The Knicks' defensive fire is starting to flicker, and it's beginning to darken their season.
New York is coming off a home loss to Chicago where Luol Deng scored 33 of the easiest points you''ll ever see.
It's becoming a theme. The Knicks have difficulty slowing down the other team's top scorers, most of whom are all perimeter-oriented.
Before Chicago, New York was stumped by Paul George, burned by Paul Pierce and torched by Nicolas Batum. It's like they're so amped up to play offense that they're giving teams open looks just to get the ball back quicker.
There always seems to be someone on the other team that the Knicks just don't have an answer for.
Maybe they'll get going again with the return of Iman Shumpert, who was recently cleared for full contact and is a player the team believes in.
New York Daily News writer Frank Isola was waiting around when Shumpert was given clearance, much to the excitement of Carmelo Anthony:
Carmelo just yelled out "Shump is back." Dr Allen just slapped Shumpert's hand as if to congratulate him (Waiting for LA media to refute it)
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) January 7, 2013
The upgrade the Knicks will get to their perimeter defense will be dramatic. Though Jason Kidd has been a revelation, his mind is quicker than his feet, and his feet aren't getting any quicker.
At full strength, the Knicks might have to sacrifice offense for defense in their fourth quarter closeout lineup. Assuming Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton will be locked in, that leaves J.R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert and Jason Kidd to fill the final two spots.
With Shumpert's lockdown tools and the Knicks' struggles defending the perimeter, it would be hard to imagine not having Shump on the floor. This means one offensive weapon that's used to playing crunch-time minutes might have to watch the end of games from the sidelines.
The way this team is constructed, it has no choice but to embrace a defense-first attitude.
With so many streak scorers to mesh with complementary shooters, the Knicks don't generate enough offensive consistency to allow for defensive inconsistency. If they're serious about contending and taking out Miami, this can't just be a middle-of-the-pack defensive team.
New York allows teams to shoot 45.8 percent from the floor against it, which puts it in the bottom third of the league in opponent field-goal percentage. Most of the eight teams ranked below it will be lottery participants, while none are even considered potential title contenders.
The Knicks need to reestablish their defensive identity by emphasizing the significance of getting stops before getting buckets. It's the only way they reenter the conversation with the rest of the big boys around the league.