The New York Knicks continued their poor form of late last night, losing by 15 on the road to a team that is currently tied for tenth in the Western Conference.
This season started out hot for the Knicks as their three point shooting was lights out and their defense stringent. Now, the team has given up 100 point performances to the opposition in three of its last four and sunk to tenth in the league in shooting percentage from beyond the arc.
Sure the Knicks have had their share of injury troubles, but the unbridled enthusiasm for the game and passion to win that saw them whip the Miami Heat their first two meetings this season seems to have been lost. The Knicks have had hard times fall upon them this season with Amar’e Stoudemire’s revolving door of health concerns continuing to plague the team and Carmelo Anthony experiencing his own bodily troubles.
Offensive inconsistency from their stable of point guards combined with the return of Iman Shumpert, who isn’t nearly as sharp as his rookie self after ACL surgery last year, has made the Knicks backcourt one of the most confusing to watch. Outside of J.R. Smith, the Knicks backcourt doesn’t consistently contribute much in the way of scoring or anything else to the team. Kidd can go off for 18 one night and three the next. Felton is much the same and looked even more confused without a true pick and roll partner in the lineup last night in Portland as Tyson Chandler was out with a bruised knee.
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Defensively, that group has name recognition to it with Shumpert and Kidd, but sure enough the inconsistency is seen on that end too. Just one night after holding a recently red hot Ty Lawson to 13 points and 7 assists, the Knicks allow Rookie of the Year candidate Damien Lillard to explode for 26 points and 10 assists on Thursday. Granted, Chandler was missing on Thursday, but let’s be honest, he only played 17 minutes Wednesday leaving Lawson plenty of time to invade the paint.
If the MVP award related to monetary value returned on a player, J.R. Smith would be the runaway candidate this season as he currently makes a mere $2.8 million while averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds per game. Last night, he paced the Knicks with 33 points on 11-of-21 shooting, the ninth time this season he has gone for more than 25 points while coming off the bench. But as you might expect, right now we’re seeing that a valid sixth man candidate isn’t enough to carry a team in the stead of two guys who are meant to be the centerpieces of a franchise.
This Knicks need two things to happen in order to get back on track and neither involves more scoring and doesn’t leave them reliant on the return of Anthony to epic numbers. First, considering the remainder of their schedule includes the likes of the Clippers, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Miami, Milwaukee, Indiana, Chicago and Boston and Atlanta twice each, the team has to get back to the defensive identity it had in the beginning of the season. Mike Woodson’s brand of basketball isn’t pretty, but it works. This team was in the top five of the NBA defensively six weeks ago, but they are now tenth.
Secondly, the Knicks are ranked 23rd in the NBA in rebounds and without their star power to drive the offense, they’re relying on good three point shooting to see them through. That didn’t come last night (7-of-25 from three point distance) and as I said before, has been an issue of late. If they’re going to get through this rough patch, they have to rebound better. Last night, they faced a Trailblazer team that is as weak on the boards as they are (ranked 22nd), but they were outdone again. Of the teams mentioned that they face in the coming weeks, Miami, Atlanta and Boston all rank below them, so the Knicks could employ a healthy rebounding advantage to overcome their lackluster shooting in at least a few cases.
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Anthony is likely going to return to the lineup Sunday after having his knee drained, but how effective he will be is uncertain. Stoudemire won’t return until the playoffs, if he does at all, so the Knicks are going to have to step up as a team if they’re going to avoid a slide down the Eastern Conference standings. They are one game ahead of Brooklyn in the four seed and a mere 2.5 games ahead of seventh placed Atlanta. For teams trying jockey their way up the postseason ladder in the East, there is no better target than the Knicks and luckily for four of them, the opportunity to inflict some hurt on the Knicks personally will come before the regular season is out.
As for the recent troubles: Is it due to the loss of Stoudemire for the season or the recent inconsistencies of Anthony due to his own injuries? No, because issues that have caused this team to go 10-9 since Feb.1 can’t be blamed on a singular player or the coach. They fall on the shoulders of everyone in blue and orange. It’s in the team’s body language and it’s in their play during key moments. The Knicks have enough skill and muscle to beat anyone, and on most nights they’ll beat the teams they’re supposed to. But the playoffs aren’t chalk full of pee-ons. Can they get those crunch time winners and scrap for the important rebounds against the likes of Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma City, Denver or the L.A. Clippers? Can they get the final stop they need to walk out victorious? Those are the moments that decide playoff games, entire seasons and careers.
Truthfully, I think the Knicks will give Miami and Indiana at least a good run for their money for the Eastern Conference title. I have to believe that as a Knicks fan. I like Mike Woodson and I like this team. But I know they won’t be doing it in a manner that’s anything close to the sort of basketball they’ve played over the last six weeks and over the next six weeks, they’re going to have to rediscover themselves to right the ship.