NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — The Knicks used to talk about defense right up until the games started.
Then it was back to the same problems, wasting the loads of points they’d score by giving up many more – either because they couldn’t or wouldn’t dedicate themselves to stopping their man.
Tyson Chandler plans to change that.
The Knicks see themselves as a contender. Heck, even coach Mike D’Antoni says they have the ability to win it all.
“If it all comes together, why can’t we compete for a championship?” he told WFAN’s Mike Francesa last week.
But their new starting center knows that will only happen if his teammates put the same effort into defending that he does.
“I feel like if we’re as committed as we say we are to winning a championship and really going after that dream, then we’ll be committed on the defensive end, because that’s the only way you can get it done,” Chandler said.
Behind Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and D’Antoni’s high-powered offense, the Knicks returned to the playoffs last season after missing it the previous six years. But they were the first team eliminated, swept by the Boston Celtics.
Both All-Stars then called on the Knicks to add a defensive presence in the paint, the role Chandler played last season on the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
The 7-foot-1 center never stops talking about his craft. On the floor, he barks out instructions, calls out switches. Then he heads to the bench and offers suggestions, points out strategies.
“He anchors the defense. He talks, just his voice alone will get everybody energized,” D’Antoni said. “But what the fans don’t see is him sitting over on the bench, talking about defense, talking about, `OK you can do this, I can do that.'”
Chandler remembers the 1990s Knicks of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason, rugged defensive teams that New Yorkers adored. D’Antoni thinks fans will have the same appreciation for Chandler’s play.
“It just fires up the whole team and there’s going to be nights I think the Garden will be going absolutely crazy over him because of his energy,” D’Antoni said.
Even Chandler was surprised when the Knicks, who didn’t have the cap space, emerged as a suitor during free agency. They had to waive starting point guard Chauncey Billups with the amnesty clause to free up enough salary room, but think it will be worth it if Chandler has the same effect on the Knicks’ defense as he did with Dallas, another team long considered one dimensional.
“I knew this was a team that beat you with their offense, but now you know this year we’ve got to concentrate on doing both,” Chandler said.
He’s not the only addition that shows the newfound interest in the other end of the floor. Former Atlanta coach Mike Woodson was hired to focus on the defense, a role he had with the Detroit Pistons when they won the 2004 NBA championship. The Knicks’ first-round pick was used on Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert, who was sixth in the nation in steals last season.
Chandler’s first game in a Knicks uniform hardly seemed spectacular. He took only three shots, making two, finishing with four points in a 92-83 victory over New Jersey. But the number that most shows his impact is the Nets’ score, more than 22 points below the 105.7 New York surrendered last season, tied for third-highest in the league.
“A lot of stuff that he does is not going to show up on the stat sheet and that’s what makes him the great player that he is,” Anthony said.
Chandler came at a high cost, leaving the Knicks little ability to make further upgrades. Veteran point guards Baron Davis and Mike Bibby were signed, but there are questions about how much either has left. That leaves a suspect bench and maybe even not enough firepower, almost unheard of for a D’Antoni team.
Anthony isn’t concerned.
“No, not at all. I could never undermine that man right there,” he said, motioning toward D’Antoni. “He has so much in his playbook, he’s very smart, so I could never undermine, whoever he has on his team. He even had teams before in Phoenix that a lot of people thought wasn’t that good and it worked out.”
D’Antoni simply points to Anthony (25.6 ppg) and Stoudemire (25.3), third and tied for fifth in the league in scoring last season.
“I think we’ve got two of the top scorers in the league, so we should have enough scoring. Maybe they just have to shoot the ball more, they’ll like that,” he said. “So we’ll score, we’ve just got to make sure we’re a really good, solid, defensive team. We do that, we’re going to be good.”
D’Antoni, in the final year of a four-year deal, speaks confidently about the Knicks’ chances. His teams were overmatched for most of his tenure in New York, a problem he believes has been left behind.
“I think our talent level is up with anybody and that’s why we should compete, but then again you’ve got to get in the trenches and solve the problems of guys playing with each other. Is our depth OK and all that stuff?” he said. “Those are questions that are legitimate and we’re going to work to overcome that, but I can’t see us going out against anybody any night and saying, `Oh we really don’t have a chance tonight.’ That doesn’t exist.”
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