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3 In the Key - Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Knicks

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The New York Knicks have always been one of my favourite teams, but not for the reasons you may think.

In the Jordan era of the NBA, one of the teams I hated the most was in fact the Chicago Bulls. I would find myself cheering for teams they frequently played and on many an occasion this would be Patrick Ewing and his New York Knicks. Of course the Knicks couldn’t quite get over the hump with Ewing, Anthony Mason, Childs, Ward, Houston and co. But the team always played with an intensity that was of course, usually only rivalled by the Bulls.

Moving into the mid 90’s and as the Bulls fell into a state of disarray, Miami replaced Chicago in terms of the team I loved to hate. There biggest competition? You guessed it, the Knicks. This was further strengthened by my roommate in University, an intense individual himself whose love of top 40 music, the WWF, short, blond women and the Knicks knew no bounds. We spent many a Sunday afternoon screaming at Alonzo Mourning and rooting for Larry Johnson instead of doing class work. (Aaaah the days of the NBA on NBC Sunday afternoon triple-header...)

Unfortunately things went terribly wrong for New York soon after as management began to make some curious choices.

Patrick Ewing, albeit nearing the end of his career, was dealt. Allan Houston suffered career-threatening injuries after signing the world’s biggest and most ridiculous sports contract. Draft choices like Frederick Weis, John Wallace, Walter McCarty and Mike Sweetney started popping up. And that was before Isiah even came along!

Now I watch the Knicks for another reason, to revel in the comedy that has engulfed them.

On any given night if you tune-in to watch New York play, you’d swear you were watching an NBDL team...if that.

As a former fan, I’m not sure why I take so much pleasure in watching this team fail. Perhaps it’s the collection of misfits that Isiah Thomas has acquired? Perhaps it’s Isiah Thomas himself, an incredible player by all accounts but one of the worst executives the basketball world has ever seen. Looking over his transactions since joining New York (save some decent to good draft selections) it’s almost uncanny. I mean you wouldn’t think it would be possible for one GM to acquire so many overrated malcontents!

And it’s not like the fact that his moves haven’t panned out has been a surprise. Did anyone with half a brain think that signing Jerome James to a five-year deal was a good idea? How about taking on Jalen Rose before buying him out? Steve Francis anyone? And of his latest moves, how about acquiring Zach Randolph when the team already had Curry?

The last move wasn’t all bad I suppose. The trade with Portland allowed the Knicks to jettison Francis although considering the Blazers wasted no time in buying him out, you have to wonder why New York didn’t just do that as well. It’s not like they’ve never bought out players before! Cough, cough Shandon Anderson.

Randolph in my eyes is New York’s only legitimate All-star calibre player. Unfortunately bringing him on-board meant having to try and play him besides a very similar player in Eddy Curry and further hampering the development of the one guy who should be getting 30-35 minutes a game – David Lee.

"Hey Isiah, are you SURE this was a good idea?"

Last night on Hoops on RaptorsTV, former coach and analyst Jack Armstrong made a solid point about trying to fix this club. Management from top to bottom would have to be cleared out and it would take a GM with a clear vision to come in and start the house-cleaning. On top of this, the team would need a coach who wouldn’t be afraid to rub players the wrong way and get the team playing hard.

In fact New York doesn’t have to look that far for a blueprint on how to rebuild – take the Portland Trailblazers. This was a team second only to the Knicks in terms of lacking chemistry and a cohesive plan for the future. In only a few short seasons, we’ve seen just how quickly things can turn around if the proper management, coaching staff and players are in place and right now the Blazers are the surprise team of the season in my books.

The unfortunate, and somewhat comical, thing is that many of Portland’s un-wanted assets were eventually dumped on these same Knicks. And New York doesn’t seem to have that same luxury.

However sometimes teams need to bite the bullet and turning things around takes more than a season and a half. For that blueprint New York needs not look any further than their opponents tonight, the Toronto Raptors. Saddled by some over-priced talent, GM Rob Babcock began doing the dirty work of cleaning house (with mixed results) before Bryan Colangelo took over to complete the process.

For many Raptors’ fans, the process hasn’t been quite quick enough however. While Toronto is ahead of where they were record-wise last season, it’s obvious that the team hasn’t met many fans’ expectations prior to the season.

That being said, other teams have improved as well. Losses by Toronto to the Celtics (3), Magic (1), Blazers (1), and even Detroit (1) may easily have been wins a year ago so it’s not all doom and gloom. The Dinos simply need to keep working on improving various facets of their game and stay healthy.

TJ Ford is apparently back working on his game with former coach and player John Lucas which is great news for the team and fans. And in the meantime, GM Bryan Colangelo has stated that he’s still looking for some help at the point guard spot.

Toronto’s opponent this evening in Gotham City has had point guard issues all year and is the worst team in the league in terms of assists per game. Hopefully Toronto takes advantage of this by coming out with energy and putting things away early, the first of our three keys:

1) Jump on them early. I’ve had the pleasure via the Sports Pack to see the Knicks on many occasions over the past while and while the team has some talent, it has absolutely no chemistry or leadership. I sometimes have even found myself feeling sorry for Isiah because it’s obvious that his team has quit on him. Ok, so I don’t feel sorry for Isiah as he’s the architect of most of this mess, but the point is that if the Raptors can get the Knicks down early, this one will be over in a hurry. I’ve seen New York put up a fight in only one of their past seven games (against Houston) and Toronto definitely has the firepower to garner a "salami and cheese" shout out from the Swirsk before half. If Toronto lets New York hang around as they have been doing of late, this could be ugly Saturday morning.

2) Get on the Glass. This is my biggest area of worry tonight. The Raptors got pounded on the boards in their past two matches and neither club had the bruisers inside that the Knicks possess. Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry are a load for any team but add in players like David Lee, Renaldo Balkman and Malik Rose and the Raptors have their work cut out for them. The Knicks aren’t exactly a stellar offensive club (they currently have the league’s second worst assist to turnover ratio) so allowing New York to put points up on the board via put-backs and dunks would be extremely disheartening.

Translation - if Andrea doesn’t box-out early, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of Humphries and Rasho tonight.

The Raptors need to keep Lee off the glass tonight...or trade Maceo Baston for him in the next few hours...

The Raptors need to keep Lee off the glass tonight...or trade Maceo Baston for him in the next few hours...

The Raptors really need this win before taking on a red-hot Portland club on Sunday and I think this should actually be a nice, high-scoring affair. In particular, I’ll be interested to see how the Raptors deal with Curry and Randolph and how New York guards Chris Bosh. Toronto has been utilizing some new offensive sets of late to free up CB4 and AP and hopefully we’ll see more of that tonight in a Raptors’ win.