At 21-8, the New York Knicks enter Friday second in the Eastern Conference and fifth in the NBA. Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t expected to make his season debut until New Year’s Day at the earliest and Iman Shumpert isn’t expected to return to the court until sometime after mid-January.
Now, as news of Raymond Felton’s injury became public, the immediate inclination from Knicks Knation was to fret. But this team, with this coach, will find a way to excel, even in Felton’s absence.
Without Stoudemire and Shumpert, the rest of the Knicks accomplished their best 25-game start in 30 years and did it behind strong leadership from coach Mike Woodson and superstar Carmelo Anthony. And that’s where winning and losing in the NBA begins and ends.
It’s a cultural thing. It’s an expectation thing. It’s a belief and a mindset that starts with the coach and goes down all the way to and through the 15th guy on the roster.
Coach Woodson refuses to accept anything less than top effort from any of his players and Anthony – in a recent conversation with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith – said that anything less than reaching the conference finals would be unacceptable to him and his team.
The expectations have been set. And with or without Felton, Woodson won’t allow his team to flounder into mediocrity.
The tough task of winning games without your starting point guard becomes a bit easier when Jason Kidd is the alternative. Even at 39 years old, Kidd still has an amazing knack for the game. He may be slower on his feet, but the game never moves too quickly for him. He may be less athletic than he was a few years ago, but he’s wiser.
Just like he did when the Knicks beat the Suns on Wednesday, Kidd is still capable of dominating and controlling a game on both ends of the floor. Sure, J.R. Smith played an amazing game and hit the game-winning shot. But Kidd scored just four less points than Smith while taking 11 less shots.
And it was Kidd – en route to 23 points, six rebounds and eight assists – who forced the game’s decisive turnover and made the picture-perfect pass to Smith to enable the game-winning hoist.
Before the season began, I wrote that in order for the Knicks to be one of the league’s top teams, Kidd would need to be at his best. Thus far, he has been.