It's been a tough stretch over the last few months for the New York Knicks, but the All-Star break presents them the opportunity for a fresh start and a chance to return to form.
Despite a strong start to the season, the Knicks have been hovering around .500 for a while, posting a 12-10 record since their game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day.
There have been some clear reasons for their struggles—mostly due to their injury situation—but the mediocre play needs to stop or they risk losing out on a top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Here are four key things New York needs to do in order to return to form and win nearer the level they were in the opening months:
Address Rebounding and Other Needs at the Trade Deadline
The NBA trade deadline is less than a week away, and whilst the Knicks don't need to make any major moves, it would be wise to address some of their smaller needs while they can.
One thing the Knicks have struggled with all season is rebounding, with no healthy player on the roster capable of giving Tyson Chandler any significant help on the boards. This is the sort of thing Marcus Camby was brought in to do, but he can't be relied on to stay injury-free.
With a package centered around Ronnie Brewer and a future second-round pick, the Knicks have the pieces to bring in a reliable backup center, and there are plenty of players on the market they should be looking out for.
According to The Denver Post, former Knick Timofey Mozgov is on the trading block, and he's the kind of physical presence that could make a big difference off the bench at MSG.
Even if the Knicks don't want to make a trade, they have options on the free-agent market in Lou Amundson, Kenyon Martin and Henry Sims, who is currently playing for the Knicks' D-League affiliate—the Erie Bay Hawks.
It's not a pressing need, but the Knicks should also consider making a move for another point guard.
Pablo Prigioni has been great considering how much he cost, but someone more capable of penetrating and scoring would make sense for the offense New York is trying to run.
Delonte West is still out there, and he is a perfect example of a high-reward player, as he still has the talent to be one of the league's elite backup floor generals. The only real issue is if he would have a negative impact in the locker room.
Even someone like Sebastian Telfair would be a good fit back in his hometown, as a much younger and more athletic player than Prigioni.
Make Amar'e Stoudemire a More Central Part of the Offense
The Knicks' offense has been inconsistent for a while now, but the one player that has stood out since his return from injury is Amar'e Stoudemire.
Stoudemire has been averaging 13.6 points on 56 percent shooting since his return, with a 22.1 PER to boot.
Despite how efficient and effective he's been, however, he still rarely plays any more than 25 minutes and is often taken out of games even when the rest of the team is struggling.
Considering how badly players like J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd have been shooting over the last stretch, it would make sense for the Knicks to defer to STAT's offense much more often.
Unless they consider it an injury risk, Stoudemire should be playing around 30 minutes each game, as he still has the talent to be one of the team's top two or three offensive options.
His contract may not match up to his production, but regardless this is a player who has been playing well and deserves to be a bigger part of the offense—which the Knicks need him to be.
Prioritize Ball-Movement and Defense
There were some serious questions about whether or not the Knicks could win when the long ball isn't falling, and so far they've failed to prove that they can.
That said, there's a simple fix to that problem, and that is to return to defense and toughness as the number one priority.
All preseason, the Knicks preached the importance of defense, but so far have barely been an average team on that end of the floor.
New York has the talent to be an elite defensive team—only last season they were fifth in defensive efficiency—but they'll have to put it all together soon to get back to their winning ways.
It will take a collective effort, but really it will come down to the Knicks' two leaders in Chandler and Carmelo Anthony to lead the way, both vocally and by example.
Chandler needs to take it upon himself to prove why he's the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and on top of that, head coach Mike Woodson needs to make sure the rest of the team is pulling their weight.
The team needs to do a lot better defensively in the pick-and-roll, and avoid the mismatches that are coming time and time again (due to laziness in choosing to switch so often).
Offensively, now that Felton is back, the Knicks need to get back to the ball movement they were doing so well with in November.
Felton needs to penetrate and kick, Melo needs to be passing out of the double-team, and the team as a whole needs to be unselfish almost to a fault, just like they were earlier on.
Hope for the Best on the Injury Front
Sometimes a team just needs a little bit of luck to be successful, but the Knicks haven't had any on the injury front this season.
Stoudemire missed a lot more time with his injury than was initially expected, and Felton—typically a durable player—has struggled with a variety of hand injuries all season long.
Every team is going to be struggling with nagging injuries at this point of the season, but having two of the team's most important defensive players in Camby and Rasheed Wallace missing so much time has been a major issue.
Just getting one of the players back in the lineup for about 15 minutes a game will make a big difference, and will be the kind of boost that can help New York to get through this tough stretch.