Don’t look now, but the New York Knicks are SURGING. Winners of three in a row, the Knicks — in typical Knicks fashion — are looking like they’ve been waiting until the last minute to make a playoff push. In a terrifically bad Eastern Conference, the Knicks, who looked to have hit rock bottom with an eight-game losing streak through February and March, were still never out of the playoffs, officially. Now, with three wins in a row and a struggling Atlanta Hawks team in eighth place, the Knicks are just 3.5 games out.
How in the heck have the Knicks turned this mess around in recent games? Through some cruel, unusual twist of fate, it’s happened through some adjustments made by Mike Woodson.
In the Knicks’ last three wins, they’ve upped the tempo just a snidge, but it’s helping. For the season, the Knicks play at a pace of 93 possessions per game. In the last three, they’re using 95 possessions per game. Additionally, whereas the Knicks rank dead last in fast break points per game — a meagerly 8.6 per — they’ve upped that to over 10 in the last few games. These changes seem small, but they’ve been helping.
Another Woodson-made adjustment has been what most of us would imagine to be the worst Knicks’ lineup possible: a starting lineup of Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler. Seriously. On paper, this looks like a disaster. It leaves Felton to operate the offense by himself. It takes Carmelo Anthony out of the 4 spot. It crowds the front-court with ‘Melo, Stoudemire, and Chandler. It puts four defensively deficient players in Felton, Smith, Anthony, and STAT to be covered by Chandler by himself.
And for some strange reason, it’s working.
In the last three games, this new starting lineup has an offensive rating of 118.2, a defensive rating of 98.8, and a net rating of 19.3. In these three games, Woodson has used this lineup for a total of 46 minutes, which is far and away the most used lineup in the last week. The second and third most used lineups in this stretch have both played ten minutes and registered a combined net rating of -46, meaning the new starting lineup is carrying the bulk of the weight in the recent victories.
The lineup has been fueled by several sources. J.R. Smith, since being inserted into the lineup four games ago (this includes a loss to the Detroit Pistons last Monday), has shot a combined 16-35 from downtown, good for a 45.7% mark from beyond the stripes. Tyson Chandler has hauled in double-digit rebounds in each of the last 11 games, but on this win streak, he’s averaging 12 boards. He’s also been more involved in the Knicks’ offense, averaging 15.3 points on 9 shot attempts per game. Carmelo Anthony, of course, has continued his strong play.
Perhaps most surprising, though, has been Amar’e Stoudemire’s sudden resurgence. Stoudemire has gone through bouts of effective and ineffective play all season, but lately, he’s increased his output. In four games as a starter, Stoudemire is averaging 16.7 points on 61.2 % shooting to go with 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He’s not just stuffing the stat sheet, either; in the last four games, the Knicks have a net rating of over 14 with Stoudemire on the floor, the second highest of any Knick receiving regular playing time.
Now, it’s important to note that the Knicks haven’t been beating the league’s elite. A victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves was slightly impressive, but the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t world-beaters, either. Nonetheless, seven of the Knicks’ next eight games come against non-playoff teams. If the Knicks can find a way to keep this lineup rolling, they could suddenly find themselves very much in the mix of the playoffs.
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