Amare Stoudemire made his highly anticipated season debut on Tuesday night as the New York Knicks fell to the Portland Trailblazers 105-100. With Raymond Felton likely to be out a while with a hand injury, the Knicks are finding that their once harmonious offense doesn’t quite have the same jingle to it.
New York began the season looking like the best offensive group in the league as they played at an up-tempo pace, moved the ball unselfishly and were knocking down threes from all angles. But now they are without their starting point guard and their lineup consists of Kurt Thomas stepping into the power forward spot, Melo going back to the three, Jason Kidd shifting over to the point, and Brewer now playing the off-guard. Their offense was predicated on their two point-guard backcourt with all players forming a threat offensively; Felton and Kidd could interchange positions, both Brewer and Anthony could guard both forward positions and Chandler could be the anchor down-low.
Their speed and ability to space the floor along with Anthony creating a problem for opposing power forwards defensively was their recipe for success. Now that philosophy will have to be put on hold for a while as Raymond’s finger may require surgery. Without Felton their lineup takes a drastic change, and at the same time they are trying to incorporate Stoudemire back into the lineup. Many will point the finger to Stoudemire for this team’s struggles, but the entire formation of the team has been altered without their number one floor general.
For only the second time this season the Knicks have lost back-to-back games and their firm position at the top of the east is beginning to loosen up. The reality is that Kurt Thomas is the oldest player in the league and would not come close to starting for most teams. His playing time is severely limited, but he is still in the lineup. Jason Kidd has turned into a spot-up shooter and can no longer initiate the offense like he did in the past. Ronnie Brewer plays strong defense, but his jump-shot is exceedingly deficient. This season Brewer is shooting 38% from the floor and 44% from the free-throw line.
With all of these changes it should come as no surprise that this team will struggle to score the ball, and their defense will falter as well. Tuesday night when New York hosted the Blazers, only three Knicks were in double-figures offensively. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith combined for 73 of the team’s 100 points. These two players have begun to provide over half of the Knicks’ offense most recently. Remove the 10 points Tyson Chandler had and the rest of the team scored only 17 points.
New York was able to climb back into the game after being down 18 points early in the second quarter, but the Trailblazers’ well balanced attack was too much for the Knicks. Four Portland starters scored at least 18 points; they scored 12 more points in the paint, and were plus 10 on the boards. Carmelo and J.R. may have been able to make up for the lack of scoring from the rest of the team, but their defense was not strong enough to get them a win.
Stoudemire did appear to be a step slow defensively, but the Knicks guards also had trouble slowing down rookie point guard Damian Lillard who finished with 21 points, including a three with under a minute to go, which pushed the lead to 103-97. J.J. Hickson was unstoppable inside as he went 9-11 from the field for 18 points and one rebound from a double-double. The Knicks simply could not come up with a stop when they needed it most.
As we enter 2013, New York is facing trouble on both ends of the floor and have a number of question marks moving forward. If Felton has surgery, he will miss up to 6 weeks of actions. This would be a tough blow for the Knicks, but he would be back for most of the second half of the season. In the meantime, Mike Woodson will need to figure out how this team can keep winning games. Defense will be a priority, and their lineup will likely see multiple variations.
The good news is the instant offense that Anthony and Smith provide will keep this squad competitive in any game, and Stoudemire will continue to get back into game-shape which could benefit this team a great deal. The Knicks will host a tough San Antonio Spurs team on Thursday as they look to get back into the win column.