No one thought the Knicks 39 games into the season would be leading the Atlantic Division at 25-14. They came into the season with a new cast of players, and had injuries before the season even started in Amare’ Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert and Marcus Camby – there were a lot of unknowns.
However they got out to a fantastic 18-5 start due to great defense, ball movement, teamwork and flat out excitement. But the Knicks of late have cooled off with a 7-9 stretch, losing 4 of 6 games to Eastern Conference playoff contenders: Bulls, Celtics, Pacers and Nets. What seemed to be a comfortable lead has dwindled to almost nothing as the Knicks currently sit at 25-14, half a game in front of the Nets (26-16), who have won 10 of 11, and six games ahead of the Celtics, who are also slowly but surely creeping up.
So what’s the cause of this NY Knicks slide???
1. Defense – During the Knicks 7-9 stretch, they have been digging themselves into deep holes in the first half. In those 9 games that they lost, the Knicks were down an average of 10.2 points at the half, twice being down by 21 (against the Kings and Chicago). The Knicks let up a whopping 71 points to the Sacremento Kings (3rd worst record in Western Conference) in the first half!!! Against good teams, it’s very difficult to come back and win no matter how much energy you bring in the second half.
2. Injuries - this is the most obvious cause – The Knicks have been without Raymond Felton (broken pinky finger) for a month which has limited the penetrating and dishing and has left the Knicks in a bad position defensively guarding the quick point guards. We have also been without Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace due to foot injuries for a good chunk of time, leaving us vulnerable down low in terms of both rebounding and defense. This has put a lot more pressure on Chandler, especially because he cannot count on Stoudemire, who is not known for his defensive ability. Then there is Amare Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert who still need some more time getting back into the flow of the game.
3. Rotation changes – due to all the injuries, we have had many different starting lineups and because of all the changes, its been harder for the Knick players gel. Scott Davis touches more on this topic in his article
4. Lack of ball movement - this is mostly attributed to missing our slasher Raymond Felton who is so efficient with the pick and roll and looking for the open man when he penetrates. Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni have not been able to pick up the slack, because they have not been able to get into the paint consistently like Felton.
Without penetration, other defenders stay on their man, leaving less passing options available. Without Felton, the Knick three point shooters, Carmelo, Kidd, Smith, Novak, are not getting the ball in the right spot. Ball movement is key and we saw this great crisp ball movement during their 18-5 start.
5. Carmelo Anthony – it is rather odd that Melo is put in this list. Yes Melo is putting up MVP numbers: 29.2 PPG (3RD in NBA), 6 RPG, 46% FG, and 42% 3p and has a huge workload on his back without having a go to 2nd scorer like the other MVP candidates have: Lebron James has Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul has Blake Griffin, Durant has Westbrook. But another part of being an MVP is the ability to finish games in close situations and Carmelo has not shown up like his counterparts have in these situations.
It’s these close games against eastern conference contenders where we need him to step up the most. January 1st vs Portland, Melo misses game tying three. January 7th vs Celtics, Melo shot 2-9 in 4th quarter, missing three pointer with 17 seconds left. January 21, Melo shot 0-5 in 4th quarter, including missed jumper with 11 seconds left down 1 point. It could be because Melo is playing too much and gets tired in the end of the game, or his shot selection isn’t good but something needs to be change. He needs to stay under control and keep his head focused on finishing the game when calls don’t go his way late in the game. Melo’s our leader and we need him to come up in the clutch in these situations.
On the optimistic side of things we are still 25-14 – its a great mark to be at this far into the season –we were spoiled with the 18-5 start… 7-9 skid is not that bad and I’m 100% positive the Knicks are only going to get better from here on out. You have Stoudemire and Shumpert getting into the flow again, Felton and Camby coming back soon and finally we’ll have a healthy Knicks team (with the exception to Rasheed Wallace). There is no other team that I can think of that is as dynamic and full at every spot as this Knicks team. They have the penetrators, the passers, the pure scorers, the rebounding, the perimeter and interior defense, the energmy and athleticism – boy am I looking forward to the second half of this season.