Can Coach Mike D'Antoni coax a real defensive mindset out of Knicks?
In the aftermath of an unseemly 119-115 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in what was supposed to be a Friday Night revenge match at the Garden, Knick Coach Mike D'Antoni quickly contemplated his teams effort and summarized by saying, "our guys just can't guard anyone."
That was readily apparent even before a red hot Baron Davis was given a Cal King sized cushion by reinvented Knick defensive ace, Jared Jeffries, precipitating what turned out to be a game killing Cav three point bullet with about ten ticks left on the clock.
They got killed down low all night by the combination of bulky New York product Samardo Samuels—15 points, six boards—and high flying P.F., J.J. Hickson who led Cleveland with 23 points and eight rebounds.
The barely recognized sharpshooting duo of Anthony Parker and Christian Eyenga—yes, that Christian Eyenga—combined for 26 points on 10-15 shooting, knocking down enough barely contested J's to evoke backyard images of an ultra friendly game of horse.
Then there was Davis, coming off an injury, a bizarre dispatch from L.A.—you would think or hope laden with rust— knifing through the Knick defense for 18 points, four three balls and five fancy boy assists in another of those memorable Garden opposition performances that are too frequently propelled by the New Yorkers inability to, well, guard anyone.
Still, as ugly and/or disappointing as it was, I guess there's no sense in dwelling on it. After all the Knicks were without their own newly minted, magic man at point, Chauncey Billups and it didn't help that shot blocking Frenchman Ronny Turiaf was glued to the bench in street clothes either.
The Knicks are 3-3 since the big deal. Sure, two of those losses were to the supposedly awful Cadavers, but they all count the same come season's end and now the thing to do is look ahead, in this case a good long look at the month of March—15 games to go, too many of them against teams with playoff aspirations of their own.
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We won't go crazy dissecting the matchups, suffice to say if the Knicks can take six of the balance twelve they should be happy, and even an overall 8-7 mark in the fifteen games remaining in the month of March should keep them in playoff position.
It would be nice to see the Knickerbockers pick it up a bit though during this critical stretch, if nothing else to get a lock on the six seed as right about now it appears their preferred post season matchup vs. NBA Eastern Conference masters would be the suddenly vulnerable Miami Heat—whose general lack of depth and muscle in the defensive middle is even more pronounced than their arch rival from up New York way.
But that doesn't mean the Knick's can beat the Heat, or anyone for that matter without playing defense.
The team and it's head coach like to talk about the latter as if it's some kind of advanced mathematical quandary to be contemplated. At it's core defense is about hustle, positioning and knowing any uncontested look at the rim on an NBA level is bound to end up as points scored and should be avoided like every one of the myriad plagues God conferred upon Yul Brenner and his legions in the widely viewed, big screen epic, The Ten Commandments.
Since it appears little the Knicks do will preclude their own missing monster in the defensive middle issues their most effective thrust as far as stops are concerned will have to be concentrated on the perimeter—fifteen feet and out—and it's essence will need to revolve around ball denial as much as anything else.
That means taking up house in your opponents jersey.
That means cutting off lanes to the ball and wearing down the 24 second clock while forcing the opposition into awkward isolations and/or hurried shots when all other options have been effectively countermanded.
Unfortunately, Mike D'Antoni's teams, this Knick team in particular, has not yet been able to employ the described precept because playing in your shirt press defense requires a good deal of energy—energy the Knicks are already expending en masse running up and down the court flinging the ball in the direction of the hoop from every imaginable angle.
The aforementioned is one very good reason why, when playoff time comes around, even high motor offenses will slow things down—at least in part—and play half court.
They know they cannot win without banging the boards and playing a true brand of stiff defense.
In that respect the 2010/2011 Knicks do face a supreme physical and logistical barrier, and with fifteen tough games to go in the month of March all of New York is forced to wonder if they will be able to surmount this most prepossessing hump.
First up, the Atlanta Hawks, Sunday night at the Phillips Arena.
It's not a game the Knicks have to win, but if this road to the playoffs we keep hearing about is going to start somewhere this seems as good a place as any.
That's it for now,