Unfortunately, today wouldn’t be the day for the first that Knicks fans were hoping for… That would have been the first time that Carmelo Anthony’s Knicks beat LeBron James’ Heat in Madison Square Garden. Instead, it was the first time that Mike Woodson lost a home game as the head coach of the New York Knicks.
After dropping the decision to the Heat, 93-85, the Knicks’ nine-game home winning streak was snapped. They are currently 31-29 on the season and fell a half-game behind the idle Philadelphia 76ers for the seventh seed.
Their lead over the ninth place Milwaukee Bucks is a fairly comfortable two games, though.
With Dwight Howard expected to be out for an extended period, the Knicks are clinging to the possibility of catching the Orlando Magic (34-25) for the sixth seed, but that remains a long shot unless the Knicks manage to win at least five of their final six games (BOS, @NJ, @CLE, @ATL, LAC, @CHA).
As we look ahead to the NBA playoffs and potential matchups, my opinion is that the Knicks would have almost no shot of ousting the Heat in a playoff series. So I’ll maintain my earlier perspective, they’d have a puncher’s chance of upsetting the Chicago Bulls.
Here are my major takeaways from Sunday’s matinee:
The Heat Are A Horrible Half-Court Team
I’m very excited about watching the NBA playoffs this season. The consensus top three teams—the Thunder, Bulls, and Heat—all lack a consistent attacker in the post. In Toronto, Chris Bosh was the first, second, and third offensive option for the Raptors and his opportunities were plentiful. However, for some inexplicable reason, Erik Spoelstra has the Heat playing a style of basketball that works from the outside in. Wade and James are obviously adept at attacking off the dribble, but it’s going to be quite difficult for the Heat to find sustained success in the playoffs if they don’t get more comfortable leaning on Chris Bosh’s interior scoring for longer stretches.
More importantly, though, is the non-existence of supposed low-post game that James developed under the tutelage of Hakeem Olajuwon. I haven’t seen it down the stretch of important games.
In short, the Heat relies on their athleticism and ability to take their opponents off the dribble far too much. Their half-court offense is atrocious and unimaginative. The reliance of pushing and one-on-one sets might work against inferior opponents, but when the playoffs roll around, any team that has a consistent post threat, can hit from behind the arc, and limit their turnovers will be able to give the Heat a run for their money.
Erik Spoelstra is probably crossing his fingers that the Heat don’t run into the Celtics this year. But he probably wouldn’t mind seeing the Knicks.
There’s only one ‘Melo, and he can’t simultaneously be the Knicks’ most dangerous weapon in the post and on the perimeter. The Heat’s blitz and trap defense and amazing speed with which they close out on shooters and show and recover on pick and rolls would be a nightmare for the Knicks.
Anthony was amazing, but he had no help. That brings me to the second observation:
Carmelo Anthony Can’t Beat The Heat By Himself
As of late, Anthony has been playing as well as any player in the entire league. Over the past 13 games, he’s averaging 30 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while hitting an average of 11 of his 22 shots. He’s looked every bit like the player that the Knicks thought they were getting when they traded for him last February and gave him a four-year maximum extension.
Today, Anthony scored 42 points—about half of the teams’ total—and chipped in nine rebounds and five assists. The best part is that he shot 14-for-27 from the field, despite going just 2-for-7 in the fourth quarter.
And while that 2-for-7 is a bit disconcerting, the bigger point is this: Only one other Knick scored in double figures. That was J.R. Smith, and he needed 15 shots to get just 16 points.
As a team, the Knicks shot 31-73 (.425). But every Knicks player not named Anthony shot a combined 17-46 (.369).
That’s simply not good enough. Remember Moke’s old adage: There’s strength in numbers, and numbers win games. To have a legitimate shot at toppling the NBA’s cream, the Knicks need four guys to score in double figures. That had that last Sunday. Not today.
As brilliantly as Anthony has played lately, he needs help… Fortunately, though, an important reinforcement is on the way… Which brings me to my third observation:
Amar’e Stoudemire Will Fit In Just Fine
It’s easy to forget about Stoudemire since the Knicks have been playing so well lately. And what I find funnier than anything else is this ludicrous notion that he and Anthony cannot play together.
That word can’t is so powerful. Obviously, adjustments are necessary all the way around, but the reason why you can’t say this can’t work is because it already has. For stretches.
The Knicks won seven games in a row down the stretch of last season en route to clinching their first winning season in about 10 years. Although they blew Game 1 against the Celtics in the ensuing playoff matchup, these are all exhibits in which Anthony and Stoudemire co-existed just fine.
Moreover, since Mike Woodson took over, the Knicks are 6-1 with both Stoudemire and Anthony in the lineup. So, as hard as it may be—especially in New York City—you’ve simply gotta give these guys time to get it together.
A leaner and more focused Stoudemire—who is expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday—will make a world of difference for these Knicks. But his skill set will blend in just fine so long as he is at the top of his game. That entails nailing pick and pops, getting around his defender, and finishing in traffic. We saw signs before he went down with his back injury; so let’s see what he looks like by the time the Knicks’ regular season ends.
I’ll chuckle as I remind you that before he bought the townhouse in lower Manhattan, Stoudemire made a living off of playing without the ball and nailing jumpers. That’s what got Donnie Walsh and Jim Dolan to agree to pay a King’s ransom for him.
At the end of the day, Stoudemire has a responsibility to get back to being automatic with his touch anywhere around the paint. He has struggled mightily this season, and whether or not this thing can work ultimately boils down to whether or not he can simply revert to being the player we saw every day last season, and far too little this season.
But make no mistake about it: I believe that he and Anthony’s skill sets complement one another very well. One guy is best with the ball and one is best without it. Since when is that a problem?
What should be more concerning is Stoudemire’s overall defensive deficiency. When he returns, the Knicks will only have a shot at advancing in the playoffs if they can marry his offensive strengths with the team that they have become…
(Cue the drumroll; here’s the final observation)
The Knicks Are A Defensive Team That Doesn’t Quit
At various points throughout their matinee against the Heat, things looked like they were getting away from the Knicks. They trailed by as many as 11 in the first half and by as many as nine in the second. But rather than hanging their heads, they tightened up their interior defense, forced the Heat into contested looks on the perimeter and turned the game around.
They led by four points with about eight minutes to go in the fourth before failing to execute and missing shots. At the end of the day, they lost an eight-point decision to a better team. Personally, I was more surprised at the fact that they led in the fourth quarter than the fact that they lost the game.
In this league, you make a living off of beating the teams you’re supposed to beat and stealing a few against teams you’re not. And at this point, the Heat are not a team that the Knicks are supposed to beat.
It’s a little late for moral victories, especially when a nine-game home winning streak is snapped at the hands of the single team the Knicks and their fans want to beat the most. But regardless, holding the Heat to 46 percent shooting from the field and 93 points for the game shows something…
Especially when you remember our second observation.
Mike Woodson’s Knicks are now 13-5 and giving up 89 points per game.
When Woodson took over back on March 14, the Knicks were 18-24 and were technically in ninth place in the Eastern conference. After today’s loss to the Heat, though, they remain comfortably in.
After the game, coach Woodson was happy. “I can’t complain about the way we’ve been playing, we’ve been playing some really good basketball,” he said.
“I feel good about our team.”
And although feeling good after a loss is tough, it’s understandable when—playing without two of your best players—you lose a hard-fought game to the second-place team in your conference.
With Anthony playing at such a high level and Stoudemire’s return on the horizon, if these teams meet in the playoffs, things could be different.
Woodson’s upbeat perspective is understandable. He understands that what’s more important than anything else is whether or not he feels good about his team one month from now.
Time will tell.
Moke Hamilton covers the New York Knicks for SheridanHoops.com and is the Deputy Editor for CHARGED.fm. For the latest on the New York Knicks and all things NBA, follow him on Twitter.