The Knicks snapped a four-game losing streak by defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, and retaining first place in the Atlantic Division. Heading into the game, the Knicks had been mired in a major slump on both ends of the floor, undoubtedly playing their worst basketball of the season. A last-minute loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday seemed to be the tipping point, the time where the panic button ought to be pushed. Granted, it was against a weaker opponent, but tonight’s win over the Sixers displayed better effort and determination for longer stretches than we’d seen in recent weeks.
Anytime a team exceeds expectations, it’s natural to point to two things: a great coaching effort and good personnel changes. While the Knicks are in a bit of a tailspin at the moment, one of the things that make it such a big deal is that up to this point the Knicks have greatly exceeded expectations. As of this writing, the Knicks are 32-20, 12 games over .500, despite their current four-game losing streak. Last year, after 52 games, they were 26-26 and they finished the season just six games over .500, barely making it into the Eastern Conference playoff field. The Knicks entered this season with a roster built around the same three core stars, having lost Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire starting the season on the sideline. There were hopes that the Knicks would respond well to a full season under Mike Woodson, but few prognosticators had the Knicks in line to win the Atlantic Division. While the Knicks have benefited from both excellent coaching and some good moves by management, perhaps the most significant change has been to the offensive game of their returning star, Carmelo Anthony.
The Knicks’ slow starts are no longer a trend, but a trait. Since beginning the season in near-dominant fashion, running out to an 18-5 record, the Knicks are just 14-14. Though many of their problems have stemmed from injuries and having to work new players in and out of the rotation, the Knicks have been pretty consistently out of rhythm since 2013 rang in, and Mike Woodson has found few answers to solve their arrhythmic play.
These problems could be traced back to Carmelo Anthony’s various absences, Jason Kidd’s gradual deterioration, Raymond Felton’s month-long absence, the continual injury bugs plaguing Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby, the rotational additions of Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, and the up-and-down play of J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, and Ronnie Brewer. Piled on over the course of a month and a half, these problems add up, and it’s showed in the Knicks’ play.
For awhile, the team was executing nicely on offense, but struggled mightily to get stops on defense. In the last game before the All-Star break, the Knicks smothered the Toronto Raptors’ offense, but couldn’t figure out a way to score the ball, shooting just 35% from the field and 36% from three-point range. Last night against the Indiana Pacers, arguably the most embarrassing loss of the season, the Knicks took a collective dump on the floor, shooting 33% from the field, 17% from downtown, and giving up 125 points to the seventh least efficient offense in the NBA.
It’s safe to say the Knicks are in a state of total ineptitude.
Last season, the Knicks had a Defensive Rating of 101.0 or 101 points per 100 possessions, good for fifth in the league. This was despite having notorious pace addict Mike D’Antoni as their head coach for most of the season. This season, the Knicks, now coached by reputed defensive guru Mike Woodson, have a Defensive Rating of 106.1, good for 15th in the league. So how did our beloved Knickerbockers go from one of the league’s elite defensive teams to right smack in the middle?
Jason Kidd’s beginning to the 2012-13 season was basically a giant middle finger to all of his prior doubters coming into the season, myself included. Like many others, I had prematurely concluded that the Knicks had wasted their money on a 39-year old who wouldn’t be able to offer enough on the court to make up for the tied-up money and roster spot he occupied. I saw severely declining statistics over the previous three years and had low expectations about what kind of on-court tangibles Kidd could bring. The many doubters and I were wrong.
Kidd kicked off the season in fantastic form. Not only did Kidd bring the intangibles that people have raved about for the last decade – leadership, veteran poise, etc. – his on-court worth was huge to the Knicks. His accurate marksmanship from downtown, surprisingly stout defense with lightning quick hands, and a keen, unwavering sense of where to pass the ball at all times made him an essential member of the team.
In a possible preview of a first round playoff series, the Knicks defeated the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden last night by a score of 96-86. The Knicks entered the game second in the Eastern Conference while the Bucks entered seventh in the conference standings. The Knicks were led by Carmelo Anthony’s 25-point, eight rebound, six assist performance. The Bucks were led by Ersan Ilyasova, who stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists.
This one was over before both team’s starters could even break a sweat. The Philadelphia 76ers embarrassed the Knicks last night, routing them by a score of 97-80. Sixers first time All-Star Jrue Holiday led Philly with a career high 35 points while dishing out six assists and grabbing five rebounds. Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 25 points but shot just 9-for-28 from the field.
Raymond Felton’s succession of Jeremy Lin was well-documented coming into the season. Lin, a young point guard, a fan and media favorite, was replaced by Felton, an older point guard coming off the worst season of his career with limited potential upside for the future. Felton immediately proclaimed that he was going to come in with a “chip on his shoulder” and shut his critics up by having a great season. Early on, he was doing so.
Kicking off a three-game road trip, the Knicks began it on a winning note, winning a wild game against the Charlotte Bobcats by a score of 100-98 last night. Tyson Chandler led the Knicks with a monster 18 point, 17 rebound performance while Carmelo Anthony led the scoring attack with 23 points. Despite a tough shooting game from J.R. Smith, he finished with 13 points and the game-winning jumper as time expired. Second year guard and Bronx native Kemba Walker led the Bobcats with 25 points and 11 assists.
Losers of three of their last four games (including the Battle for New York City to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night), the Knicks (9-4, tied for 1st in Atlantic Division) end their quick two game road trip tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks (7-5, 1st in Central Division). The Knicks will again be without Jason Kidd, who missed Monday night’s game with back spasms. The team has him listed as day-to day. Ronnie Brewer, who dislocated his left ring finger in the loss to the Nets, will be available for the Knicks. There has been no word on who will replace Kidd in the starting lineup. Coach Mike Woodson could use his big lineup of Raymond Felton-Brewer-Carmelo Anthony-Kurt Thomas-Tyson Chandler or just replace Kidd at shooting guard with one of either J.R. Smith, Steve Novak or James White.
Hopefully the Knicks had a great Thanksgiving dinner, because they’re Thanksgiving Eve and Black Friday were absolutely horrendous. Following their late game loss to the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night, the Knicks put up a pitiful performance tonight against the Houston Rockets, losing by a score of 131-103. The Rockets were led by the duo of James Harden (33 points) and Chandler Parsons (31 points). The two combined to shoot 20-for-32 from the field (7-of-12 from beyond the arc) and 17-of-18 from the free throw line, with Harden alone shooting a perfect 16-for-16 from the charity stripe. The Knicks were led by the hot hand of Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 37 points on 14-for-24 shooting (7-for-12 from beyond the arc).
The Knicks take their 5-0 record into the Home of the Alamo to take on the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. The Spurs come into tonight’s game with a 7-1 record, tops in the Southwest division and Western Conference. They have won three straight ballgames and are coming off a close, two-point victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center this past Tuesday.