The media in New York is in a Phil Jackson frenzy. Will he or won’t he take the job as President of the New York Knicks. Although this is good news, the Knicks still need to keep their eye on the proverbial ball and make the playoffs with a big game against the Boston Celtics tonight.
Yes, I think Jackson will make a great addition, as he brings a basketball mind to a clueless front office. As for Mike Woodson, he is fighting for his basketball future. To his credit, he has maintained his job. But in the NBA, it is about legacy. There are a lot of coaches who have won in the NBA that are now out of work and looking to get another shot. Woodson is coaching for his future. To not make the playoffs will leave a devastating stain on his resume.
2014 started out well enough: Raymond Felton was hurt and Beno Udrih and Kenyon Martin played great. However, February saw Felton back, Udrih shipped out, and Martin in a walking boot. So, how did the Knicks win four in a row?
Woodson, as stubborn as he can be, made two significant changes after a year of no change. He abandoned the small lineup that reporters love and went to a more traditional lineup with a front court of Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony. What happened was a transformation. Chandler became happy again; he began to rebound. Anthony continued to do what he has done: score. However, Stoudemire, who begged for minutes all season, was unleashed. Prior, he publicly fought with Woodson who blamed his lack of minutes on his medical restriction. Stoudemire continued to contend that he had no restriction, that Woodson alone was restricting him.
In basketball it is common to play a traditional lineup. A point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. Early this year Tyson Chandler broke his leg and the follies and falling from grace began. I have never seen a championship team play two point guards, two shooting guards and no center and win games in the NBA. Yet, the Knicks continued to play Felton, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Anthony and Martin. The Knicks got pounded on the boards but more importantly they left the middle open for teams to attack and attack they did.
Four games ago, Woodson, out of job desperation, started Amar’e Stoudemire and the winning began. Since Woodson inserted Stoudemire into the starting lineup five games ago, he’s scored 18 points per game on 61 percent shooting. He’s pulled down 6.6 rebounds and blocked 1.4 shots in 27 minutes. The Knicks have outscored opponents by an average of 11 points per game while Stoudemire’s on the floor. More importantly, they dominated the first quarter — a quarter they usually gave up 30 or more points. Once this happened, once Amar’e went to the front couth an amazing thing happened. In spite of reporters saying Anthony and Stoudemire couldn’t play well together, they did. They’ve complemented each other like Ham and Eggs. It also revitalized Chandler, who has had double digit rebounds in every game Amar’e has started. The middle was contained on defense as Amare not only scored but blocked shots, 3 against Cleveland alone.
Anthony respects Amar’e. He’s seen him go through three knee surgeries, several months of rehab and setback after setback as a Knick. Anthony is in control of this Knicks team and locker room, Anthony loves what he’s seen from Stoudemire of late.
“He has been playing unbelievable,” Anthony said after Stoudemire scored 23 points in the Knicks’ win over Philadelphia, their fourth straight. “Offensively and defensively, he has been working. He is a guy that, now, we can throw the ball in to and [he can] make something happen. We believe in him to make plays.”
Over the last five games we’ve gotten a glimpse of the old Amar’e Stoudemire. By playing him properly and appropriately, he can continue to excel.
Amar’e will do better as a four and an occasional center. Monday night, Woodson went back to his old ways and started a front court of Amare, Anthony and Smith. This led to an open middle as the Knicks gave up 31 and 30 points in the first two quarters. People rag on Amare’s defense; he is not a center. Woodson should have kept the large front court and started either Cole Aldrich or Jeremy Tyler. Small ball does not work. Philly, one of the lowest scoring teams in the NBA, took control of the first half. The Knicks were just more talented, and Amar’e played well but better when Tyler was on the floor with him.
Amar’e knows he isn’t the dynamic athlete he used to be, but he knows in spite of his knees he is still a quality NBA player. He’s helping the Knicks win games, such as the 123-110 victory over the 76ers on Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Stoudemire had 23 points and six rebounds to help the Knicks earn their fourth straight victory. His low post scoring, his presence opens up the court for both Anthony and Smith.
Not bad for a guy who was limited to 10 minutes per game earlier in the season and the talk was he was done. Give him credit. Although he was not happy with his role, he came to the gym every day, he worked hard, rehabbed hard and is a great lockeroom guy.
“This feels great,” he said late Monday night. “I’ve been working extremely hard to get back to my normal self. My confidence is there — it never really left. It’s just a matter of working hard and getting back to top shape. So far so good.”