams for the last five places in the East playoffs. Currently, the Knicks, Pacers, Raptors, Bulls, Hornets, Hawks and Magic are within three losses of each other in the standings. Five of those seven will come in (assuming you don’t believe the recent turnaround in Washington is permanent; if you do, that’s five out of eight).
All of these teams have flaws and shortcomings, much the way the Knicks do. None of these teams have any reasonable chance of making any kind of playoff noise if we assume that things will fall into place, as they probably will in the second half. And so everyone will ask themselves the same thing:
Process over the playoffs?
The playoffs over the process?
Both are perfect. But are both realistic?
“Just think about what happens to win every day and build the right habits,” Thibodeau said before the game.
“We’re getting there,” he would say twice.
Where in the end? Saturday Pacers come to the garden and suddenly there are a lot of intriguing things in the game. Another crack at .500. A chance to beat a team in this crowded pile of contenders and contenders waiting to be sifted to one side or another in the next few months.
And, of course: work on the process, which means keeping an eye on the prize, which means not getting too ahead. He still wins with thoughts of the playoffs, existing only in dreams of fever. Maybe they can still live together.