How bad are the New York Knicks? They're so bad that the Los Angeles Clippers can maintain a 20 point lead for most of the second half on their way to a win that was never in doubt with Chris Paul having one of the worst offensive games of his Clippers career, five points on 2-11 shooting.
Prior to this game, Paul had scored five or fewer points six times as a Clipper -- the team was 1-5 in those games. But even with their three leading scorers Paul and and Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford combining for just two field goals in the first half, the Clippers still built a 50-40 lead heading into the intermission -- a lead they immediately increased to 23 points with a 13-0 run to open the second half.
From there it was just a stat-watch game. Would Blake Griffin get a triple-double? Answer, no. He tied his career-high with 11 assists but managed only seven rebounds. Would Spencer Hawes regain some of his pre-injury form? Answer, yes. Hawes maybe a couple of three pointers and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Knicks were even a little healthier than they've been, getting Andrea Bargnani back for the first time in over a year and also adding J.R. Smith back into the mix. But it didn't matter. This team is a mess, and there's really no end in sight to the misery for them. Carmelo Anthony, playing through a sore right knee that will eventually require surgery, scored 10 points on 18 shots, and no one else on the Knicks reached double figures. More to the point though, the pieces just don't fit together for this team, and their defense is astoundingly bad.
Of course, defense is very tightly correlated with effort, and teams simply aren't giving their best effort when they know they are outmanned every night, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy -- bad teams (especially when they feature a lot of veterans) give less and less effort and begin to lose more and more.
The Clippers spread the floor with shooters against New York and hoisted 34 three pointers (tying a season high), making 15 of them (the second most they've made this year). It wasn't the most sophisticated display, but it didn't need to be. Griffin, whose own jump shot was hitting the front of the rim most of the night, would catch the ball at the high post and survey the floor, looking for the best option of many as the defense crept in towards him.
J.J. Redick was red-hot in the first half, taking up the slack for the ice-cold Paul. He finished with 20 points that included four threes, all but two of his points coming before halftime. Jordan Farmar made three threes, Matt Barnes made three, Hawes made two, Crawford made two -- and Griffin probably picked up at least half of his assists just kicking to open shooters.
We knew this game would be pretty straightforward, as will the next one, Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers. At the same time, the pace of games is finally slowing a bit, and the Clippers will do something almost unheard of this Friday -- they'll hold a practice. Thursday and Friday are the first consecutive days without a game the Clippers have had in a month, and hopefully the combination of soft opponents and some practice time will allow the team to really find a rhythm.
They didn't need a lot of rhythm to beat a bad Knicks team -- but hopefully this game can help to establish the beat.