The Knicks started the week with embarrassing defeats at the hands of the Nets (103-80) and Sixers (110-106), losses that seem like distant memories after Carmelo Anthony's scoring explosion carried them to wins over the Bobcats (125-96) and Lakers (110-103). Anthony's 62-point performance against Charlotte set all sorts of Knick records and will live on in team history, making his 35-point performance against the Lakers on Sunday look almost pedestrian.
The exciting play of Anthony and the Knicks provided a much needed shot in the arm for the team and its fans at a time when the Knicks were squandering the start of what could have been a season-stabilizing eight-game homestand and things were getting very ugly. Unfortunately, though, the losses to the Nets and Sixers were part of a five-game losing streak that undid all the progress the Knicks made at the beginning of the month and no amount of scoring will get those games back. The Knicks are now 17-27 on the year and one game behind the Bobcats for the last playoff spot in the East.
What Went Right This Week: Carmelo Anthony hit his stride against the Bobcats, picking them apart in every way as he scored 62 points on 23-35 shooting. Coming off back-to-back disappointing performances, Melo's game was just what the Knicks needed: to get a win, have a good time and get everyone talking about something positive. Anthony gave them all that and hit a whole bunch of milestones in the process (most points scored in a game at MSG, most points scored in a game by a Knick and most points in a game this season, among others.)
Through all the ups and downs, it's important to take a moment every now and then to appreciate that Carmelo Anthony is one of the best two scorers in the world today:
Melo wasn't done yet though. He killed the Lakers on Sunday afternoon, scoring 35 points as the Knicks won an uptempo game on national television (to be fair, poor Mike D'Antoni had to start this guy on Anthony.) Melo might not have shot as well as he did on Friday (he was 14 for 31) but he contributed five assists as he and all the Knicks moved the ball on offense, which, as it always does, led to a lot of open threes and drives to the basket.
There was even a play where Melo threw the ball cross-court to Shumpert and waited in the corner as it worked its way back around to him for an open three. It's hard to remember the last time something like that happened for the Knicks.
Anthony wasn't the only one generating gaudy highlights this week, as JR Smith and Jeremy Tyler connected for an impressive alley-oop against the 'Cats:
Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kenyon Martin, and Amar'e Stoudemire forced Tyler, a 22-year old seven-footer with one heck of a backstory, into the rotation and he flashed a bit of his tantalizing potential with a 22-minute, eight point, five board, two block night against Charlotte. The Knicks may have found another diamond in the rough with Tyler and even when STAT and K-Mart return Mike Woodson should continue to find minutes for the young big man.
After shooting a combined 9-28 against the Nets and Sixers, JR Smith turned things around to close the week. He scored fourteen on 5-8 shooting against Charlotte and 6-12 for sixteen against the Lakers, adding four assists in each contest. When Smith shoots reasonably well and facilitates some offense with his passing, the Knicks are a much better team (they're 4-2 this season when Smith contributes four assists or more and shoots 40% or better.) With all the injuries they've suffered the Knicks need solid play from JR more than ever.
He hasn't been productive every game and it's getting close to the time when most rookies hit the wall, but Tim Hardaway Jr. played a key role in the Knicks' victory over the Lakers on Sunday. With the game tied at 83 to start the fourth quarter Hardaway scored seven points in just over four minutes as the Knicks took control of the game. Hardaway isn't a good defender (yet) and he often shoots when he should look to pass. But his ability to score, both with his excellent jump shot and his above-average athleticism, has made him an important player for the Knicks, both in the present and in the future. Hardaway finished the game with eighteen points and shot 4-5 from behind the arc.
One of the many developments that's led to the collapse of the Knicks this season is the lack of production they've gotten from their point guards and centers. Last year, Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler regularly connected on the pick-and-roll, a play that gave the Knicks a way of keeping defenses honest when they wanted to focus all their energy on stopping Melo. Injuries to both guys and the generally poor play of Felton has left the Knicks without a reliable way of generating offense with the pick-and-roll in what's become a pick-and-roll league.
But this week, with Chandler finally recovered from illness and Felton regaining a little mojo, the two showed signs of reconnecting. Chandler had two double doubles this week, including thirteen points and fourteen boards against the Lakers (by way of comparison, at this point in the season last year he had seventeen double-doubles, this year he has five) and Felton had one of his best scoring games of the season against the Lakers (twenty points on 8-10 shooting to go with five assists.) The offensive production of these two is closely connected. Hopefully they're both trending in the right direction.
What Went Wrong This Week: Lost in all the hubbub surrounding Melo's eruption was the absolutely pitiful way the Knicks were playing before the weekend. They laid down for the Nets on Martin Luther King Day, just no-showing in a nationally televised game. They followed up their horrid 33% shooting performance against Brooklyn by letting Philadelphia, the second worst offensive team in the league, score 110 points. Every Sixers' starter other than Spencer Hawes scored in double digits (seriously, the Knicks own Spencer Hawes) and Evan Turner scored a career high 34 points.
The Knicks' defense wasn't much better against the Lakers either as they let stars like Jodie Meeks (24 points), Manny Harris (just up from the D-League, eighteen points) have some fun at their expense. After 44 games, this team has the league's 26th best defense. This is who they are.
Spencer Hawes-Tyson Chandler flashback near-fight interlude:
After losing Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire to twin left ankle sprains against the Pacers last week, the Knicks were already thin in the frontcourt. Things only got worse when they lost Andrea Bargnani to a torn ligament in his left elbow after he took a nasty fall against the Sixers. Bargnani's struggled in a lot of areas this season, but there's no doubt that the Knicks could use him right now. There's no telling when he'll be back (he's currently out "indefinitely." STAT and K-Mart are out two weeks each.)
And of course, where there's losing there's complaining. Tyson Chandler, one of the Knicks' veteran leaders, made it pretty clear he was unhappy with the Knicks' defensive scheme by airing his grievances to the media after the loss to the Nets. Chandler's right. There's no way to argue that the Knicks' switch-everything defense works. But there's not a whole lot of good that can happen when the players start bitching about the coach in the newspaper, especially when the player doing the complaining has been injured for most of the season.
Knick of the Week: How can it possibly be anyone other than Carmelo Anthony? The guy scored sixty two freaking points in a game where a loss would have been catastrophic. And he's got to get this award, if only to make up for the fact that he didn't even win Eastern Conference Player of the Week (Paul Millsap? OK NBA, whatever you say.)
Anything Funny?: It was a lot funnier before it was announced that he injured himself in the process, but Andrea Bargnani's dunk attempt against the Sixers was ridiculous:
There was also a wonderful Deadspin roundup of all Bargs' brainfarts this season that is not to be missed.
There were revelations that the Knicks have some kind of crazy system for ranking celebrities and assigning them courtside seats. And of course there was LaLa Anthony telling Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live" that she "definitely thinks" the Anthonys will be staying in New York next season. Of course she did. Just another crazy week in Knicks land.
Up Next: The Knicks will need to be wary of looking past tonight's game with the Celtics and Thursday's matchup with the Cavs as they gear up for a nationally televised Saturday night battle with the Heat at what's sure to be a celebrity packed MSG the night before the Super Bowl. If they want that game to be a celebration and not a funeral they need to take care of business at home against the two teams directly behind them in the standings.