By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks started the season quickly and dominated the NBA en route to an 8-1 record.

Since then, the Knicks have lost three of four and have gotten sloppy in a number of areas. Mike Woodson got credit for their fast start, but issues have popped up that he needs to address rather quickly if the Knicks want to break out of their slump.

The Knicks’ early dominance did hide one issue that has popped up in recent games, which is late-game execution. With so many blowouts, the Knicks have not been in many positions where they have had to execute in one-possession games over the final minute.

The Knicks’ final shot at the end of the fourth quarter against both the Mavericks and the Nets came on Carmelo Anthony wing isolations against two big, athletic and skilled defenders. Shawn Marion and Gerald Wallace forced (or was it Melo’s choice?) Anthony into mid-range jump shots that were off the mark.

It isn’t that Anthony isn’t capable of making those shots, but they were far more difficult than they had to be. On both plays, Anthony started with the ball beyond the three-point line, with both primary and help defenders set in front of him. For any player, that’s a difficult way to have to score.

Woodson needs to be more creative in his late-game play calling for Anthony, and not make things so hard on him. He doesn’t seem to have a problem setting up action (like the triple pick up high) for Raymond Felton, who got a number of open looks against the Nets, but there is never anything done to get Anthony the ball in a better place.

There’s nothing wrong with running him off the ball, over screens, or into the post. Make it easier on him. The ball should be in Anthony’s hands, but not 25 feet away with an entire defense rotating to stop him.

I love the plays that Woodson calls for the point guards (many taken from Mike D’Antoni’s system), but Felton is not a good enough player to be the Knicks’ shooter down the stretch of games. He had been great up until the Nets game, but the Knicks cannot depend on him to be the go-to guy for scoring in the closing moments of the fourth quarter. The Knicks are going to lose a lot of games that way.

The Knicks’ defense has also been questionable late in games, which has as much to do with strategy as player execution.

Too many times in critical situations the Knicks switch on defense, creating mismatches all over the floor. Once the opponent tries to exploit the mismatch, the Knicks double-team, and that invariably turns into an open shot. I’m assuming that the switching is part of Woodson’s strategy since the team employed it at the end of last season (and he did with Atlanta), but the consequences of it have hurt over the past few games.

He is using it way too much, and it is burning the Knicks on dribble penetration and open threes. The Knicks need to fight over screens and stick to their guys.

More times than not, double-teaming in the NBA hurts the defense more than it helps.

Obviously, there are exceptions, like when Kobe Bryant or LeBron James get hot. But on one possession against the Nets, the Knicks sent a double-team to Joe Johnson when he was trying to go one-on-one with Ronnie Brewer. I love that matchup for the Knicks, and the shot Johnson would eventually attempt would be a lower percentage one than the open jump shot that came from the double team.

I can’t imagine that Woodson encouraged that type of decision, and he needs to make it clear that his team must be far more focused and disciplined on defense if they want to win close games against good teams.

Those are two small things — one on offense and one on defense — that Woodson needs to correct. If he does, the Knicks should get back to their winning ways.

Right now they are making too many small mistakes to win consistently.

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