If there’s anything that indicates just how horrifically the 2013-14 NBA season has treated the New York Knicks thus far, it might be me becoming overly excited to write an upbeat piece about a 3-1 stretch in the beginning of January.
Last season, when the Knicks went 54-28, they averaged 2.6 wins every four games, so winning three out of four was customary. This season? Well, let’s put it this way: This is the first time all year that the Knicks have won three of four. So, please allow me to feel some happiness.
Sure, it seems like a bleak situation–probably because it is–but I saw quite a few positives over the past week, when the Knicks very easily could have won all four games.
Without further ado, here are four takeaways that I had from the Texas road trip and Tuesday night’s win over the Pistons:
1. Iman Shumpert is alive
I don’t know where Iman Shumpert–the one that I was ready to anoint a future All-Star after his Game 6 performance against Indiana–was for the first 30 games of the regular season, but I’m glad he’s back.
Before the Texas road trip, Shumpert had only scored over 15 points in two games this season, and not once had he eclipsed the 17-point mark. But, in back-to-back games–and on back-to-back nights, no less–against the Spurs and Rockets, Shump scored 27 and 26 points, respectively. In total, he shot 19-of-27 from the field, made 12 of his 14 three-point attempts, and grabbed four steals. He was the single biggest reason that the Knicks were able to beat the Spurs, and he was the reason that the team was in perfect position to beat the Rockets.
Shumpert’s scoring totals weren’t as impressive in the most recent two games, but he did fill up the stat sheet on Tuesday night–he tallied five points, five assists, and six rebounds–and it feels like he’s finally just playing basketball and not concerning himself with anything else.
It’s good to have you back, Iman.
2. Coming off of injury, ‘Melo is playing as well as ever
After spraining his ankle in a win at Orlando, Carmelo Anthony sat out for the three games prior to the 3-1 stretch, and the Knicks desperately missed him. They lost all three contests by double-digits, including two crucial losses to the division-leading Raptors (I know, I too am having a hard time saying that) in a home-and-home series.
But since returning for the Knicks’ road trip-opener in San Antonio, Anthony has provided a much-needed spark. Over the last four games, he’s averaging 26.3 points, nearly eight rebounds, and is making 61 percent (!!) of his three-pointers. And, if the Knicks want any chance at beating the Heat on Thursday night, they’ll probably need ‘Melo to put on the type of show he had on Tuesday, when he scored 34 points and made six of his seven attempts from beyond the arc.
3. Raymond Felton looks like he’s in better shape
Like Carmelo, Raymond Felton was also injured in New York’s win at Orlando in December, and he proceeded to miss the next six games.
Felton came back for the matchup against the Pistons at Madison Square Garden, and I have to admit that I was pretty impressed. Not only did he play relatively well (12 points on 4-of-9 shooting, six assists), but he also appeared to be in better shape than he was in before getting hurt–he looked slimmer and seemed a bit quicker on the court.
Now, to be fair, Felton was probably feeling pretty fresh after going two weeks without playing an NBA basketball game, and I’m sure that aided his performance. So, before I make any final judgments about him, I’ll wait another week or so. Still, it was a good sign, and if he can return to the Ray Felton of last season–when he penetrated so well off of the dribble and consistently ran an effective pick-and-roll with Tyson–then the Knicks will be in business.
4. Could this be the turning point?
The 3-1 record over the last four games is relevant for all of the reasons that I’ve mentioned, but perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the stretch is one I haven’t touched on–the lack of injuries. For the first time all season, Mike Woodson finally has what he’s been asking for–a team that’s pretty much fully healthy, except for Metta World Peace and Pablo Prigioni.
Is it just coincidence that the Knicks are finally starting to win games now that they’re healthy? I say no. Sure, it helped that Shumpert decided to have back-to-back sensational performances against the Spurs and Rockets, but there also seems to be a real chemistry among the players that are on the floor–a chemistry that hasn’t been consistently noticeable this season.
I could be dead wrong, but my gut says this is the turning point. I think that, when the regular season is over, we will look back and point to the Knicks’ win in San Antonio against the defending Western Conference champs as the game that served as the team’s launching pad.
Not only are guys getting healthy, but they’re also having fun again, just like the 2012-13 team. The Knicks are now only a game back of the eighth seed, and there’s still plenty of time to climb all the way up to the sixth seed (and avoid a first-round series against Miami/Indiana) or even catch the Raptors and win the Atlantic. Seriously, if winning three of four games can bring a 9-21 team to within one game of the final playoff spot in the East, then imagine what a six-game winning streak–or something of that nature–could do. For the first time all season, the Knicks’ outlook just might be getting bright.