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Clash of the Titans: Knicks best Warriors in battle for the bottom, but only one franchise has hope

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Did you watch Wednesday night’s Warriors game against the New York Knicks? If you answered yes, you should both be commended for your commitment to watching grotesquely-poor basketball, and should likely consult a medical professional to find out if continuing to do so is sustainable (the answer is no).

It had no right to be that entertaining

But, you were also rewarded with a game that had no business being as entertaining as it was.

At first, there wasn’t all that much to enjoy from the Warriors’ perspective, or any perspective, for that matter. It was a lot of shooting and not a lot of making, while the Knicks — who had lost 10-straight games prior to Wednesday night — and their baker’s dozen of power forwards, put on the rarely-seen shooting clinic to close out the first half with a 68-50 lead.

But something special happened in the second half. Despite the wretched capabilities of these two basketball teams, they played an entertaining game and the Chase Center, for all the silence that has consumed its inaugural season, roared to life.

The Warriors were solid against the Knicks defensively in the second half, with Marquese Chriss (12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) breathing life into an outing that seemed destined to be another demoralizing loss. It was still a loss to a terrible team, but at least it had some tension.

Chriss made a strong case that he should start over Willie Cauly-Stein (7 points on 3-of-7 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 blocks), and his start in the second half indicates that could be in the cards. D’Angelo Russell (32 points on 12-of-27 shooting, 6-of-14 from three, with 6 assists) followed that up with a game-tying layup at 103 all with two minutes remaining.

Then, that defense fell apart, allowing the Knicks to score six points unanswered. Alec Burks hit a “we’re-sort-of-still-in-this” three, and even got fouled on  three, and made all three after the Knicks’ Elfrid Payton responded with a layup.

It saw R.J. Barrett fouled and sent to the the free throw line, where he has struggled mightily this season, shooting an abysmal 53.9 percent. Down 112-109, there was still a chance.

And sometimes, for all his faults, all Russell needs is a chance. When he gets it, he can hit shots like this over one of (if not the best) shot-blockers in the NBA in Mitchell Robinson. For all the rightfully empty seats, there was a raucous din in Chase Center when this shot went down.

While there was a second life, it came to nothing. While Alec Burks (18 points, 4 rebounds) and Draymond Green (14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) were solid, the Knicks had too many scoring options in Marcus Morris Sr. (30 points on 10-of-16 shooting, 5-of-8 from three, 8 rebounds, 3 assists), Julius Randle (24 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 3-of-4 from three, 13 rebounds, 5 assists) and R.J. Barrett (22 points on 8-of-16 shooting, 3-of-5 from three, and 3-of-4 from the free throw line), with Elfrid Payton’s 14 points coming at key moments.

Despite a late push, the Warriors missed one too many shots, losing 124-122 in overtime.

There is hope, for one team

Both teams entered chasing the NBA’s worst records.

On one hand, you have the Knicks, sitting at an aesthetically-pleasing 4-20 and having fired head coach David Fizdale last week. They are a ham-fisted conglomeration of mismatched talents, who, if utilized correctly, might actually amount to something other than the traveling circus act they’ve become with James Dolan as their delusional ringleader.

Instead, they are soaking up the fan disdain that comes with a $77 million a year spending spree and another trip to the top of a now less favorable lottery for the NBA’s worst teams. However delusional the dream was, they intended to compete this season.

It’s popular to bash Dolan’s ineptitude because the results of his 20-year tenure are staggering: 13 coaches, six winning seasons, a plethora of lashing out at justified criticismone woeful band. That last part is a cheap shot, but it’s one directed at a temperamental billionaire owner whose bad music is somehow better than his ability to manage an NBA franchise.

While there is some semblance of a foundation with pieces like R.J. Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox and Allonzo Trier, Dolan is still the owner. After the 2013 season, the last time the Knicks won a playoff series and had a chance to be consistently good, the organization instead over-analyzed their second round exit, hiring a consulting firm who ruined any semblance of trust that existed within the club by conducting a bizarre audit of players, coaches, training staff, etc. Until Dolan is gone, placing hope in the Knicks is a fool’s errand.

And then you have the now 5-21 Warriors, who are taking the NBA equivalent of a sabbatical.

Have Willie Caulie-Stein and Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks disappointed? Maybe, but they’re all being paid at the minimum, and not playing alongside world-beaters. Maybe Jordan Poole and Jacob Evans will never become anything worth writing home about and maybe Eric Paschall’s season is an anomaly. Maybe they can’t find anything worthwhile in the trade market for D’Angelo Russell.

But even if Paschall’s season is bloated from a statistical standpoint, he’s clearly a very solid player. Someone will trade for Russell (I still believe the Minnesota Timberwolves, desperate to please and keep Karl-Anthony Towns on a failing team, will trade Jeff Teague, Robert Covington and a first-round pick for him). And crucially, the Warriors will have a high lottery pick.

The difference between the Warriors and Knicks’ lottery picks is that the Warriors’ pick will come into an organization full of championship winners, and veterans, both on the floor and the coaching staff, along with a front office that has demonstrated consistent capability. Owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber took less than a decade to win three titles after promising to turn the franchise around.

There is no one who can accurately guess who will compose the majority of the Knicks’ roster and coaching staff next year with any amount of certainty. James Dolan has had two decades at his post, and his greatest achievement was a Finals loss in his first season. The next year, they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, and since that point, have only won that sole playoff series in 2013.

Assuming no further injuries take place and Looney’s neuropathic condition is resolved (not fair assumptions by any means), the Warriors will begin next season with a fundamentally solid core. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Paschall will be bolstered by that high-pedigree selection, with Evans, Poole and Smailagic likely somewhere on the bench.

Andre Iguodala will also be back after his contract expires with the Memphis Grizzlies, who have been kind enough to let him take his own sabbatical (which for all intents and purposes, seems to feature hanging out with the Warriors and remaining in the Bay Area). That’s not me reporting that, but it’s going to happen, assuming he doesn’t ask for a deal the Warriors can’t afford.

Just as crucially, they are getting rest for their veterans, and will exit the Russell-trade-imposed cap hell. They’ll be able to use a mid-level exception to add other pieces, in addition to whoever they get in a theoretical Russell trade, which, like Iguodala’s re-signing, is all but certain to happen. Those pieces should theoretically be better than the group on the roster now.

What’s clear is the Warriors have a plan which currently involves losing by design, and their three championships in five years insinuate they should be trusted to follow through with it. The Knicks might have a plan, but it’s not currently working, and no one should trust that it will ever work while Dolan still owns the team.


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