When the Knicks first met the Cavaliers in Cleveland this season, all anyone could talk about was the chance that LeBron James would come to New York in 2010. Whether it was repudiation of the idea that James had a better chance of winning a title anywhere by Cleveland or just a simple talent disparity, the Cavaliers won a 118-82 laugher.
The Knicks were 18 games into the season at that point, and had just traded away Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph. A close loss to a very good team on the road could have been seen as a building block, but last night's 98-93 loss at Cleveland can't be spun off that way. Yes, they hung with a team that's lost just once at home until the final buzzer and did it without playing very well at all, but a loss is a loss is a loss. Especially after three straight wins that moved them into the thick of the playoff race.
"Overall, our defense was loads better," Lee said. "We didn't have anyone getting 50 points on us tonight."
Lee's a funny choice for a spokesman about defensive improvement, since his inability to cover the offensively limited Anderson Varejao contributed mightily to the loss. He got his double-double, though, the personal statistical version of a moral victory splashed on the screen in attempt to distract from a 5-for-16 shooting performance.
Lee's mental mistakes were compounded by a team-wide breakdown when Nate Robinson went down hard on a layup attempt and didn't get up. The Knicks, apparently convinced that four of them was better than five Cavaliers, didn't foul and watched Sasha Pavlovic hit a three to put the home team up by five points instead. The Knicks aren't that good, playing stupid isn't a thrill they can afford without paying the price.
That's especially true when you're talking about the playoff chase. 16 games to play and six games battling for the final playoff spot means that giving away victories is self-destructive. Giving away chances at victories, which the Knicks did on Sunday, is suicidal, even if you look strong while doing it.