It's oddly fitting that the last time the Knicks started the season with three straight wins, their roster included Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas. For the first time in a long time, New York's approach is simply old-school basketball and it's kind of awesome. There are no tricks here, and very few frills. Okay, there were a few frills of the J.R. Smith variety on Monday in a 32-point blowout against the Sixers, and even old man Sheed got a third-quarter run, busting out 10 points in 13 minutes including six (six!) three-pointers in said minutes.
Really though, this is all pretty basic. Just Ray Felton running pick-and-rolls, Tyson Chandler rolling for lobs, Jason Kidd making smart passes, Ronnie Brewer in the corner and an appropriate dose of Carmelo Anthony. Funky as it is with two point guards, this lineup is really effective because the offensive roles are so clearly defined and it has Brewer on the court defending the wing, giving the Knicks two legitimate defenders. Chandler is so good that's really all he needs.
Now, Mike Woodson will have an interesting decision to make when Amar'e Stoudemire comes back from the latest left knee procedure, but keeping Anthony at the four makes way too much sense to mess with it once Stoudemire does return. That's a tabloid frenzy for another day, however, and really, who cares at this point? The Knicks are 3-0 for the first time since the halcyon days of Chris Childs, Larry Johnson and Latrell Sprewell.
Our man Seth over at Posting and Toasting is positively giddy over the Knickerbockers' start and he should be.
Adding another dose of merry to the proceedings was that around the same time Pablo Prigioni was throwing a no-look pass to Smith to cap things off, the Nets were blowing a 22-point lead at home against the Timberwolves. I have my doubts that either team will wind up being a serious contender, but it's hard not to love everything about the coming battle of the boroughs. At the very least we can all agree that having Sheed as the evolutionary Brian Scalabrine is something we can all get behind.
With that in mind, let's muse about the week that was:
So, you mean Jeff Green won't be James Worthy?
It's no fun picking on Jeff Green, who is A) a really nice dude and B) got himself in tremendous shape after returning from surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, which is the kind of thing that should be praised long before anyone goes, hahaha look at that contract.
The C's have done him no favors over the years. First they compared him to James Posey, who retains an almost mystical aura in Boston for his play during the 2008 championship season and his stoically intense don't-f**k-with-me demeanor. (As someone who knows put it, Posey was the only guy who could tell Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to shut the hell up and get away with it.) Green's not that guy, on or off the court.
Then in the preseason, Boston's television announcers repeatedly compared him to Big Game James -- to Green's credit he shot those comps down right quick -- but the real question still remains: just who is Jeff Green?
If he is the guy who put up average to middling numbers over the first four years of his career and had difficulty defending forwards and bigs, then the Celtics are probably in trouble. A good chunk of their much-heralded versatility is built around the notion that Green can play anywhere on the court. If he is something more than that, then they have the makings of an interesting squad both now and in the future.
Three games aren't enough to tell, any more than some preseason walkovers were enough to put him in the Hall of Fame. What Green and the C's need are 15-20 games to figure the whole thing out. If it's still not working, then we can pick on him.
The Hawks are -- wait for it -- watchable
No one really paid attention to the Hawks after they traded Joe Johnson because let's face it, no one ever paid attention to the Hawks even when they did have Joe Johnson. And if you were one of those unfortunate souls who did, you were left with horrifying visions of an offense constructed around the most boring play in basketball by one of the most boring players in basketball.
But something interesting may be taking place in the ATL and it starts with Jeff Teague, who is doing for the DVR what Dominique did for the highlight film. There was this, which sadly didn't count.
And then there was this, which most certainly did.
We mentioned Brandon Jennings in the Sunday Shootaround as a player who will be in demand as a restricted free agent, but left unnoticed -- again, Atlanta -- is that Teague had a solid first season as a starter. His emergence combined with the return of Al Horford, the addition of a handful of shooters and a heretofore never before witnessed willingness to share the ball, have made the Hawks downright intriguing. Their victory in Oklahoma City on Sunday -- without Josh Smith, mind you -- was a wake-up call.
Speaking of the Thunder ...
Russell Westbrook can't win
You thought his every move was a referendum before, just watch now that James Harden is lighting it up on a nightly basis in Houston. Every time Westbrook has a bad night, which he did on Sunday in that loss to Atlanta, it starts all over again. Now the question isn't just whether Westbrook is the best fit for Kevin Durant, it's whether OKC screwed up when they committed to him and were forced to trade Harden.
Westbrook has shown an admirable amount of restraint in not going after his critics, and the Thunder have smartly allowed him to play his game, but his burden has only increased. Again, Sam Presti has earned a certain amount of trust during his tenure as GM, and he obviously wasn't blindsided by the inevitable domino effect of signing Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. He's riding with Westbrook and no matter what Harden does in Houston, that still feels like the right call.
Kyle Lowry and Toronto were made for each other
No city needed a certified stone-cold badass quite like the franchise that gave us the purple dinosaur, and no player needed a city that would showcase his talent quite like Kyle Lowry.
I'll go on record as calling Lowry my favorite player in the league. I've been in his camp ever since he showed up on Villanova's campus and demanded respect on a team that already featured established players like Randy Foye and Allen Ray. That team was really, really nice. Lowry made them fierce.
He's a heady playmaker, a pest on defense and tough as all hell. In simple terms, Kyle Lowry doesn't give a damn about anything other than playing balls-out all the time. It was less than two years ago that the Raps were the softest team in the league. Dwane Casey admirably began changing the culture with many of the same players, but in order to completely turn things around, they needed a leader and Lowry looks the part.
No, he's not going to shoot 60/50/90 (!!!) for the rest of the season, but he'll either make Toronto competitive or lose several limbs trying.
Team I'll be paying attention to this week: Portland
As a connoisseur of weirdo box score numbers regarding point guards -- i.e. Rondo games -- getting your name in company with Oscar, LeBron and Isiah is a pretty good opening act, which is where Damian Lillard found himself after Portland's first three games. That bench is troubling to say the least, but if you're going to run pick-and-rolls all the live long day, having a precocious point guard like Lillard paired with a big like LaMarcus Aldridge is a pretty decent look.
The Mavericks made Lillard look like a rookie on Monday, getting him into early foul trouble and cutting off his options. That's what the Mavs do, but there were still glimpses of a player wise beyond his years. On one set he caught Chris Kaman (looking freakishly like Brian Cardinal at a distance) in a switch, cleared the floor and drove for a reverse layup. Even with a rough shooting night, Lillard still got to the line eight times and the Blazers weren't really out of it until late in the game.
They have the Clippers and Spurs at home this week, giving Lillard two marquee matchups to test himself.