NY Knicks Can Save Season with Inspired Play and a Little Nasty

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 7, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 5: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks high fives teammate Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks during a game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on December 5, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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With a badly needed break from the schedule makers and a well-timed revival of the good old days, the New York Knicks are back.

Hopefully those words hit with the tongue-in-cheek wit they were sent off with.

Seasons aren't saved by a couple bottom-feeder drubbings. Even with New York enjoying its first back-to-back wins since April, celebrations—assuming they've even started—should be controlled in the Big Apple.

Yet, there's an undeniable rise of optimism hitting the crowded New York City streets. A familiar one, too.

After more than a month's worth of head-scratching losses and plenty of soul searching, the Knicks finally found a winning identity.

And all it took was a little reach back into their memory bank. A rediscovering of the past that can stabilize the present and clear the dark clouds hanging over their future.

Perimeter Proficiency

The numbers might mask this fact, but the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic boast some miraculous healing powers.

Actually, it might be the opposite. The numbers could relentlessly hammer that point home.

When offenses are in dire need of a fix, a date with either Brooklyn or Orlando can be just the right remedy.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 5: Teammates J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks and Andrea Bargnani #77 of the New York Knicks high five during a game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on December 5, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  NO
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Brooklyn's defense—assuming that's what we're still calling it—has been shredded for a league-worst 108.6 points per 100 possessions. Orlando's hasn't been a whole lot better. The Magic have yielded 104.2 points per 100 trips, which leaves them tied for 24th in the category.

But the offensive explosions the Knicks have produced against these clubs—113 points against Brooklyn, 121 on Orlando a night later—have had less to do with leaky defenses and more to do with an offense rediscovering its identity.

It hasn't been what the Nets and Magic aren't doing, these outbursts were the result of what the Knicks have finally started doing.

Namely, that's moving the basketball and knocking down shots.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 6: Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks shoots against the Orlando Magic during a game at Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 6, 2013.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Knicks ripped the Nets (pun intended), knocking down 16-of-27 from distance. That's a mind-boggling 59.3 percent. Or a 27.7 percentage point spike from the 31.6 percent of long-range attempts New York converted during its nine-game losing streak that preceded this contest.

It's been a while since anything the Knicks did could be considered mind-boggling. Mind-punishing has become an all-too-appropriate term for this team's play of late; mind-numbing if you're one of the lucky ones.

But just last year, this team put up those very mind-boggling numbers on the regular. Like New York's 891 made triples on the season, an all-time league high. Or its 2,371 long-range attempts, also a record-breaking figure.

Bolstered by that unprecedented perimeter potency, the Knicks finished the 2012-13 campaign with their best regular-season finish (54-28) since 1996-97.

Some 20-plus hours after blitzing Brooklyn, New York's gunners were back in full force against Orlando. They needed just 34 three-point attempts to connect on a season-best 17 triples. Five different orange-and-blue snipers buried multiple threes, led by five each from rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. and reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Tim Hardaway Jr. #5 of the New York Knicks takes a shot in the first half against the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2013 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
Elsa/Getty Images

"That's kind of how we played last year," coach Mike Woodson said, via NBA.com's Adam Zagoria. "It's kind of nice to see again."

It's also kind of nice seeing New York collect 49 assists on its 88 field goals over these last two games. There's a trust factor in those figures that had been missing from this offense.

There's also an underlying revelation from the franchise's biggest start that the basketball world has been waiting to witness for years.

Carmelo Anthony, who leads the league with 20.9 field-goal attempts per game, took just 22 shots total in these two blowout wins.

"I wanted to do something a little different to see if it worked," Anthony said, via ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk. "Me scoring 30 wasn't working."

The loss of hero ball has been a welcome sight for Knicks fans. So, too, are the signs that this team is getting its swagger back.

Plenty of Time—and Swag—Left

Hollywood writers would have never touched this script.

It was simply too unbelievable.

Yet, there it was playing out on the Barclays Center floor on Dec. 5. Andrea Bargnani—the former No. 1 overall pick who conjures up words like bust and soft simply by mentioning his name—holding his ground with Brooklyn's throw-back enforcer Kevin Garnett.

The hoops world had to pinch itself after watching this. Was it really happening?

Incredibly, yes it was. And it didn't even stop there.

Bargnani promptly ran to the other end of the floor and buried a triple from the baseline over Garnett. The shot had barely made it through the net before the lanky shooter was right back in Garnett's grill.

Referee Joey Crawford had seen enough. Bargnani was tossed out of the game.

But Knicks fans had already seen what they needed to see. So had Woodson's players.

"With a win like this, we definitely get our confidence back and get our mojo, our swag back," Amar'e Stoudemire said, via Youngmisuk.

Raymond Felton said it was only a matter of time before that day would come. Now that it's arrived, other teams will have no choice but to take notice.

"At some point it was going to get unleashed," he said, via the Associated Press. "Brooklyn was just the team that got the first wrath of it, so everybody else is going to have to feel it later on, too."

Finding encouragement early on wasn't easy. Not as New York was slumping through a nine-game losing streak and a seven-game skid on its home floor.

But the silver lining was always there. It was early, still is early.

With the Eastern Conference in shambles—outside of Miami and Indianapolis, at least—the playoff picture hasn't begun to take shape.

The Knicks, abysmal start and all, are just two-and-a-half games back of the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Celtics. Just four-and-a-half games sit between New York and the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks.

“Fortunately we just are in a division where guys have been losing, playing tough schedules early," Smith said, via Peter Botte of the New York Daily News

That's left the door wide open for the Knicks to strike. But there are no guarantees that the door will stay that way.

"If we lose the way we were losing before, teams eventually are going to start winning," Smith said, via Botte. "They’re going to eventually start figuring it out. We’ve got to figure it out before they do."

It shouldn't take the Knicks much to find that "Aha!" moment. The bread crumbs left from last season's playoff run haven't gone anywhere.

For the first time in a long time, the New York City sky has stopped falling. With the right blend of ball movement, long-range strikes and a little bit of nasty, the Knicks can salvage this season yet.

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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