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Article:Hoops Night Out

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IT'S BEEN A FAIRLY GOOD stretch for me lately as far as attending live sporting events. Thanks to invites from buddies like Jimi the Greek and Johnny Star, I went to two New York Yankees games at the new Stadium last season, a Mets game at their own new field in scenic downtown Flushing, and this week I caught a Knicks game for the first time in a long while at good old Madison Square Garden.

Unfortunately for Knicks fans, of which luckily I'm not a member, the hometown crew managed to fritter away a 15-point 4th quarter lead to the lowly Sacramento Kings -- who, despite some up-and-coming players on the roster, have to be one of the more nondescript franchises in organized sports these days. Here was a 16-34 team riding an 11-game road losing streak into town and the Knicks, now a crappy 19-31 themselves on the year, couldn't seal the deal.

Tuesday happened to be Jewish Heritage Night at the Garden on Tuesday, and it also just happens that Sacramento has the the first and only Israeli player in the NBA on their team. Coincidence? You tell me. Omri Casspi, a 6-foot-9 rookie forward, certainly rewarded all the chants and waving of Israeli flags with a solid 18 points. And as the once-proud Knickerbockers squandered their big lead with their trademark matador defense, I'm sure more than a few fans were heard muttering " Ov vey " as a game seemingly in the bag headed to overtime.

I met John and his two fellow firemen season ticket holders outside the Garden at around 7, then we headed upstairs to the Play by Play bar for a few beers. The tickets actually called for us to sit pretty high up in the rafters, but after a walk around the perimeter we instead decided to sneak down to four conveniently unoccupied seats in a much lower section, and we stayed there unmolested for the duration of the game -- not quite court side, but close enough to spot any celebs sitting front row. No Spike Lee this night, but there was a Steve Schirripa of Sopranos fame sighting, as well as long-time Hebrew Dustin Hoffman, a Garden regular for years. More importantly, from our improved vantage point we were able to appreciate the finer points and parts of the Knick City Dancers, of booty-shaking dance moves during timeouts fame.

The unquestioned wearer of the goat horns for the hometown squad was Chris Duhon, who shot just 2-10. Duhon is a very average player with a contract that pays him 6 million dollars, which tells you everything you need to know about the dismal state of the NBA. Hardly a fan favorite already, he single-handedly butchered numerous key Knicks possessions, including the end of regulation when he heaved up an exceedingly ugly airball from 3-point range with the shot clock winding down that had lower odds of going in than a random fan coming down from the stands and hitting a half-court bomb. Duhon's heave led to deafening boos from the crowd. Not that the Knicks' lack of execution down the stretch didn't deserve a round or two of harsh booing, but the volume would only grow when, as if coached by no one, the last shot in OT inexplicably went to non-shooter Jared Jeffries of all people, who wildly fired a 3-pointer in desperation with the clock running out. The 6-11 Jeffries makes almost $6.5 million a year and gives the Knicks 5.5 points and 4.4 rebounds a night in return. Nice bang for the buck there, GM Donnie Walsh. The Knicks did get 35 points from Wilson Chandler, but somehow he never saw the ball down the stretch.

The Kings on the other hand are not waiting around for the LeBron James sweepstakes to play itself out over the offseason and instead have assembled some good young talent: 20-year-old Tyreke Evans is a 6-foot-6 point guard with silky smooth moves who finished with 27 points and 10 boards; 6-11 forward Donte Green (21 years old) had 24 points, including the bucket that put his team up 4 in overtime with a minute left; and Jason Thompson, also a second-year 6-11 forward, averages 13 points and 9 rebounds a night and is all of 23. That's how you build a team, rather than a collection of expiring contracts.

Now I'm looking forward to seeing my beloved Philly Sixers at the Garden next month, even if the 76ers are underachieving this season at 20-32 after making the playoffs last year. The game on March 19 may very well be the rapidly fading Allen Iverson's final career appearance at the Garden, and I bet the place will be packed if fans realize that. Peace out...

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