By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks continue to win in different and more encouraging ways. On Wednesday night the ‘Bockers beat the Timberwolves despite playing poor offensive and defensive basketball for three quarters. In the fourth, their superstar (Amar’e Stoudemire) dominated and their best perimeter player (Raymond Felton) hit the game winning shot. All this happened despite Andrea Bargnani scoring a career high 41.
This is the type of game the Knicks would have been on the other end of the last decade. Jamal Crawford would score 40 but the Knicks would lose in the 4th quarter. Good basketball teams win games like these. And it may sound weird, but good basketball teams get strange bounces off the rim and five second violations against their opponents down the stretch. Even the karma is changing. It may be premature, but winning is once again becoming an expectation for the Knicks, not the exception.
That may sound strange, but whenever the Knicks won a game in the last ten years it was a bit of a surprise. Now, a loss to a bad team would really be a disappointment. It shows how far the organization has come in just a few months in the “failed” summer of LeBron. The season is young and a lot can change, but for now, give Donnie Walsh, Mike D’Antoni, and especially the players deserve a ton of credit.
Amar’e Stoudemire is a better basketball player than I ever thought he was. He is virtually unstoppable offensively, and has even provided a shot blocking presence. He still takes too many possessions off defensively, but he is hitting the boards a little more consistently. I say with confidence he is the best power forward in the league, and a legit MVP candidate. It’s comical thinking back to the summer when people (at one time, I was one of them) wondered if he was enough of an upgrade over David Lee to warrant his contract. Remember when people wondered if he was better than Chris Bosh? He has almost singlehandedly turned around a franchise, and once again turned the Knicks into a serious basketball team. He’s reading Sun Tzu’s Art of War for goodness sakes. He takes this very seriously.
And so does Raymond Felton. Even though he grew up in the south, his style screams New York City point guard. He can score in a variety of ways and gets to the basket with style. He can pass on the move, and has a toughness and edge to his game that feels like Knicks basketball. Even his perimeter shot has been consistent, something that was a serious question. His chemistry with Stoudemire is only getting better, and before long they might be considered the best point guard –big man combination in the league. Remember when people thought Luke Ridnour was a better fit? Right now, Felton is a legit All-Star.
After Washington on Friday night, the Knicks get into the tough part of their schedule with games against the Nuggets, Celtics, Heat (twice), Thunder (twice), Bulls, Magic, Spurs (twice), Suns (twice), Trailblazers, and the Jazz. They play 20 games in 40 days. There’s a four game west coast trip and a three game Texas-Oklahoma trip in there too. It’s rough and the Knicks will show exactly what they are. If they can just go 9-11 or even 8-12 in that stretch of games they will be in great shape to make a run at 45 wins and get the 6th seed, a huge accomplishment. If they do better than .500 it’s time to start talking about home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The bottom line is this: The Knicks are a real basketball team now, and one the city will embrace once football season is over. It’s going to be a very fun spring for the first time in a long time.
UP AND UNDER
Up: The Knicks front office. Here are two names that have been pivotal factors in winning games: Landry Fields and Shawne Williams. These are gems pulled out of nowhere that not one person saw coming. Finding rotation players, let alone a starter, in the 2nd round of the draft and off the NBA scrap heap is a huge accomplishment and difference maker. Excellent work, Donnie Walsh.
Down: Timofey Mozgov is lost right now, and the Knicks need him with Ronny Turiaf’s minutes being limited due to the bad knee. He can’t even catch passes anymore, or finish around the basket, two things he was very good at during the World Championships and in preseason. It should just be a bump in the road as he seems like too good of an athlete not to overcome these problems.
AROUND THE WORLD
In the latest player CBA proposal they want to lower the age limit to 18 years old again. First off, it doesn’t make any sense from a player position since more high schoolers mean fewer jobs for vets. More importantly, guys from high school are just too tough to judge and most times not ready for the big show. Harrison Barnes looks lost at North Carolina. Can you imagine how he would look in the NBA right now? If anything the age limit should be raised to where players need to stay in college for two years. It would mean better basketball in the league.
I might get sufficiently annoyed over the weekend by all the Carmelo Anthony talk that I write an entire article about it, but I’ll give you a taste now. Right now, I think he winds up getting traded as a half season mercenary to a team like the Magic. He leaves as a free agent in the offseason and comes to the Knicks. I think he understands he’ll be joining a better Knicks team if he doesn’t make them trade away talent to acquire him. It’s also beneficial to give Stoudemire and Felton more time to put their stamp on this team and make it theirs. Anthony is a great scorer but he isn’t a high intensity defensive guy or a locker room leader. I think he’ll work better sliding into a locker room already ruled by Stoudemire and Felton. That way he won’t feel the need to take 30 shots a game and score 30, something this team doesn’t need. He needs to be become a part of the team, not the team itself.
Prediction: With John Wall hobbled and possibly not playing at all, the Knicks roll in Washington in a legit blowout victory: 115-97.