By John Schmeelk
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There really isn’t any point in watching anymore. The small details might change from night to night, but the Knicks always find a way to lose. Whether it is bad lineups, bad defense, missed shots or a lack of effort, the result is always the same. A culture of losing has set in for the Knicks. It’s like this group is getting used to it and expects it.
When a shot doesn’t fall, the heads droop. When an opposing player gets a wide-open look at the basket, Knicks players look around like lost children at a crowded mall unsure of how they wound up where they are. Mike Woodson is still shocked when someone like Andrea Bargnani doesn’t provide good help-defense, or when Raymond Felton can’t stay in front of opposing point guards. When two players miscommunicate on defense they look at each other with lost gazes. When one player sees another not give complete effort, it motivates them a little bit not to try their hardest.
The scariest thing is that these are all of the same problems the Knicks were trying to solve back in November. Many, like the bad defensive system, date back to last season and went unnoticed because of an excellent offense. Woodson simply doesn’t have the answers. His answers to the media’s questions reek of desperation and confusion. Two weeks ago he stressed to the media how he doesn’t want to switch all the time, especially when it means getting a big man on a guard. Yet the Knicks continue to do it in every game. And before the game against the Sixers, Woodson defended the very same switching strategy he tried to run away from a couple of weeks ago.
His confusion is mimicked by his team on the court. Whatever Woodson’s defense strategy is, no one seems to know how to execute it. The pick-and-roll is literally the most common play in the sport, yet the Knicks play defense against it like they are seeing it for the first time every time it is run. That means Woodson is not communicating properly to his players. He is not reaching them anymore if they can’t even defend a simple high screen-and-roll without making mental mistakes. We saw those mental mistakes turn into two easy baskets on Wednesday night when Iman Shumpert and Carmelo Anthony couldn’t figure out how to guard simple screens.
All the problems have become so consistent that the only way they can be fixed is by committing to drastic change. At this point, things like changing lineups or altering defensive strategy isn’t going to have much of an effect. You can see the way the team is playing; they have almost become accustomed to losing. Sometimes a group of players dig themselves into such a hole that they simply can’t get out of it without some kind of big change to the team.
It starts with the coach. It’s obvious to everyone but James Dolan that Woodson is not the man who can pull the Knicks out of this funk. Even if he actually has the right plan, it has become painfully obvious in recent weeks that the Knicks’ best players no longer believe in their head coach. Once a coach loses those guys, the rest of the team is not far behind. A change should have come back in December before the team fell this far, but there still is a more-than-reasonable path into the postseason. But the change must happen now.
The players are not blameless in all of this, but changing them is far more difficult than a simple flip of a switch with the coach. The Knicks can’t afford to trade for anyone with contracts beyond next year, and they have very little in terms of assets that other teams want. All the team has is to be as watchable as possible for the rest of the year, and potentially get into the playoffs. (assuming the team doesn’t blow things up, which it should). Otherwise Dolan is either going to have an arena full of booing fans or an arena with no fans at all.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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