By John Schmeelk
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Even though the Knicks are down 3-1, they are still in this series. Despite losing two straight double-digit games to the Pacers in Indiana, the Knicks aren’t that far away. They are still the more talented group, even if the Pacers have clearly been the better team in the first four games of this series. All it will take for the Knicks is for someone to hit some shots early. Shooting can be contagious, and the Knicks have all been wearing FEMA suits the past couple of weeks.
After a game of follies in Game 4, Mike Woodson can make some changes to help the Knicks revive their offense. The Knicks made a fundamental error in this series. Somewhere along the way they made a decision, whether conscious or subconscious, to try to beat the Pacers at their brand of basketball. The Knicks are never going to play better defense than the Pacers. They’re never going to rebound better, be tougher or be a more physical basketball team. That’s one of the reasons that they have lost the last two games. The Pacers, on the other hand, have never stopped playing their brand of basketball. They have controlled this series in every way. The Knicks have been an offensive team all year, and Woodson’s only concern should be about how to get the Knicks to 95 or 100 points.
Woodson was on the right course when he indicated that he would go back to the Knicks’ starting lineup, with Pablo Prigioni at point guard and Carmelo Anthony at power forward. But that isn’t enough. The rotation has to change, too. Jason Kidd needs to have his minutes eliminated completely or reduced to no more than five. Amar’e Stoudemire can join him. Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin should never be on the floor at the same time. The Knicks need to go small again. Their primary minutes need to go to Anthony, Ray Felton, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Prigioni, Chris Copeland, Chandler, Martin and a few to Steve Novak.
This will put the proper number of shooters on the floor to get the Knicks back to the personnel groups that can get them back to being a free-wheeling three-point shooting team. But having the right players on the floor isn’t enough. The team needs to run, and not just push occasionally. They need to go full out Mike D’Antoni on the Pacers. They need to push at every opportunity. Make Roy Hibbert and David West sprint up the floor on every possession. Make them close out on shooters in transition. If it forces the Pacers to go to their weak bench, it’s even better for the Knicks. Once Hibbert goes to the bench, the lane will open up to penetrators.
Those types of lineups and approaches might hurt the Knicks in the rebounding area, but can it really get any worse? The team is already getting killed on the boards, so they might as well put as many offensive players on the floor as possible. Besides, Martin is not a difference-making rebounder, and the Pacers’ backcourt has been just as troublesome on the boards as their big men. The Knicks’ guards and small forwards will have to rebound no matter who is playing.
The Knicks also need to adjust their defense. Their swarming defense has not worked, mostly because they aren’t double-teaming wisely. If HIbbert or West catches it seven feet from the hoop and on a mismatch, I have no problem with a double-team. But if they are 10 or more feet out, a double-team is foolish. Make them score from there. Lazy double-teams not only get Pacers perimeter players the open looks that they need to get going, but they also force scrambles on rotations that set up rebounding mismatches. That’s one of the reasons that the Pacers have done so well on the offensive glass.
Play defense man on man. The Pacers don’t have any dynamic offensive players than can create their own shots, yet the Knicks’ defensive strategies are making it easy on them. If Hibbert and West beat the Knicks on isolation post-ups, tip your cap and go home. I realize that the Knicks’ overall defense has been pretty good the last couple of games and change is risky, but this is the obvious way to go.
Frank Vogel’s adjustments have baffled the Knicks. It’s finally time for Woodson to adjust back in the right way. If the Knicks can win Game 5, they head back to Indiana and all the pressure will be on the Pacers. At this point there’s been very little to make anyone think that the Knicks can win a game in Indiana, but a hot-shooting offensive explosion at home can change all of that. Woodson needs to put the right players on the floor with the proper game plan to get it done. The players need to follow his directions and hit some shots. If that happens, this series will get interesting really fast. If the Knicks lose 105-103, I’m willing to live with it. At least that means the Knicks lost playing their way.
– I wish that Mike Woodson would play Copeland at center when Hibbert comes out of the game and go completely small, but I doubt that’s going to happen. There’s no reason that Copeland can’t handle Ian Mahinmi for a few minutes. This type of ultra-small lineup — with Felton at point guard, along with Shumpert, Smith and either Novak or even Stoudemire or Kidd — could give the team a jumpstart offensively.
– One other thing: Someone on the Knicks needs to take over a game and put their stamp on this series. Hibbert did it in Game 3. George Hill did it in Game 4. Who did it for the Knicks? Prigioni in Game 2? Anthony needs to drop 40, and do it without taking 30 shots. If he wants to be a top five player, these are the types of things that he needs to do. Smith could help too. Even a hot quarter from him might turn the tide in this series. The Knicks have no choice but to stick with him in this series. They just don’t have the firepower without him. Both have taken pretty decent shots, but they aren’t falling. That must change too.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and New York sports.