By John Schmeelk
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Iman Shumpert returned to the Knicks in London, and from the beginning of the game the Knicks looked much more committed to defense that they had been in the past.

They played one of their best first quarters of the season, allowing only 17 points. It’s impossible and foolish to attribute the improvement on defense to Shumpert alone, but his effort clearly infected the rest of the team, and the effort level on the defensive end in the first quarter was better than they’ve put out in quite a while.

With the Knicks’ age and game schedule, the team didn’t have a ton of practice time over the last month or so of the season. With all the days off heading into the London game, and now afterwards, Mike Woodson will have the time to get the team to focus on defense. The Knicks came out of the gate this season playing great defense, which can be attributed to the defensive focus of Woodson’s training camp. The Knicks’ defensive proficiency waned once December rolled around and has continued since.  Woodson will undoubtedly try to renew that focus this week.

Having another player in Shumpert out there, whose main focus is defense, will certainly help. It was amazing how spry Shumpert looked in London. Other than his limited minutes, there was absolutely no indication that he had any sort of knee injury. The odds that he can become a 30 minute-per-game defensive stopper rises by the day. It will limit Ronnie Brewer’s minutes, but Brewer has been a disappointment this year, so that will help the team.

Shumpert also brings a level of athleticism to the backcourt that the Knicks are sorely lacking, especially since the injury to Raymond Felton. He’ll be able to produce some easy baskets and help ignite the Knicks’ dormant fast break. Shumpert’s steals alone should provide the team more fast-break opportunities. Shumpert and Brewer aren’t even in the same stratosphere when it comes to finishing near the basket.

The game also gave a glimpse into what an effective Amar’e Stoudemire can do for the Knicks. I’ll stop short of everyone else, who seemed to think that Stoudemire looked like his old self, but his play was encouraging. He seems to be getting into an offensive rhythm and was able to carry part of the offensive load with the second unit when Carmelo Anthony wasn’t on the court. It made the Knicks much less dependent on the jump and on isolation plays. Stoudemire’s defense protecting the rim was still pretty horrific when he was in the game, but at least he was contributing offensively.

It’s important not to put too much stock in one game against the Pistons, but the signs were good. The Knicks have now allowed fewer than 90 points in two straight games. Their best defender is back on the floor. Stoudemire is slowly rounding into a real offensive threat. The Knicks won a game where Anthony and J.R. Smith combined to shoot 14-of-34 and the team turned it over an uncharacteristic 16 times.

As bad as the Knicks have been recently, the Heat haven’t been much better, and the Knicks trail them by just one game in the standings. At the same time, they lead Indiana by only two games, and Chicago and Brooklyn by just two-and-a-half games in the Eastern Conference standings.

The dog days of January and February are when the season can be decided, and the Knicks are at a crossroads which will dictate whether they are a two seed or a five seed. If they play like they did against Detroit, you have to like their chances.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.

What was a bigger development to come out of yesterday’s game — Shumpert’s solid return to the floor or Stoudemire’s effective offensive play? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below… 

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