NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — When the just-arrived star of your suddenly struggling team says the solution is “to relax and just have fun,” you know you’re skunked. Nine times out of 10, it means he doesn’t have a clue.
So it is these days with Carmelo Anthony and for the moment at least, with his new employers, the Knicks, too.
“We just need to relax, man,” said Anthony. “We’re just putting too much pressure on ourselves. We’re losing games we should be winning … I don’t think there is no fun in the game, and we need to bring it back in the game.”
Barely a month ago, Anthony was introduced at Madison Square Garden, and New Yorkers were certain they were heading back to the center of the NBA universe. A lost decade brought on by incompetent management, a few barely qualified coaches and an unending stream of fading, grousing, overpaid players appeared to be drawing to a merciful end.
The hiring of Donnie Walsh as general manager three years ago was the crucial first step. He promptly fired Isiah Thomas and replaced him with Mike D’Antoni, a smart, offensive-minded coach. Then Amar’e Stoudemire came over from Phoenix to breathe life into D’Antoni’s schemes. And when Anthony, one of the best scorers in the business, arrived in a trade on the heels of All-Star weekend, the question wasn’t whether the Knicks were back, only how long it would take them to get back to the top.
A month later, those same New Yorkers are reminded why people say be careful what you wish for. The Knicks have gone 7-10 since, including losses in seven of their last 8. They beat the Heat in a playoff-like atmosphere at Miami soon after Anthony’s arrival, but little has gone smooth since.
“They’re much better on paper,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the other night, after Boston erased a 14-point halftime deficit by outscoring New York 33-17 in a bruising fourth quarter to steal the win.
“And they will be,” he added, “on the floor.”
Just not anytime soon.
The Knicks’ biggest problem, strangely enough, is scoring, especially in the fourth quarter. That’s because Anthony is at his most useful attacking defenses from the wing, where his ball-handling skills, lethal jumper and drives make him a tough one-on-one matchup. D’Antoni’s system, though, wasn’t designed nor installed with isolation-style players such as Melo in mind. It relies on the pick-and-roll to exploit creases inside, and-or steady ball movement to free up space for shooters on the outside.
As if adjusting to that kind of upheaval so late in the season wasn’t tough enough, the Knicks also find themselves stuck in the weeds of a tough schedule. They’re in the midst of their own March badness, as the New York Daily News called it — a stretch of 18 games that include six sets of back-to-backs. Throw in the roundtrip flights, and it’s easy to understand why D’Antoni canceled practice Thursday. Even he had to concede that rest was likely to make the Knicks better than another bleary-eyed afternoon spent watching film and drilling.
“I think we’re all somewhat getting the fatigue factor setting in,” said Stoudemire, whose worst game of the season came Wednesday night in a loss to Orlando, again after New York came unglued in the final period.
“It’s been a crazy, crazy month for us so far, a lot of games in few nights. And so we played great in the first half, we applied so much energy, in the second half we just kind of run out a little bit there. But,” he added, “we’ll be OK.”
Not unless — or until — D’Antoni figures out a way to solve New York’s fourth-quarter woes. On top of that, he must lighten Stoudemire’s burden on the defensive end of the floor. His initial response wasn’t all that encouraging.
“I can understand the anxiety,” D’Antoni said. “We have it, too.”
With good reason. Anthony sat for nearly 4 1/2 minutes of the final period against Orlando, but wasn’t much better once he did get in. Chauncey Billups, who came over with Anthony from Denver to choreograph the offense, missed six games and has been ineffective since returning from a thigh injury he picked up in a collision with Orlando’s Dwight Howard.
Fair or not, all the blame is falling on Anthony’s slim shoulders. He was booed at the end of the Orlando loss, suggesting New Yorkers are beginning to view him and Stoudemire the way they do Yankee counterparts Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.
Just like A-Rod, Anthony has already hit a few bad notes. After talking a lot, he refused to say anything at all after a tough loss recently in Detroit. Wisely, he’s not offering specific solutions — translation: criticizing the schemes and his teammates — instead offering vague encouragement.
“I think it’s, we put too much pressure on ourselves. We’re losing games that we know we should be winning, and we’re just putting a lot of pressure on ourselves,” Anthony said. “I think we’re playing too tense out there on the court.”
Soon after joining the Knicks, Anthony boasted, “I told y’all when I made this move, I wanted to take on big challenges.”
He’d better be. If Anthony thinks it’s tense out there now, just wait. He’s not in Denver anymore.
Do you think this team with eventually come together? Let us know in the comments below…
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