By John Schmeelk
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To say the Knicks had a rough start against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night would be a huge understatement.
Orlando shot 62 percent from the field and from behind the arc on their way to 31 first-quarter points. Twenty-six came from the Orlando backcourt of Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick. The Knicks were massacred by Jeff Teague and Jrue Holiday over the weekend, and Nelson picked up right where those guys left off, killing Raymond Felton off the dribble and on the high screen-and-roll.
For his part, Redick hit some difficult shots over Iman Shumpert, who struggled getting over screens.
Mike Woodson needs to take a look at his defensive matchups and try to get Shumpert on the other team’s primary ball handler more often. His strength is guarding players who have the ball in his hand, not running around screens. Guarding the high pick-and-roll is obviously a team thing, but it starts with the guards and Shumpert is simply better at it than Felton.
It was quite a miracle the Knicks were tied with the Magic, considering the defense and Carmelo Anthony only scoring five points in the first quarter. They were tied because of great ball movement (eight assists on 13 field goals) and a lot of high pick-and-roll with Felton. The Knicks defense improved over the next two quarters, holding the Magic to just 66 points over the final three quarters on 44 percent shooting.
In the fourth quarter, the Knicks pulled away with 34 points on seven threes and eleven assists on twelve field goals. For the first time in a long time, the Knicks used a high screen-and-roll with Anthony and Tyson Chandler in the fourth quarter. It was borderline unstoppable. I remember only a couple of Anthony isolations that he either passed or shot out of quickly.
It was the best the Knicks’ offense had looked in a quite a while.
Once again, Felton was a huge part of it finishing with 15 points, nine assists and no turnovers. Chandler shot 10 of 11 and scored 21. That wasn’t happening while Felton was out. The Knicks made an effort to get into the paint, with Chandler and Stoudemire combining for 35 points on a ridiculous 17 of 18 shooting.
The Knicks played inside-out with post play and dribble penetration, which led to many open three-pointers. It has been a month since Steve Novak had so many open looks.
If the Knicks keep it up, they’ll be poised for a huge winning streak. The next five opponents are the Bucks, Kings, Pistons, Wizards and Timberwolves, who have a combined record of 86-137. An unbeaten run could put the Knicks in first place in the Eastern Conference if the Heat struggle against a much tougher schedule.
These are the games the Knicks need to win if they want to challenge for the top record in the conference.
– The Knicks’ defense still has to improve, especially on the perimeter. If the Knicks only practice one thing over the next two weeks it should be pick and roll defense. Even though their upcoming opponents have poor records, they do have quick penetrating guards. The Knicks need to defend that position far better than they have been. Woodson needs to pick a strategy and stick with it, and that strategy can’t be “switch every time.” Knicks guards are just going to have to suck it up and fight over screens, and Knicks big men will have to hedge and chase guards a little bit. It’s the only answer.
– I don’t understand why everyone is all over Novak. I realize his production has dipped, but does anyone really think it’s on him? He’s a spot-up shooter. Unless other players create and look for him, he isn’t going to get shots. With Felton back and the ball movement improving, expect Novak to start scoring again.
– I could not be more excited about ’e Stroudemire’s recent play. On Friday I’ll give you a full story on how he looks like his old self.
You can follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
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