With two victories over the weekend against the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, the Knicks have managed to pull themselves up to being tied for seventh in the East. Our 3-1 record on the road trip was, amazingly (and depressingly), the best we’ve done on the road since 1998. Yes, during it we beat two of the league’s weaker teams (the Kings & Clips), and the Warriors were missing one of their best players (our former fan-fave, David Lee). However, keep in mind that previously we had been losing to those weaker teams, even ones missing top players (the Sixers without Andre Iguodala, and the Rockets without Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks). The results were so different than the early part of the season, that it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s Memorex. So who are we?
Before the streak, we were nearly a top 10 team on D and a bottom 5 team on O. After our recent scoring binge, our season rankings have completely flip-flopped. Our offensive rating has leapt up to 7th, while our defensive rating has plummeted to 24th. Considering where we were before, considering these new averages, it’s quite possible that during our three-game winning steak we had maybe the best offense in the league and simultaneously the worst defense.
The danger, as we’ve been writing lately, is that on nights when our three-point shot isn’t falling, we wont’ have a shot. During the two weekend games, we shot 43.5% and 45.8% from distance. No team can expect to shoot anywhere near that. However, we also only attempted 24 and 23 of ‘em, which is a nice dip from the 31 we shot the previous week. That’ll help mitigate the damage on nights when we aren’t feeling it. Another extremely positive thing is that we had 51 free-throw attempts in the Clippers game, a result of driving to the hoop a bunch. The two best types of shots to take in the NBA are at the rim (naturally) and three-pointers (‘cuz they net you more points). The worst, obviously, is long-range twos. Meaning, aside from whether we make our threes or not, our shot selection is pretty solid.
Another thing from the weekend that may help pay off down the road, is that in the last few games the other team has battled back from big deficits and we’ve managed to keep our cool. During out losing streak, we were falling apart in the fourth quarter, looking scared on offense. Against Golden State, we led by as many as 18 points with 2:12 remaining in the third. In the fourth, there were three times when the Warriors got within two points, yet we didn’t crumble, thinking “oh no, how could we let such a big lead disappear, what if we lose again?” which is what happened in the loss to Minnesota.
In fact, look at our records: 5-4 away and only 1-4 at home. The Garden Faithful are notorious boo-ers, and perhaps the hometown pressure adding to the team’s already self-ingrained pressure was part of what lead to the MSG losses against the Sixers, Warriors and Rockets. If our Golden State rematch had been in New York, and we let an 18 point lead vanish in seven minutes, we all know how we would’ve reacted. Would that booing have made our team jittery and unable to hold it together?
Alright, let’s go off on that tangent for a second: I’ve often felt that sometimes our negativity in games hurts our chances. One can argue, whatever, they’re professionals, they should be able to handle it. They should know that they’re playing like crap and that we expect them to turn it around. I’m all for that between games or at the end of games if there’s no way to come back, but during ‘em, rarely does it inspire players to do better. There are some folk out there, like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, who get fired up by doubters, but most players when they’re sucking need people to believe in them to get out of their slump.
Three more notables from the weekend:
1. Eliminating Anthony Randolph from the equation and cutting down the rotation seems to have helped. In the Golden State game we only went eight players deep, with Timofey Mozgov remaining glued to the bench. Against the Clips he got some run because Blake Griffin’s monster game put all of the Knicks’ bigs in foul trouble (Wilson Chandler fouled out, Amar’e and Ronny Turiaf had five each, and Mozgov had four). It helps not just in terms of “getting rid of the bad players” but perhaps more importantly, allowing the players who do get minutes to better know their role and be prepared. When those bigs don’t get as many minutes, it’s a trickle down effect for everyone, ‘cuz Amar’e plays more center, Danilo Gallinari and Chandler play more power forward, creating time at the small forward and shooting guard spots too.
That means now Gallo knows that he’ll get 35+ minutes, even if he starts out a bit off. Bill Walker knows he has to be prepared because he’s the only designated shooter coming in off the bench. Toney Douglas knows he’ll now be playing 20-22 minutes rather than the 30+ he had in some of the earlier ones (unless perhaps he starts going insane again like he did during that two-game stretch). Amar’e realizes he’ll have to play more center than he’d hoped. Raymond Felton’s seen that he not only may be expected to play 40+ minutes, but that he truly will be the only point guard for almost the whole game, with Toney being mostly a two-guard.
2. We’ve begun to show an unfortunate trend of being destroyed by opposing teams’ power forwards. We gave Blake Griffin a highlight reel to savor for the rest of his life, and ditto Kevin Love. Although both of them seem to have serious potential to be studs, so maybe they’ll have many more nights like those. Perhaps we can even excuse David Lee’s breakout night against us as him just being pumped to be back at the Garden and having something to prove. But we also made the solid-but-unspectacular Carl Landry look unstoppable. Now it’s not just Amar’e's fault since Chandler and Turiaf sometimes defend that spot too, but it ain’t a good omen. Hopefully, it’s a fluke and not a sign of things to come.
3. You may scoff and be skeptical about the Knicks now being the seventh seed since they still have a losing record. However, as I stated before the season began, I think the bottom of the East is weak enough that they can potentially squeak into the playoffs even with a losing record and only say 38 wins. So while you rightly should’t expect them to turn into an above .500 team, don’t assume that means they can’t keep their slice of the playoff pie.
Topics: Amare Stoudemire, Anthony Randolph, Bill Walker, Blake Griffin, Carl Landry, Danilo Gallinari, Golden State Warriors, Kevin Love, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Raymond Felton, Ronny Turiaf, Timofey Mozgov, Toney Douglas, Wilson Chandler