It was another tough week for the Knicks as they lost in Indiana on Thursday (81-76) and at home to Chicago on Friday (108-101) before getting a much needed home win against the Hornets Sunday afternoon (100-87). Playing against Indiana and Chicago - two of the league's elite defenses - on back-to-back nights is a tall order for any team. And it's a recipe for disaster for a team that's not playing its best, is decimated by injuries, and for the Pacers game, was without its star (Carmelo Anthony, as reported everywhere, was suspended for stalking Kevin Garnett last week).
Both those losses and the start of the Hornets game featured familiar themes: a flat first quarter, uninspired defense, and a lack of ball movement. But after a timeout where Mike Woodson presumably read the riot act, the Knicks turned things around against New Orleans, coming back from an early seven point deficit to win a game they needed.
Despite losing eight of their last fourteen, the Knicks are 24-13, atop of the Atlantic and just one game behind the Heat for the top seed in the East.
What Went Wrong This Week: Melo's absence killed the Knicks in Indy as they were forced to ask too much of JR Smith, who went a hideous 10-29 from the field and got killed by Paul George. Marcus Camby reinjured his left foot in the second half of that game and is now out 2-4 weeks. The Knicks struggled in the first half, turning the ball over eight times, but were able to take a 68-66 lead heading into the fourth quarter where they promptly fell apart, shooting 6-22 in the period.
Jason Kidd was terrible throughout, struggling to handle point guard duties and knock down off-the-dribble (as opposed to spot-up) threes, as he shot just 2-9 from the three point line. He hasn't been the same player since Raymond Felton went down on Christmas. Less is more for a player Kidd's age.
The Bulls game was never close as the Knicks were down by double digits throughout and were booed at home for the first time this season. Melo returned in a funk, starting the game with a 1-8 first quarter. The majority of his 39 were scored with the game out of reach. Luol Deng, one of the league's top defenders, gave it to Melo on both ends, scoring 24 first half points and forcing Woodson to switch James White onto him. Anthony also got dunked on by Carlos Boozer. No one should get dunked on by Carlos Boozer.
After an up-and-down week, Melo explained after the Hornets game that he's been fasting for the last fifteen days to get in touch with himself "spiritually." But Anthony has a job to do, and it's to play great basketball. The offseason is a good time to establish a spiritual connection. He lost his mind over a food insult last week and stumbled through uneven performances when he returned. All the deep thought Instagrams doesn't change the fact that he needs to eat.
That's All Really Bad. Did Anything Good Happen?: Just because a guy has a terrible game doesn't mean he can't posterize someone:
After a week of juggling starting lineups, Woodson may have found a frontline he can build on against New Orleans, reinserting Melo at the four with Chris Copeland at small forward. Copeland made the most of the start with three first quarter threes and some important baskets down the stretch on his way to 22 points. Anthony, after another 1-8 start, took off in the second quarter where he scored eighteen of the Knicks 27 as they took the lead for good.
Freed from the likes of Tyler Hansbrough, Taj Gibson and other ornery defenders, Amar'e again showed flashes of his old game and even some new ones, scoring on a pretty hook shot in the post and on a blow-by spin move. He even made a hustle play or two (he had twelve points and three rebounds.) Pablo Prigioni played an excellent game in thirty minutes off the bench, helping the Knicks rediscover their affinity for ball movement, opening up three point looks for Copeland and Steve Novak, whose four combined fourth quarter threes put the game away.
Despite their 11-26 record, the Hornets have some talented offensive players. Still, the Knicks held the Hornets to just 40% shooting despite a hot start. That's progress for a Knicks team that has slid all the way to twentieth in defensive efficiency.
Get Me Off The Ledge With Some Funny: All things considered, it was a pretty humorous week. '90s Pacers point guard-turned-NBA ref Haywoode Workman refereed Knicks-Pacers—there's NO way that should be allowed. Woody Allen wore a hat that's at least as old as Soon-Yi to the Bulls game. And after Nate Robinson mocked Steve Novak's Discount Double Check/Aaron Rodgers celebration, Novak responded as only an midwestern guy can:
Player of the Week: Raymond Felton. The cracks exposed by his absence are increasingly obvious. A quick reminder: Ray can pick up the scoring slack when Melo is suffering through hypoglycemia, pushes Kidd to his now-natural off guard position, slows down opposing guards with his defense and moves the ball. Unfortunately, Felton isn't due back until February so the Knicks will just have to hold on until then.
Up Next: It's a weird week: the Knicks play only one game...but it's in London against the Detroit Pistons Thursday afternoon. After that, they're off until Monday, when they play their traditional MLK Day home matinee, this year against the Nets. The week is made even more interesting by the much-needed return of shooting guard and high-top enthusiast Iman Shumpert. Shump will give the Knicks an injection of energy on both ends of the court (he's expected to travel to London and be available to play). It's a moment the Knicks have been waiting for all year, and couldn't be coming at a better time. Stay tuned.