By John Schmeelk
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This seems like an article that gets written every few weeks, and it is time to write it again. Injuries have once again painted Mike Woodson into a corner, and he has been forced to play small. With Tyson Chandler, Jeremy Tyler and a very limited Kenyon Martin the only playable big men (sorry Cole Aldrich), Carmelo Anthony has been moved to power forward and the two point-guard lineup has returned. The result has been two blowout victories, and another convincing win.
It is important, however, not to get too far ahead and start proclaiming that the Knicks’ problems are solved. The Bobcats, Lakers and Celtics are all lower-level teams the Knicks SHOULD beat at home. Anthony also put up 62 points in one of those games, making that particular game one the Knicks would have been very hard-pressed to lose. The Knicks’ offense, however, has been humming with better ball movement, play towards the basket, lobs to Chandler, three-point shooting and pick-and-rolls. Very simply, it looks like the Knicks’ offense from last year.
Many people have pointed to Andrea Bargnani’s absence as the turning point for this turnaround. It does, admittedly, line up. But to put the entire blame on Bargnani’s shoulders isn’t fair to him. His absence has prompted Woodson to return to lineups that work, but if Woodson would have used Bargnani as a center in bigger lineups, I believe the team could have had the same success, albeit with some lack of rebounding and rim protection.
In fact, three of the Knicks’ top-seven lineups with a positive +/- have Bargnani at center. To be fair, a couple of the team’s worst lineups have Bargnani as the team’s center as well. This data is more of an indictment of Woodson’s use of Bargnani than anything else. With his inability or unwillingness to find a way to use Bargnani well, his injury helps the team by default.
Whether by coincidence or not, Ray Felton and J.R. Smith have also played much better over the last three games, something that must continue. The Knicks’ two best stretches over the past month have coincided with the improved play of the Knicks’ backcourt. More than anything else this season –including Woodson’s strategy and decisions — what has plagued the Knicks has been the play of their backcourt. If Felton and Smith can continue to play at the level they did last season, the Knicks will continue to win basketball games.
The Knicks are still very much in the playoff race, only a half-game out of the eighth seed. With 37 games to play, they are 5 1/2 games behind Toronto (who might still trade Kyle Lowry for future resources) for the division title and the three seed. In fact, it is not unrealistic to say that the Knicks have a chance to finish anywhere from the three spot to out of the playoff race completely. Despite their terrible play, the season is still in front of them. But the clock is ticking, and the time for losing winnable games is over.
– From what I’ve seen, Tyler can be a rotation player in this league. He rebounds well, does a decent job of shot-blocking around the basket and finishes around the rim. With his emergence, the Knicks should be very careful rushing back Martin, whose versatility can be very important down the stretch of the season.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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