Saturday’s matchup between the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks could wind up being a referendum on the Carmelo Anthony trade, the tipping point of the impatience of success-starved fans at Madison Square Garden, and the end of the line for Mike D’Antoni.
For the Knicks, who are 20-27 including the playoffs since acquiring Anthony last February, the tension will be palpable. For the Nuggets, who are 30-16 since the deal, it is an ideal spot to send a not so subtle message.
The season is less than a month old, and D’Antoni and the Knicks already have reached their second crisis point. If they lose, there might not be a third.
The first came two weeks ago, when the Knicks (6-9) lost consecutive home games to Toronto and Charlotte. They stabilized matters with wins at Washington and Detroit before returning home to beat Charlotte and Philadelphia for a tidy little four-game run that put Big Apple basketball back on its axis – temporarily.
But things are spinning out of control again. The Knicks haven’t won since, dropping five in a row with an anemic offense that has critics pointing the finger at D’Antoni, the mastermind of the “Seven Seconds or Less” attack who is in the final year of his contract with a capable replacement, Mike Woodson, sitting next to him as his lead assistant.
The Knicks are averaging 88.4 points per game during their slide. They are running way too many clear-outs for Anthony, who is playing through wrist and ankle injuries and shoots more than any player not named Kobe Bryant.
Without a savvy point guard to run pick-and-rolls, the effectiveness of bigs Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler has been marginalized. And the Knicks simply aren’t making shots, ranking just 26th in 3-point percentage at barely above 30 percent.
Fans were chanting “Fire D’Antoni” during Friday’s home loss to Milwaukee, which came in winless on the road and nevertheless schooled the Knicks. Anthony, who has a history of getting caught up in emotional situations, lost his cool in a duel with Brandon Jennings and was ejected in the closing minutes.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets (11-5) are cruising. Without Anthony, they have an equal opportunity offense that ranks second in scoring and first in assists. No player averages more than 16.4 points per game, but five are in double figures, with backup point guard Andre Miller on the doorstep at 9.9 points.
The Nuggets are 3-0 on their five-game road trip. They are second in the Western Conference, trailing only Oklahoma City. And coach George Karl has said the meeting with the Knicks requires no motivation.