By John Schmeelk
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Let’s face it — this Knicks season has been one gigantic head-scratcher.
It started in the offseason with the trade for Andrea Bargnani, and then the autumn firing of Glen Grunwald. Then, there was the Chris Smith roster nonsense. When they actually started playing games, the Knicks’ season grew even more confusing. Despite Mike Woodson’s attempt to create excuses, there was never a legitimate reason for this Knicks team to be so bad after winning 54 games in 2013.
The continued failure of the roster has led to the imminent hiring of Phil Jackson, which will be announced on Tuesday. With all of the Jackson rumors circulating, however, a strange thing happened. The Knicks started winning games — six of them in fact. Why? I have no idea, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.
Well, there is one reason that is obvious to everyone: They have played awful basketball teams. Not one of the six teams the Knicks have beaten during this winning streak will be in the playoffs, but even that fact doesn’t explain such a drastic turnaround.
The Knicks lost to similarly awful teams like Orlando, Sacramento and Milwaukee back in February. They also haven’t just been winning — they have been dominating. Over the past six games, the Knicks have outscored their opponents by more points per 100 possessions than any other team in the league except for one. Their offense has been the best in the NBA over that stretch as well.
Hot shooting can explain a lot of wins, but the Knicks’ defense has improved as well. After being the 29th-ranked defensive team in the league during the month of February, the Knicks have the 12th-best during this six-game winning streak.
In February, it seemed obvious to everyone watching this team that they had quit on their coach. They exhibited no effort on defense, and most nights it really looked like they didn’t care enough to play hard. The coach had lost his team.
Well, he’s found them. How? Why? How is anyone to know with this eclectic group of players?
Woodson went with his big lineup, usually a recipe for disaster, but it has worked. Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are actually playing well together and aren’t a complete liability defensively, like they were during the first three years of their pairing. You can hear the difference during Knicks games, as players verbally communicate to each other on switches, pick-and-rolls and rotations.
They are doing everything that had been completely absent just a few weeks prior. The players say the talk of Jackson motivated them to come together. If that’s really the case, these players need to get their priorities straight.
Iman Shumpert seems revived coming off the bench with Tim Hardaway, Jr., who can rely on his more defense-oriented teammate so his warts don’t show as much on that end of the floor. J.R. Smith is playing efficient basketball as a starter. In short, this looks like the Knicks team that played so well last April.
They have pulled to within 3 1/2 games of the Hawks for the final playoff spot in the conference, though they do trail by five in the loss column. This type of streaky play will be necessary in the final 15 games of the season if the Knicks want the chance to play the Heat or Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.
Wednesday’s game against Indiana will be a big test for this group, to see if they can extend their good play against one of the better teams in the league. The Pacers have had issues of their own over the past few weeks, but their defense will still be a huge barometer for this renewed Knicks attack.
I don’t know what Knicks team will show up, but why would I? No one has been able to figure this team out all year, and it is continuing in March, albeit in a much more positive fashion for Knicks fans.
The hole might be too big to dig out of, but considering how the first 67 games of the season have gone, would you rule anything out for the final 15? I wouldn’t.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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