Many people take trips to the Pacific to get away from the grind of New York City for a bit. Sun and sand can do wonders to restore a flagging spirit. As long as the Lakers aren't one of the stops, so can visits to the state's basketball teams.
The Knicks, who entered Thursday night's game against Sacramento on the brink of implosion, flew home on Sunday as the proud owners of a three-game winning streak. The wins over the Kings, Warriors and Clippers weren't always pretty, but they showed that the Knicks learned a few lessons during their six-game losing skid.
They figured out that you can't just stand around and throw the ball at the hoop from the three-point line all game. The three wins featured an offense long on ball movement and penetration, two things that led to a lot of free throws and a lot of open looks for offensive players who were settling for bad shots in prior games. They moved from 24th to 8th in the league in offensive efficiency in the three wins, a sign of just how ugly their offense had become in the first 11 games of the season.
Attacking the basket in that way isn't just more attractive, it's more effective. When you're finding different ways to get buckets, you're a lot less likely to fold in the fourth quarter because you can't stop the bleeding on the offensive end.
There were two keys to these developments. The first was that Raymond Felton was set free to be more of a scorer, a career-high 35 against Golden State, with the offensive distribution role spread out among several players. The impressive rookie Landry Fields is a key to this adjustment, as he seems able to run the two-man game with Amar'e Stoudemire much more effectively than the nominal point guard.
The second, and more significant, was the way Danilo Gallinari pulled a Don Draper and rediscovered his mojo on a trip to the West Coast. His hair might not feature as much product nor did he get engaged, but Gallo flashed the kind of scoring ability that's tantalized us for the last three years. He averaged 27 points a game in the wins, went to the free throw line 36 times and finished strong in the final two wins. He dropped 11 in the fourth quarter against the Warriors and 17 against the Clippers to close out the victories in fine fashion.
Gallo's revival didn't capture as many headlines as Blake Griffin's remarkable dunk show on Saturday night, but the Knicks needed the wins more than they needed to become a YouTube phenomenon. They got them, no matter the brief flashes of humiliation, and now they return to New York with a little more spring in their step.
Let's hope they bottled a little of that sunshine to use back on our coast.