The 3-8 New York Knicks kicked off a four-game road trip against the Washington Wizards seeking to snap their four-game losing streak. The Knicks offense languished in the second half as they couldn't keep up with John Wall and the Wizards, losing 98-89. Wall dropped 31 points and seven assists while Carmelo Anthony led New York with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Something strange happened in the first half as the Knicks actually exhibited good ball movement! They dished 16 assists in the first half alone, an impressive feat considering they only average 18 dimes per game. It was made even more impressive by the fact that Raymond Felton sat out again with a back issue.
The Knicks led 52-49 at the half but fell flat in the third quarter. The defense fell asleep on numerous occasions, leading to some laughably easy buckets down the stretch. The previously admirable ball movement ground to a halt as they had only eight second-half assists.
And in a game they lost by nine points, they missed nine of their 15 free-throw attempts. New York had closed it to a three-point game with eight minutes to go, but a pair of Martell Webster treys quickly stretched Washington's lead to nine points, which held up.
The Knicks also continue to look baffled by the pick-and-roll and got victimized numerous times by Nene and Marcin Gortat. Gortat posted a huge double-double with 16 points (7-of-11) and 17 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass, plus a pair of blocks. The Wizards have a pretty strong starting five, but they are seriously lacking in depth from their bench, especially with Trevor Ariza out due to a sore hamstring.
The loss was just the latest in a series of setbacks that has the Knicks off to a dismal 3-9 start. Read on for grades and analysis of the entire Knicks roster.
Key Player Grades
Carmelo Anthony, Small Forward
Carmelo Anthony came out with determination from the start of the game and posted 13 first-half points. He could not find the extra gear the Knicks needed to mount a comeback and finished with 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting. Several of Melo's shots in the second half rimmed out or rattled out, and it's just been that sort of season for the Knickerbockers.
Melo was aggressive on the interior and continued to show his prowess on the glass with a dozen rebounds on the night. Coming into Saturday, Anthony was averaging 9.5 boards per game, a substantial bump considering he has never averaged more than 7.6 rebounds in any season. Part of that increase comes from the absence of Tyson Chandler.
Amar'e Stoudemire, Power Forward
Amar'e Stoudemire was spinning and winning in the first half and looked more like the version that Knicks fans saw in 2010. STAT stood tall with 10 points in 10 minutes on 5-of-5 shooting. Stoudemire looked dynamic on offense, running the floor for a fast-break dunk, posting up and scoring with the left hand and facing up defenders with confidence.
He was held down in the second half and got just two more points in the game, which came on free throws. Stoudemire grabbed four rebounds, two offensive, and snagged a steal. If he can keep up the current form, and his current health, Stoudemire will be a tremendous asset for the Knicks up front. Of course, he still cannot play.
J.R. Smith, Shooting Guard
J.R. Smith was a little gun shy in the first half and attempted only three shots, making one. However, he let the shots fly in the second half and finished with 15 points on 6-of-14 from the field. He also added a pair of steals.
One sequence in the fourth quarter summed up everything you need to know about Smith. After he had missed two consecutive free throws just minutes before, which triggered a free Chick-fil-A sandwich for all fans at Verizon Center, Smith missed his third and fourth straight foul shots. The Knicks grabbed the offensive rebound and Smith stepped behind the arc to can a three-pointer. Miss four free throws, then drain a 25-footer. Thank you, J.R.
Andrea Bargnani, Center
Andrea Bargnani had a little trouble finding his shot in the first two quarters, but he still played efficiently and contributed to the strong ball movement. He showed some good vision and dished five assists on the night, plus four boards and a block.
However, Bargnani ended the game just 5-of-14 from the field for 11 points. His poor shooting helped sink the Knicks offense, and his team-low minus-13 rating speaks to the beating he took from Gortat.
Iman Shumpert, Small Forward
Iman Shumpert was efficient on Saturday night and made his presence felt on both sides of the ball despite attempting only four shots. He contributed his familiar brand of all-around effort and even tried his hand at point guard during one stretch of the second half. Shumpert finished the night with six points, four assists and three steals.
Shumpert also served up a highlight block for John Wall in the final minute. He swooped in from behind and rejected Shump's layup into the stands, putting an exclamation point on the Wizards' victory. That has to sting even more after Shumpert was the goat in Wednesday's loss for fouling a three-point shooter in the waning moments of a three-point game.
Kenyon Martin, Power Forward/Center
Kenyon Martin saw 25 minutes on the evening and looked energetic in the paint. He had a nice slam off a slick pass and dropped in a baby-hook shot for his four points. K-Mart also snatched seven rebounds, dished three assists and blocked a shot.
While Martin brings a physicality in the middle for New York, it does not seem to trickle down to his teammates. The Wizards outscored the Knicks in the paint and out-rebounded them.
Beno Udrih, Point Guard
After showing his mettle by hitting several clutch shots in Wednesday's tough loss to the Indiana Pacers, Beno Udrih struggled from the field against Washington. He misfired on six of his seven shots to finish with two points, though he did add five assists and four rebounds.
There is something about Udrih's ball-handling that looks slightly awkward or clumsy, and he doesn't seem comfortable when trying to penetrate the defense. He committed two turnovers against the Wizards, but he occasionally showed his habit of picking up his dribble too early. While Udrih has been serviceable, the Knicks need Felton back ASAP.
Rest of Bench
The Knicks bench actually outscored Washington's 43-6 in the loss, led by Smith and Stoudemire, so don't go blaming the bench.
Pablo Prigioni continued his reserve role and tallied six points, three assists and a steal. John Wall torched Prigioni repeatedly in the first half.
Wall was coming off a 37-point performance on Thursday and kept it going with 19 points in the first half from 7-of-9 shooting on his way to 31. In tandem with Udirh, Prigioni struggled against the speed of the Wizards backcourt which makes them so potent in transition.
Tim Hardaway Jr. came off the bench late in the fourth quarter and wasted no time in draining a crucial three-pointer to trim the deficit to seven. Hardaway finished with five points on 2-of-3 shooting, one rebound and one assist. The rookie's value lies in his perimeter shooting, but he also showed aggression to the hoop with a nice baseline drive on his other basket.
Metta World Peace returned from a sore knee and looked good in bursts. He shot just 2-of-7 from the field but added two offensive boards and a block in his 10 minutes. He is a vital piece of the rotation, and the team needs MWP at 100 percent, so his minutes may be held down for the time being.
After dealing with John Wall, it only gets worse for the Knicks as they will visit three more of the league's top point guards in succession. They play at the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, and then face the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets during the week. Then again, that could be a good thing as the Knicks own a 1-6 record at home this year.