Merry Christmas? Not in New York
For Knicks and Nets, there's not much to celebrate on this holiday hoops-wise
NEW YORK -- The experience of attending a game at Madison Square Garden recently is like being at a sad clown convention. It's become a capital of frowns.
The fans are upset and their boos are now on a hair trigger. Coach Mike Woodson hasn't smiled in what seems like months; it's as if the dour look is frozen on his face. The players are miserable, hurt or miserable and hurt.
The Knicks' backcourt is ravaged by injuries and the guards who are healthy, namely J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, are having the worst seasons of their careers. Woodson -- who must know that his days are numbered one way or another and is still fighting the good fight so he can save his coaching future -- has been playing fragile players extreme minutes as he coaches every game like a man who's not sure he'll make it to the next one.
Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, the only thing pleasant is the scented air they pump into the Barclays Center. The Nets fans roundly booed Deron Williams when he missed a wide-open layup in a loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. Joe Johnson air-balled a wide-open 3-pointer so badly that he looked like a contestant plucked out of the stands during a timeout who was trying to win a gift card.
Paul Pierce bolted the arena sometime between his ejection for a frustration-filled flagrant foul in the third quarter and the end of the loss. Kevin Garnett, too, skipped out without speaking on the blowout, something he's been doing regularly recently. That's OK, it's obvious they both miss the good old Celtics days. Their actions and body language speak that loud and clear.
Coach Jason Kidd took 30 minutes after the game to do something or talk to someone behind closed doors -- only he knows if that person was in Russia or just one of his co-workers in Brooklyn that he hasn't exiled yet. But whatever it was, it couldn't have been enjoyable. He emerged looking haggard with his suit mussed and a faraway look in his eye.
Then he ripped his team, saying: "I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing."
Kidd's expression said two things: (1) Man, it's a lot harder to swallow these games when you're a coach than when you're a player and you can just go home, plus you're making 10 times the salary; (2) He never dreamed he'd be judged while starting Alan Anderson and Mirza Teletovic. So much for that "best starting five in the league" stuff.
So Merry Christmas in the Big Apple.
It's often said the NBA season doesn't really start until now, when America sits down to watch a slate of national television games with the family as the football seasons comes toward an end. The Nets and Knicks can only wish that were true; they'd give just about anything to re-start this once promising season.
They both regularly go to the crutch that they're not that far out of contention in the Atlantic Division, where they're being beaten by three teams that have spent months trying to take their teams apart with perhaps more of that on the way. Winning the division was not even a true goal on the Nets' or Knicks' radar at the start of the season and now they cling to it as hope.
When the Nets host the Bulls on Christmas afternoon, they will be attempting to break their latest three-game losing streak that's dropped them to 9-18 on the season. That has them in an unpleasant tie with the Knicks, who will host the juggernaut Oklahoma City Thunder.
The letdowns for the New York teams have been so consistent, both on the injury report and in the games themselves, that it's been hard to totally take in just what a setback these first two months have been. Both things in their control and outside it, not even the generally pessimistic computer models foresaw this.
It's going to take more than a Christmas miracle to save these teams and everyone in basketball mecca can plainly see it. It certainly isn't making for a festive holiday season.