Looking Ahead!

There are now exactly 17 games left on the Knicks’ regular season schedule. Taking a quick peak ahead, of those 17 games, 12 of them are against teams with lesser records; teams New York should beat: Milwaukee (twice), Detroit, Charlotte, Toronto, Philadelphia, Cleveland (on second thought…), Indiana (twice), Memphis (identical in the loss column), and New Jersey (twice). Eight of the 12 are on the road, including tonight’s revenge match in Indiana. New York’s other five games don’t look as much fun. Two against Boston, two against Orlando, and one at MSG against Chicago. The season’s final two games will be against the Bulls and the Celtics, two teams fighting for the conference’s top seed, so its likely they’ll still play their starters regular minutes. The Knicks should finish the stretch above .500 but with this team you never know.  They could lose each game by 35, split them right down the middle, or win out with Carmelo and Amar’e combining for 75 points a night. It’s mercurial. Quite mercurial.

Thanks to the team’s inconsistent nature, Knick fans are currently split in two different camps. The first sees New York as an ultra talented ensemble, capable of light switching their abilities on and off as they please. (“Wait, we lost to Indiana? Umm…so what! We have Carmelo, they don’t.”) The other ideological group views the Knicks as an overrated bunch unable to mesh their individual skills together in time for a deep playoff run. (“Wait, we lost to Indiana? And they didn’t have Danny Granger? And Tyler Hansbrough went for how many? How dare they raise ticket prices! Screw this team; they’re terrible.”)

Both are slightly extreme and more impatient than they need to be, and both can agree that defensive intensity nears the top of the team’s shopping list. But each month this season New York has shown that they’re nothing more than a .500 club—16-17 since New Year’s Day. Almost all of the team’s statistics remain equal post Carmelo Anthony (but without Chauncey Billups)—for example points per game are up 1.2, points allowed are down 0.3, offensive rebounds are both 10.4 per game, and three-pointers made were 9.0 before the trade and 8.9 after.

Here’s further information on why the team’s offense gets stagnant and its defense remains porous, courtesy of Howard Beck’s latest in the Times:

“We revert back to ‘Just give me the ball, let me put my head down and go,’ ” D’Antoni said Monday, adding: “That’s what we have to guard against. Those are tendencies that we’ve shown that we’ve had. And hopefully we can get that out of their games completely. I think we will. I don’t see it as a problem.”

As the Knicks prepared for a Tuesday night rematch with the Pacers in Indiana, the focus was on well-worn principles of ball and player movement. The lack of each was evident as they reviewed tape of Sunday’s game — the one D’Antoni referred to as “a horror film.”

“We can’t win that way,” Stoudemire agreed. “We didn’t move the ball.”

The Knicks are just 6-5 since Anthony arrived. Every encouraging victory against a quality team (Miami, Atlanta and Memphis) has been offset by a stunning loss to a poor team (Indiana, Cleveland twice).

Anthony has been productive, averaging 25.5 points, and predictably erratic. He has converted 50 percent of his shots in just three games. He is shooting 47.2 percent in the Knicks’ victories and 41.4 percent in the losses. Also noteworthy is the difference in Anthony’s assist rate: 4.2 per game in wins and 2.4 per game in losses. On Sunday, he had zero assists.

“Right now, we’re playing against the Knicks,” D’Antoni said. “It’s us.”

Where does this put us? The Knicks are far and away the most Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde team in the league. When they win it makes sense. When they lose that too makes sense. At least we know one thing: Unless hell freezes over, they won’t have to play Denver.

Tags: Amare Stoudemire Carmelo Anthony Chauncey Billups Howard Beck Mike D'Antoni

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