5 Hard Truths for Giddy New York Knicks Fans
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The New York Knicks have faced plenty of adversity since their scorching start to the season. They've fallen to the third seed in the Eastern Conference, and are a mediocre 16-15 since Dec. 17.
Following an impressive win Wednesday over the Golden State Warriors despite Stephen Curry's legendary 54-point performance, the team finally has an inspiring victory to their credit for the first time in weeks. But the team isn't completely out of the woods yet.
Coach Mike Woodson has regressed overall when it comes to schemes on both sides of the ball. Key Knicks are struggling at inopportune times, and their competition seems to be gaining steam.
The Knicks have some serious corrections to make, because there's a ton of factors working to their disadvantage as the postseason nears closer.
The Brooklyn Nets Are Right on the Knicks' Tail
The Nets currently own the divisional tie-breaker over the Knicks.
Unfortunately, the season series between the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets is long since over. The in-state rivals battled for the final time on Jan. 21, as Brooklyn evened up the season series at two wins apiece.
With the Nets breathing down New York's neck at just two games off pace in the Atlantic Conference standings, there's a very real chance that the two teams could finish with the same record after 82 games.
With the head-to-head tie-breaker unable to break any ties, the next criteria to determine the division winner is divisional record. Brooklyn's record versus the Atlantic is 9-3. New York's: 6-6.
If the Knicks don't step up their play against division rivals, it could be Brooklyn with the last laugh, and the guaranteed top-four seed.
Mike Woodson Has Serious Adjustments to Make
Woodson's poor judgement has played a role in the team's recent struggles.
I recently went on a long-winded rant about Mike Woodson's recent deficiencies. For easy-readability's sake, I'll condense my points here.
Mike Woodson began the season as a Coach of the Year candidate. The Knicks were running incredibly successful sets involving all five players on the court. The defense was top-notch, and Woody was exceeding all expectations.
Then, as the season progressed, Woodson relapsed back to the coach we all presumed he'd be: Iso-heavy with a lack of schemes on offense; and he's transformed into something no one could've expected: the coach of a terribly inept defense.
On D—Woody's suspected specialty—the coach has implemented a strategy that's accomplished essentially nothing over the course of the last three months. When defending screen plays, Knicks players neglect to fight through the pick, as per Woodson's command, and instead switch at the first sign of a pick-and-roll.
This leaves the Knicks with matchup-nightmares all over the court, and teams have continued to exploit this over and over.
Woodson has also kept 39-year-old Jason Kidd in the starting lineup, despite his 25-percent clip from the arc since New Year's Day. He's played Iman Shumpert out of position at the small forward, and kept Shump from guarding the opposing point guard, as we've seen him successfully accomplish in his young career.
On offense, the Knicks went from running the most efficient offense arguably, to the most reckless and isolation-dependent.
Rarely does Woodson call out for sets on offense nowadays. It's up to Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith to determine how the shots will come, and they're often poor attempts.
This has especially troubled sharpshooter Steve Novak, who thrived off sets that left him wide-open last year and early this season. Currently, Novak's role on offense is to camp beyond the arc, and hope a defender leaves him some room to operate, and that a Knick spots it at the right time. Novak's three-point attempts are down to just 3.8 per game over the last 12 contests.
Jason Kidd Is Playing the Worst Basketball of His Life
Kidd may not be the reborn player we were convinced he was early on.
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Whether it be regressing (rather, nose-diving) back to the mean, or a result of being overworked early in the season by Mike Woodson, Jason Kidd appears every bit of his 39 years on the court these days.
Kidd started the season on a tear. He was shooting the ball better than he had in his entire career. Through the first 17 games, Kidd was a 53-percent shooter from three-point range, and shot 50 percent from the field. He was a tremendous part of the team's sizzling start on both sides of the ball.
Since then, however, it's been nothing but struggles for the 19-year vet.
He's shot 28-percent from downtown since Dec. 13, but has still averaged 28 minutes per contest despite nagging back injuries.
Over his last 13 games, he's shot 10-of-54 from the field (.185 FG%) including 7-of-48 from downtown (.146 3P%). As of late, Kidd receives the ball with wide-open looks and it appears as if shooting is the last thing on his mind. When he does reluctantly throw it up, chances are it's off the mark.
If Kidd isn't rested in the near future, or if he continues his putrid shooting into the postseason, the Knicks won't stand a chance against other top teams in the East.
New York Lacks an Interior Presence Aside from Tyson Chandler
After injuries to Camby and Wallace, the Knicks reserves lack size in the middle.
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After recent news of Rasheed Wallace being sidelined for the rest of the regular season, and with Marcus Camby's health situation also on thin ice, the Knicks were wise to bulk up the middle by adding veteran big man Kenyon Martin.
On a 10-day contract, Martin will have to prove his worth in short order. Aside from Tyson Chandler, the only big with a defensive reputation employed by the Knicks is Martin. And at 35, his contributions aren't guaranteed (although he did provide active help defense in his handful of minutes against the Warrriors, which is a breath of fresh air for the Knicks).
With 'Sheed out of the fold, Marcus Camby's return becomes much more crucial to the Knicks. Camby was logging productive minutes in between foot injuries. He's averaged 13 rebounds and three blocks per 36 minutes in 14 games this year, including four starts.
Martin proving to be a valuable piece would do wonders for the Knicks' reserve frontcourt, which is anything but formidable. Amar'e Stoudemire will manage to block a shot every so often, but his brutal help defense and foul woes are almost laughable at this stage of his career. STAT isn't providing much on the defensive end; that's how it has always been, and how it's going to be.
As of right now, with Camby sidelined with no return date set, and Martin still learning team terminology and as unproven as can be, the Knicks don't have a feared force to man the paint for the second team.
The Knicks are 20th in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage within eight feet, not to mention 25th in the restricted area (via NBA.com/Stats), and you can bet that has everything to do with their soft interior.
The number within eight feet is second worst of any current Eastern playoff team, ahead of only the Boston Celtics. The stat in the restricted area is second worst in the East, only to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If New York can't find anybody to step up, it will likely be taking a few steps down in the standings, and will be lucky to achieve any postseason success.
The Miami Heat Are Showing No Signs of Slowing Down
Led by LeBron James, Miami is the clear favorite in the East.
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As demoralizing as it may sound, the Miami Heat are running away with the Eastern Conference.
LeBron James is playing unlike anyone the NBA has ever seen. He recently just completed possibly the best month we've seen in NBA history. In February, LeBron shot a mind-boggling 64 percent on 217 shots. he drilled 43 percent of his three-pointers, and shot 81 percent from the stripe. He averaged 30 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists each night out in the 13 games.
His cyborg-esque PER of 31.9 is a career high, and leads all NBA players. The closest competitor is Kevin Durant at 28.85. No other player has eclipsed an efficiency rating of 26.
The Heat are in the middle of a 12-game winning streak heading into the month of March, and have opened up a six-game lead on the Indiana Pacers, who the Knicks trail by a half-game.
Miami's astonishing 25-3 home record will of course translate to the postseason, meaning any team traveling to American Airlines Arena for Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 of a playoff series is more or less doomed.
It's important that the Knicks have thrashed the Heat by 20 points on two separate occasions in 2012—one sans Carmelo Anthony. But a seven-game series with the Eastern juggernaut would be undeniably scary for any team, regardless of what went down in the regular season.
It'll be interesting to see how the remainder of 2013 plays out, but if the Knicks get stuck with Miami again this postseason, they'll have their hands full once again.