After the thrashing the Knicks took at the hands of the Miami Heat this past Sunday, some adjustments will have to be made. On one front, injuries and various ailments factored into their Game 1 performance, and fans rightly complained about the officiating. But the Knicks have to improve on a whole other level if they want any shot at winning a game in this series.
Yes, Iman Shumpert is out. Baron Davis’s back is still very much an issue. Tyson Chandler’s fever has dropped, but he’s still recovering from the flu. Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby will play major minutes. Gulp.
But the Knicks need to focus on who they have on the court and what they can do to make those players better. This starts with the offense.
With Davis unhealthy and Shumpert out for the season, you have to figure the ball will be in Carmelo Anthony’s hands a lot more. That is, if they can get him the ball. In Game 1, the Heat played Anthony very physically, pushing him out onto the perimeter and fronting every one of his catches. This led to precious seconds on the shot clock ticking away while the ball-handlers waited for Melo to get position, and then try and toss the ball over the anticipating Heat defenders’ hands.
Mike Woodson needs to be more creative in getting ‘Melo the ball. The Heat are very aggressive with their pick-and-roll defense, so using Anthony as the screener might not be as effective to get him better looks. However, the Knicks could, at the very least, set some down screens for him, or set some off-ball screens and run Anthony on a curl to get him a clean pass.
Likewise, the Knicks absolutely need Amar’e Stoudemire to be more aggressive. It’s baffling that neither Mike D’Antoni or Woodson ever run a ‘Melo-Amar’e pick-and-roll with any consistency, but it may be effective if the Knicks go small without Tyson Chandler in the game, or if they surround Anthony and Stoudemire with shooters like Steve Novak and J.R. Smith.
By using Anthony as the ball-hander and Stoudemire as the screener, the Heat either have to pick their poison – stopping Anthony’s drive or denying Amar’e's roll – or switch, in which case Anthony would have a larger, slower defender on him.
The primary ball-handlers will figure to be Davis (in limited action), Anthony, Bibby, Douglas, and Smith. Some of them have shown the wherewithal to run a pick-and-roll, but in the halfcourt, the Heat either switch on screens, or hedge aggressively which essentially denies any actions in the play.
Stoudemire is at his most effective in a fast-paced offense (see: Phoenix Suns 2002-2009 or New York Knicks 2010). If the Knicks push the ball off misses, and race up the court, they can run a more effective pick-and-roll with Stoudemire before the Heat’s defense can set and prepare itself.
Getting both Anthony and Stoudemire active in the Knicks offense will force the Heat to commit to either one. This will open up the floor for the rest of the Knicks.
And, of course, an offense is only effective if a team can hold onto the ball. Miami is too fast, athletic, explosive to be given opportunities to run in the fast break. If the Knicks continue to turn the ball over (27 in Game 1!!), they really won’t have a chance to beat Miami.
The defense is another issue. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are going to beat you. They’ll get their points on drives and jumpers alike; you really can’t stop them. However, the Knicks frustration mounted in the second quarter of Game 1 and that frustration usually led to silly, pointless fouls, built the momentum for the Heat. Guard the Big 3 the best you can, and just force them into a tough shot – there’s a chance they’ll miss it. What the Knicks don’t want to do is bail Miami out with fouls.
With each passing game in a series, the next game always feels like the most important. However, tonight could be the most important for the Knicks in terms of swinging the whole series. If somehow, some way, the Knicks could steal Game 2 in Miami tonight, they’ll head back to New York with a tied series and raucous Garden crowd awaiting their heroes.
The game will be on at 7 on TNT. Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis will both start, Landry Fields will start in place of Iman Shumpert. Let’s go Knicks!