After jumping all over the Milwaukee Bucks in the season opener and holding on to win (90-83), the Knicks lost a heartbreaker to Derrick Rose and the Bulls in Chicago (82-81).
At that point, Knicks fans had little reason to worry. But then came disappointing home losses to the Timberwolves (109-100) on Sunday and Bobcats (102-97) last night. Even worse, Tyson Chandler sustained a knee injury against the Bobcats, the severity of which is at this time unknown.
After four games the Knicks—an organization with championship aspirations—are just 1-3 despite playing three very winnable games at home. They've played with almost no energy, they've been subjected to boos at home and owner James Dolan's already mad, mad enough to crack down on the Knicks City Dancers and rant to new team president Steve Mills. Things have gotten off track quickly for the Knicks and if they can't get it together on the court soon, things are sure to get very ugly at the Garden.
What Went Right This Week: Before his injury, Chandler looked great, rebounding and defending very well to keep the Knicks in control against Milwaukee and in the game against Chicago, where he had nineteen boards against the Bulls' formidable bigs.
When things got tight against Milwaukee, Chandler was there to clean things up:
Before last night Chandler was averaging nine points, 11.3 boards and three blocks a game. Now his future is up in the air. So is the Knicks'.
Iman Shumpert, the starting shooting guard, looks explosive and is shooting the ball fairly well (he's averaging 12.3 points on 45% shooting). His play hasn't been perfect; he's been getting himself into foul trouble with overaggressive defense and he still gets out of control at times on offense but he certainly looks like the player he was before his ACL injury last February. The Knicks are hoping to see more polish and poise from him but he looks completely recovered from his injury and has added a nice mid-range jumper to his game.
Ron Artest looks relatively spry and despite the occasional questionable decision has been the offensive jack-of-all-trades the Knicks expected him to be. He's averaging 11.8 points and four boards in 23.5 minutes off the bench and kept the Knicks in the game last night with fourteen first half points.
JR Smith's suspension has forced Tim Hardaway into the rotation and he's looked confident, making some timely threes even if he does seem to shoot every time he gets the ball. He's also more athletic than advertised:
What Went Wrong: The Knicks backup centers are Amar'e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin, Andrea Bargnani and someone named Cole Aldrich. Stoudemire and Martin are supposed to alternate games, though they haven't been able to because the Knicks are so thin up front. Stoudemire's been a disaster (he had a staggering five turnovers in eleven minutes against the Bobcats last night and looked at one point like he was crying).
Bargnani, though he's shown some flashes with his jump shot, has been, on the whole, a mess. He looks lost in the Knicks' offensive system, doesn't seem to have any confidence, has turned the ball over regularly and has already drawn the ire of the Garden fans. He also airballed a dunk. Oh, and the Knicks can't seem to defend or score when he's on the court (acknowledging it's early to look at statistics, the Knicks allow 116.3 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court and score just 93.4.) He's averaging 8.8 points, two rebounds and is shooting 33% from three. So far, not the "stretch four" the Knicks need him to be.
All that is to say that if Tyson Chandler is injured in any significant way the Knicks are in very big trouble.
Two of the Knicks' leaders, Mike Woodson and Carmelo Anthony, are also struggling. Woodson seems unsure of what to do with his lineups and has persisted with starting Bargnani even as the Knicks struggle with him on the court. Perhaps that decision is coming from somewhere else.
Defensively, the Knicks are struggling. They have not defended well on the perimeter, have communicated poorly and persist with Woodson's "switch everything" defensive mandate no matter the consequences of mismatched guards and bigs. Their starting lineup can't match up with big power forwards (Kevin Love cooked them for 34 points and fifteen boards). They were torched for thirty points by Kevin Martin of the Wolves, a player who is little more than a jump shooter, because they couldn't find a way to stay close to him. Last night, Kemba Walker did his usual MSG thing, scoring 25 points and carrying the lowly Bobcats to victory. The Knicks' defensive strategy badly needs a shake-up.
On offense, Woodson's seemed unwilling to give extended minutes to the two point guard lineup that was so good for the Knicks last season, only turning to it as a last resort. More of Prigioni and Felton together (so far it's been just fifty minutes) would also help the Knicks limit their turnovers, which have been killing them thus far this season (they're averaging almost seventeen a game so far, up from last year's league best 12.1).
JR Smith's absence has forced Woodson to lean even more heavily on Carmelo Anthony than usual. Melo has not responded well to increased minutes (he's averaging a whopping 42 per game) and is scoring just 23.8 points per game on 37.8% shooting. It's early and Melo may find his game, but if the season ended today those numbers would be at or near career lows for Melo.
Already struggling with his jump shot, against Charlotte Melo's joy de vivre was completely absent as he struggled through a 10 for 28 shooting night on his way to 34 points. Melo's body language, tentative play and shooting suggest that he hasn't completely recovered from the shoulder injury that plagued him during last year's playoffs and which he elected not to have surgery on during this offseason.
After years of far less than transparency regarding injuries on the part of management, it's hard not to be paranoid that the Knicks are hiding the fact that Melo is far from 100%. That, if coupled with bad Tyson Chandler news, would be a doomsday scenario for the Knicks.
Knick of the Week: Tyson Chandler. Against Indiana in the playoffs a limited Chandler was dominated by Roy Hibbert and the Knicks didn't stand a chance. Until he was injured last night Chandler looked as good as he has in a Knick uniform. The Knicks better hope he isn't winning this week's award as they find out his season is coming to an end.
Anything Funny?: It's the Bargnani airball dunk. Oh, and the fact that the MSG fans only gave him two shots as a Knick before they started booing him.
Up Next: The Knicks have a chance to get their legs when they travel to Charlotte for a rematch with the Bobcats on Friday night. After that they're at home against the Spurs and on the road against Atlanta. With the temperature quickly rising around them, the Knicks better find a way to cool things off.
Update: According to the Knicks, Tyson Chandler will be out 4-to-6 weeks with a fracture in his right leg.