By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks’ loss to the Pacers on Thursday night was ugly, but also understandable.

They were playing one of the hottest and best defensive teams in the NBA and were missing Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton. The only player healthy that could create his own shot was J.R. Smith, who had a bad shooting game. Amar’e Stoudemire is still a shell of himself, and until he gets healthy and into some sort of rhythm he can’t be counted on for major contributions.

The truth is that if the Knicks would have beaten the Pacers on Thursday night it would have been a major upset. They actually rebounded well and played much better defense than they did against the Celtics, which is a good thing.

Friday night’s game is far more telling for a few reasons. Most importantly, Anthony is back in the lineup. The Bulls have also beaten the Knicks twice already this season, and in both games their physical defense took the Knicks out of their game offensively. We saw Anthony fly off his rocker on Monday night, but in those two prior games against the Bulls we saw Tyson Chandler, Smith and Mike Woodson all lose their heads against the Bulls.

It’s extremely important for the Knicks to handle that physical defense and react well to it. Games like this are a test run for the playoffs when the defensive intensity reaches a whole new level. The Knicks have a tendency to degenerate into one-on-one isolation play. They stop moving the ball and become more concerned with the officials than they do with their own play. After Monday’s meltdown, teams will start targeting the Knicks, and it’s very important that they start displaying the mental toughness necessary to win those types of games. Eventually they will have to win games in the high 80s and low 90s.

The Knicks also need to carry over their defensive effort from the Pacers game and make the Bulls look like the subpar offensive team that they are when Derrick Rose isn’t playing. After the last Chicago loss, the Knicks made the point that they were circling this game on their calendar. Now it’s time to make good on that promise and come out and beat the Bulls.

This is a “show me” game for the Knicks that could be a decent preview of what their playoff success might look like.


– Smith’s shot selection on Thursday night was bad, and his shooting might have been worse than that, but did he really have a choice? With Melo and Felton out, the only person who could create their own shot was Smith. He had to shoot it. The Pacers are such a good defensive team that they figured out a way to shut it down quickly.

– We should have seen more of Chris Copeland on Thursday night. He is one of the few Knicks that can legitimately score, and they needed his offense with Melo and Felton hurt.

I killed Woodson for his switching against the Celtics, so I’ll give him credit for the matchup zone against Indiana. It worked well against a poor perimeter shooting team.

– Even though Stoudemire is still working his way back, I would like to see him used more on offense over the course of his minutes on the floor. He is so deficient on defense and on the boards that if he isn’t given a chance to make an impact offensively, he is absolutely useless. He should be the primary go-to guy in the pick-and-roll in those situations and be given some post isolations as well. He has shown some nice spin moves and a decent left hand. He might want to stop getting his shot blocked, though.

– This Marcus Camby injury hurts, especially since Rasheed Wallace is still out with his own foot injury. We’ll know more soon, but I’m guessing that we won’t see Camby again until after the All-Star break. Does anyone know how much closer Wallace is? Kenyon Martin, anyone?

– With Camby out, they should go small with their starting lineup. Put Copeland at the three with Anthony at the four and be an offensive team. The Knicks are not helping themselves starting Ronnie Brewer and Kurt Thomas together. The Knicks have struggled so mightily to score early in games because their starting fives contain three guys with limited offensive repertoires. Right now with their personnel, the Knicks are a small team that depends on their offense. They should make the Bulls respond to them, not visa versa. If the rebounding becomes a disaster (which is a real possibility), then make an adjustment. Putting out a bad lineup to start the game doesn’t help anyone.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.

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