By John Schmeelk
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Did you really think that the Knicks would play great basketball for four quarters every single game this year?
For three quarters last night, you saw the Knicks play the type of basketball that would make them a borderline playoff team with a record around .500. It was obvious from the get-go that the Knicks did not take the Magic seriously, something made obvious by their play.
The defense was reminiscent of what Knicks fans had seen in the last decade, with the Magic getting free runs to the basket and wide open threes. They took their cue from their star, with Carmelo Anthony looking uninspired and more concerned with complaining to the referees than playing defense. Many times he simply walked up the court after a bad offensive possession, allowing the Magic to get easy looks in transition.
At times, excited to work in a mismatch against Glen “Big Baby” Davis, he would wait too long or try to score against Orlando double teams. It was by far his worst game of the year.
Of course, he was not alone. Orlando is one of the worst offensive teams in the league, and one of the least talented. They still managed to score 76 points through three quarters and shoot an embarrassing 54 percent from the field. The Knicks’ defense lacked energy and their offense lacked cohesion. There was far too little ball movement.
The good news is that the Knicks did what they had to do in the fourth quarter to win the game. The defense looked like it did in the first four games and held Orlando to only 13 points on 31 percent shooting, forcing seven turnovers. The ball moved better on offense with Anthony only attempting four of the team’s 20 shots. Winning ugly is a skill, and the Knicks showed that they could do it last night.
Good teams have the ability to close teams when they have to, but it should raise a red flag that the team was so flat for three quarters against a bad team. This group hasn’t won anything yet and shouldn’t take any opponent or game for granted. That’s the next step for this group and for Anthony, their leader.
The Knicks did get some good play last night from a couple of individuals. J.R. Smith was never one of the players that looked passive. He was always hustling on defense and was surprisingly efficient on offense, shooting 9-of-14 for 21 points.
Lost on Anthony’s growth this year has been the play of Smith, who is improving his shot selection and efficiency. He is also playing defense every possession and rebounding extremely well for a guard. You will still get the slap-yourself-in-the-forehead 18-foot step-back jumper, but they are fewer and far between.
Raymond Felton was also forced to take more of an active role offensively because of the way Orlando was playing the pick-and-roll. They consistently went underneath the screener, daring the Knicks’ guards to take open 18-22 foot jump shots. Felton wasn’t particularly consistent, shooting just 9-for-23, but he made enough shots to make the Magic pay for their strategy. By turning the Knicks point guards into scorers, Orlando did manage to stifle the Knicks’ superior ball movement, limiting them to only 14 assists on 41 makes. It’s one of the reasons that Steve Novak only had two shot attempts.
Expect others to copy that strategy.
Also, a quick footnote: Rasheed Wallace needs to chill with the threes. What happened to teaching these youngsters how to post up? Let’s get back to that.
It was an ugly win for the Knicks, and they’ll have more as the season goes along.
But I hope that Mike Woodson makes sure his team understands that slippage like that against better teams will result in losses. If the Knicks really want to challenge for a title, letdowns like these must be avoided at all costs. The coach must make sure they understand that, and their players have to accept it. Playing like they did in the fourth quarter, on the other hand, will make them contenders all year long.
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