By John Schmeelk
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Until the final details of Amar’e Stoudemire’s injuries are revealed, I’ll hesitate jumping off the cliff with the rest of the lemmings. I’ll admit, however, that at about 5:00 PM yesterday I was teetering close to the edge. Putting this season aside, the potential franchise altering impact of an Amar’e Stoudemire long term back issue is terrifying. Tomorrow, I’ll address that. At least for one night, the Knicks overcame the injury thanks to the play of their star.
Carmelo Anthony has rightly gotten plenty of accolades for his play since the hiring of Mike Woodson as interim head coach. Putting aside the implications of his effort under Mike D’Antoni, it was an absolutely pleasant surprise to see Anthony play with such constant effort and intensity on the defensive end. He could actually say with a straight face “my defense is ahead of my offense right now” and not be lying through his teeth. His focus and intensity went a long way towards infecting his teammates and getting them to play the same way.
A question still lingered: Where was the offense? Under Woodson, Anthony’s offensive output plummeted. His shooting numbers continued to hover near the 40% range, and his scoring dropped to under 15 points per game. The team was winning with good performances from Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and some of the other role players so it didn’t matter. But eventually in the playoffs, or against a superior defensive team, Carmelo Anthony was going to have to play like the offensive juggernaut the Knicks traded for. Last night, with Stoudemire and Lin both out, Anthony did that.
He still only shot 8-20, but he got to the line 12 times and made every one. The offense ran through him, many times in the post, where he has often been at his best over the course of his career. Was the offense slow and stagnant at times and boring to watch? No question. But it’s going to be when your point guard is out and you have to rely on the geriatric combination of Mike Bibby and Baron Davis. 23 turnovers is unacceptable, but Anthony only had three and he put up 28 and 12. The team combined to shoot a dreadful 7-31 from behind the arc. Without Carmelo on the floor, the Knicks don’t have a chance. He truly did what a superstar has to do: whatever it took to get a win.
Once Jeremy Lin gets back his penetration and play making ability will take some pressure off of Carmelo Anthony, but he still has to be the lead dog now. The team needs his scoring desperately and they need his efficiency to continue to improve. It seems pretty obvious that injuries are still bothering him, whether it’s his wrist, groin or knee. But for much of the season the team has carried him, now it is his turn to shoulder the load.
Out of necessity, Woodson will have to go to a little more isolation and get Anthony the ball in the post, where his defunct shooting touch won’t hurt his performance as much. Lin will have to return to the penetrating scoring point guard he was when both Stoudemire and Anthony were injured. JR Smith will have to score. Baron Davis has to stay healthy. Landry Fields must be more consistent. Iman Shumpert will have to grow up fast.
Most important, the team must continue to play great defense. The team is going to have to win with defense. With Stoudemire’s offense gone for the foreseeable future, allowing 100 points is no longer an option if the team wants to win. Stoudemire has always been a liability on defense, and with Jared Jeffries out, Josh Harrelson needs to first and foremost play defense. He can spread the floor a little and hit some open jump shots, but where he needs to get the team better is defensively. The team must keep stopping people.
So Carmelo Anthony must not only start scoring again, but he must also continue to play defense the way he has. Is it fair to ask that of a guy who is still nursing a bad groin and who knows what else? Probably not. But Carmelo Anthony is the guy that the Knicks traded an entire roster for. He is their superstar, and it is time for him to carry the team to the playoffs. Beyond that, the Knicks fate lies in the vertebrae of Amar’e Stoudemire. Hold your breath. I know I am.
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