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Schmeelk: Knicks 2nd Half Preview

(Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks have 31 games remaining in just 57 days. A season that was not too long ago headed for implosion and likely a new head coach, is now even more promising than it was before it began. The Knicks have good starters at every spot and all of a sudden have a really deep bench to boot. They’ve answered many questions, but many remain as the Knicks try to navigate their way to the playoffs. Here are the main issues the Knicks will have to resolve if they need to win a title:

What’s wrong with Amar’e Stoudemire?

No one seems to know. He says he feels better than he did last year, but there is no that could be true based on the eye test. He lacks lift. He lacks quickness. Most importantly, he lacks that explosion that made him such a special player in Phoenix. When he arrived in New York, there was one consistent thing everyone said: The Knicks just got one of the best finishers around the rim in the entire NBA. That held true last season as Stoudemire gave an MVP worthy performance. This season he is consistently getting blocked around the rim by high flyers like Kris Humphries and Amir Johnson. It’s startling.

Could one of his knees be bothering him to the point where he is debilitated? Is it the sprained ankle he suffered against Boston in the home opener? Is the back injury he suffered against Boston in the playoffs last year still bothering him? Did the lockout and lack of offseason regimen because of the back make him start slowly? Or is it the worst case scenario that one or all of these injuries together have permanently debilitated a man the Knicks still owe 80 million dollars over four seasons?  The Knicks need Amar’e Stoudemire to resemble the player he was last year if they want to challenge the Eastern Conference’s best. I won’t spend nearly as much time on the other questions because this is far and beyond the biggest issue the Knicks need resolved in the second half the season. So goes Amar’e, so goes the Knicks.

Will Carmelo Anthony make people point the finger elsewhere?

I phrased the question that way for a reason because unlike everyone else, I believe Carmelo is already buying in, and trying to do what’s best for the team. Before Jeremy Lin arrived he was averaging a career best four assists a game, and was actually playing a point forward role. Since Lin got back, he has played off the ball and for the most part, let Lin run the show.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is playing his best basketball. His shooting numbers are at historic lows but there’s no reason to believe that won’t correct itself over time. But it better be sooner rather than later, otherwise the reactionary New York fans and media will be all over him. He was brought here to be a scorer and he needs to score, even with Jeremy Lin back. But more important than scoring is winning. It solves everything. If the Knicks win with Carmelo, they will be happy and lay off. If they don’t the pressure will continue to build and no one knows where that story will end.

Will JR implode?

I feel the need to point out that when JR Smith played for Denver I couldn’t stand him. I thought he was a selfish, shoot first, think later player that was a cancer of the team. So far for the Knicks, he has been great. His shot selection hasn’t been brutal, and he is stretching the floor with his three point range. His defense has been a very pleasant surprise. That being said, he can explode at any time. Will he?

Can Mike D’Antoni manage the bench?

What was once a very shallow team is now very deep, maybe too deep. Once Josh Harrellson gets back the Knicks will have eleven players that think they deserve minutes. Can Mike D’Antoni give everyone enough to keep them happy? What happens when he shortens the rotation in the playoffs? Can Baron Davis live playing a few minutes a game? Does JR Smith lose it if Iman Shumpert plays more minutes than him? How will D’Antoni balance Novak’s shooting with Jeffries’ defense? It will be interesting to watch.

Will the Linsanity continue?

Jeremy Lin is the real deal at point guard but to what level will his success continue? I doubt his scoring average will stay in the 20’s, and nor should it with the scorers he has around him. If he can continue getting his teammates involved and move the ball the team will be fine. His biggest goal should be limiting turnovers.

Those are major questions. If the Knicks answer all of them in a good way, they can challenge for a trip to the finals. Even if only half work out, they should still manage a seed between three and six with a good chance at a first round win. But really, the first one is the most important. Without Amar’e Stoudemire playing like a star, the ceiling is only so high.

You can follow me on twitter for all the latest on the Knicks, Giants and New York Sports at http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.