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Moral victories don't exist in professional sports, but encouraging losses do.
Thursday night was just such a loss for the Knicks. The Bulls beat them 105-102 at the Garden, making it 10 losses in 12 games, but there were more good signs than bad on the court.
Against one of the best, if not the best, defenses in the league, the Knicks offense looked more fluid and balanced than it has at any other point this season. Amar'e Stoudemire had all the explosiveness we've been looking for since the beginning, tomahawking several dunks on his way to 34 points and a lot of sad Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer faces.
Carmelo Anthony made it a point to keep the ball moving for much of the night, providing plenty of open shots for other players and scoring 26 points of his own.
There were moments where he forced shots, of course, but one of the biggest baskets of the game came late in the fourth when he passed out of a double-team to Stoudemire, who kicked an extra pass to Landry Fields for a key bucket.
Fields looked like the player from the first half of last season again, making it a string of several games where he's looked comfortable in the offense. The whole thing just worked, a very promising sign when you're playing a team like the Bulls without a point guard.
There have been plenty of times this season when you've watched the Knicks offense do its absurdist comedy thing and heard cries about needing Baron Davis to set things on the right course. Honestly, though, most of those nights were so bad that adding Davis wouldn't do a thing.
That wasn't the case on Thursday, although Iman Shumpert wasn't terrible. There was a real reason to believe that adding a point guard who knows what he's doing would make everything okay in the land of the Knicks.
Given all of this positivity, you might be asking yourself how the Knicks lost. There are two big reasons, not counting officiating that seemed to be much more willing to reward the Bulls for their forays into the lane and less willing to punish members of their team who complained.
The Knicks turned the ball over 11 times in the second quarter which allowed Chicago to take an 11-point lead into halftime. That proved to be too big a bulge for the Knicks to erase in the second half, even as they cooked on offense while forcing stops and turnovers on defense.
A big reason for all the turnovers was the play of the bench, especially the increasingly unreliable Toney Douglas. All five starters had to play 36 minutes, less than ideal in the first of back-to-back-to-back games but Mike D'Antoni had little choice thanks to the complete lack of productivity on the second unit.
The other key to the loss was the fact that Derrick Rose is a very good basketball player. Shumpert tried as hard as he could, but Rose ate him up and used his otherworldly speed to create play after play that made you think this kid has a shot to win a few more MVP awards before all is said and done.
Davis might not be able to do anything about the likes of Rose, but the extra two percent that the Knicks couldn't come up with on the other end are his cup of tea. We're not sure when he'll get back, but Thursday night provided the most confidence in a long while that it hasn't just been a pipe dream that it will matter when he does get on the court.