In each half of Wednesday night's game against the Mavericks, the Knicks had stretches where they looked like the best basketball team on the planet.
Before, in between and after those stretches they looked like one of the worst, however, and that's why they wound up as 113-97 losers at Madison Square Garden. There's no great shame in losing to a team like Dallas, especially with this year's beating being a lot more respectable than last year's 50-point beatdown. It's still frustrating, though, because, like so many Knicks losses this season, it felt avoidable.
The two big Knick runs both featured heaping helpings of Danilo Gallinari and then he'd disappear as the Knicks offense stagnated into a series of bad shots early in the shot clock off of just one pass. The need for Gallo's scoring touch has been made so clear in recent weeks that it boggles the mind to try to understand how the team can look away from him for so long, especially on a night when little else is working.
And little else was working, as evidenced by Amar'e Stoudemire scoring 21 points in the first half before a second half shutout. Dirk Nowitzki experienced no such spells of ineffectiveness, although he didn't get any MVP chants from the normally voluable Garden crowd. That difference turned a four-point Mav lead at the half into a 24-point third quarter bulge that essentially ended the contest.
Landry Fields had three threes rattle in and out while the Mavs stroked 11 of them. Not enough? How about Timofey Mozgov hurtling back to Earth? It was bound to happen once the realization that players whose ability to catch the ball make you wistful about Patrick Ewing's hands aren't long for the world took hold.
The problems with defense, particularly the masochistic obsession with switching so that guards find themselves guarding Nowitzki, and rebounding are well documented at this point, so we won't harp on them other than to say that the Knicks have proven they can win games against good teams despite those shortcomings. To do that, they need to be sharp and crisp on offense for entire games, not just short bursts, and that kind of execution was nowhere to be found on Wednesday.
That's frustrating and it is the biggest difference from the last few seasons as losses actually gall you instead of make you shrug your shoulders. Losing either of the next two to the Sixers will do a lot more than gall, however. The Knicks have a three-game lead over Philly for the sixth spot in the playoffs, but the Sixers have a losing record. It will be a lot harder to keep being surprised by losses like this if the Knicks are in that kind of company.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.