Over the course of their five-game winning streak, the Knicks got away with some bad habits that didn't wind up costing them any games.
They got off to slow starts, forcing themselves to come back from the opening minutes of the game, and they allowed a lot of open shots from the outside to members of the opposition regardless of the time of the game. Those early deficits wound up getting erased and opposing shooters missed an awful lot of those looks, which gives the impression that they aren't such a big deal after all.
Perhaps that's why the Knicks haven't done much to alter the bad habits, leading to the end of that winning streak in Washington 106-96 on Wednesday night. The Knicks had a lethargy to their effort that smacked of overconfidence about their ability to play in a few spurts over the course of the night and still get away with a win.
It almost worked for them. They allowed themselves to fall behind by a lot in the first quarter before rallying back into the lead and then fell behind by nine in the third quarter before grabbing a three-point lead heading into the fourth.
And then things totally fell apart in the fourth because you cannot, in fact, play at 15 percent of effort in the NBA and actually win a game. The Knicks refused to get back on defense, refused to close out on shooters and just generally played as lazy a quarter as they have all season to get a loss that they well deserved.
John Wall is a touch matchup for a team that's struggled with opposing point guards, but his presence doesn't explain why the paint was wide open for the Wizards time after time on Wednesday night. Tyson Chandler might have been thinking about rebounds more than defense, because he didn't seem overly interested in stopping Emeka Okafor or Nene from putting the ball in the hoop.
Nor does Wall's presence explain why the Knicks were just fine with letting Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza unleash open three after open three on a night that it was clear they were hitting them at a rate usually associated with players not named Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza. They were 10-of-16 from three while Jason Kidd and J.R. Smith missed all eight of their attempts from three, a difference that decided the game and one that may well have come about because the Wizards actually tried to stop the Knicks from hitting open threes.
The flatness existed even for the Knicks who played well (Carmelo Anthony, Ray Felton, Amar'e Stoudemire) and the result was one that probably could have come in a couple of other recent games if teams had been able to hit open looks. It's easy to understand how these bad habits can take root when the team is winning in spite of them, so perhaps this is a jolt of honesty for the team.
As long as the team doesn't tell itself that bad shooters had a good night, that jolt is a good thing for a team that needs to iron out the kinks even when they're winning games.