The New York Knicks entered the All-Star Break having lost seven of their last nine games. In a season characterized by inconsistent play, the subtle smear campaign of perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony by Knicks President Phil Jackson and team owner James Dolan’s war on beloved former Knick Charles Oakley, All-Star Weekend was a welcome respite for both the Knicks and their fans.
The weekend started on a positive note as Anthony, who initially thought his streak of seven consecutive All-Star appearances was snapped, ended up replacing Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love. Ironically, the two had been connected in trade rumors only weeks before.
Power forward Kristaps Porzingis was named to the World Team’s roster in the Rising Stars Challenge, joined by center Guillermo Hernangomez, who was named as an injury replacement for injured Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay.
Porzingis contributed 24 points and Hernangomez had two of his own as part of the World Team’s 150-141 victory. The following night Porzingis would add to his own personal list of accomplishments as he took the Skills Challenge trophy, defeating Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward in the final round.
On Sunday, Anthony would contribute 10 points in 19 minutes of play in a losing effort as the Eastern Conference All-Stars had no answers for New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis and his record setting 52-point performance. The Western Conference walked away with the 192-182 win.
Following a feel-good All-Star Weekend, the Knicks spent most of a tense Monday in Cleveland as rumors spread rampantly. The biggest question in whether Anthony would remain a Knick and whether the Knicks could complete a swap of Derrick Rose for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio. Yet the Knicks neither added nor subtracted at the deadline. The decision to stand pat had some, including Anthony himself, questioning Jackson’s commitment to winning. Others like Rose were relieved to be able to finish the season in a Knicks uniform.
Parallel to the swirling trade rumors, it was also announced that Oakley would not only be in attendance for that night’s game against the Cavaliers but that he was also the special guest of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Oakley was frequently spotted during the game seated right behind the Cavaliers’ bench, a stark contrast to the image of him being forced out by Madison Square Garden security on Feb. 8.
The Knicks would have no small task as they began their second half schedule with a meeting against the defending NBA champion. The Cavaliers came into the game winners of nine of the last 10 meetings between the two teams. Once play started, the Knicks did little to reverse that trend as Cleveland picked up the 119-104 victory. Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 23 points and LeBron James picked up a triple-double of 18 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists. Kyle Korver also thrived for Cleveland collecting 20 points in 31 minutes off the bench. The Knicks would trail for most of the first half, down 69-51 at halftime. A late Knicks third-quarter run saw them cut the deficit to 87-79, but Cleveland re-inserted its starters and dominated the fourth quarter by as much as 19 points. To compound their problems, Porzingis left the game in the second quarter with an ankle sprain. In his absence, guard Courtney Lee had a solid game picking up 25 points. Anthony finished with a sound 20 points, but it was simply not enough to answer Cleveland’s offensive barrage. The Knicks were swept by Cleveland in the season series for the second consecutive year and have now lost 10 consecutive games to the Cavaliers dating back to October 2014.
New York returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday for a meeting with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks took the court without Porzingis, with the heartbreaking loss to Philly on Jan. 11 still fresh on their minds. In that game the Knicks blew a 10-point lead with less than three minutes left, capped off by T.J. McConnell’s buzzer beater to hand the Knicks a crushing 98-97 loss.
This time around, the Knicks dominated the first half as they posted 31 in the first and an additional 29 by halftime, led by Anthony’s 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting. The Knicks would head to the locker room leading 60-50 and went on to lead by double digits for most of the second half. But another late defensive collapse allowed Philadelphia to rally all the way back to the lead with nine seconds remaining in the fourth, thanks to a go-ahead shot by Jahlil Okafor to give the 76ers a 108-107 advantage. Determined to take his fair share of buzzer-beater endings, Anthony would respond on the following possession, sinking the winning shot with three seconds remaining. Anthony’s game winner capped off a 37-point performance while Rose posted up 18 points and Justin Holliday had 14 in the 110-109 victory at Madison Square Garden.
With the win, the Knicks remained five games back of Detroit for the eighth playoff seed. In order to seize the moment, the team must set aside any off-court drama and focus on picking up efficient wins. While the championship seems to be a long shot at this point, the Knicks should at least fight for a managable playoff berth.