***********Record during the week: 2-0Game results: Win @ 76ers (110-88); Win v. Mavs (104-94)Overall record / Place in standings: 4-0; 1st place
Second Half Stops: Last week's defense carried over into this week's games, but what stood out to me the most were the second-half efforts. As a fan, I admit that I yell and kick and scream and kick and kick when my team leaves shooters wide open, doesn't communicate on screens and looks lost on the defensive side of the ball. But I don't always know whether it's poor coaching, bad scheming or just a lackadaisical effort on the players' behalf. The eye-test is fairly accurate, but at the end of the day I don't see what the team does in practice, or how game-planning is implemented on a night in, night out basis, so it's hard to know where exactly the root of the problem lies. Regardless of the cause, over the last decade-plus, we haven't played well, or been coached well, on the defensive side of the ball. So to see this team come out and not only play smart D, but play with grit and effort, has been hands-down my favorite part of our success thus far. And while any team can come out energized and ready to play, starting strong the first 10-15 minutes of a game, great teams are those that can turn it on and lock it down during the back-end of a game. The Knicks held Philly to 40 second-half points and, after allowing 34 second-quarter points to Dallas, gave up only 37 after halftime on Friday. In the team's four games, nobody has scored more than 40 over the final two quarters. There have been halftime adjustments (kudos to the staff) but this group also seems to have a sense of pride in playing D, locking the other team down, and winning games along the way.
Protecting Possessions: Of all the "Wowowow this team's off to a great start!" stats, the one that gets me the most is that the Knicks lead the league in turnovers per game. Actually. And it's not even that close. The Knicks are averaging 10.5 turnovers a game, best in the league by 1.5 (Toronto is second at 12 a game). Turning it over a combined 16 times this week, compared to forcing a combined 33 speaks to the team's play on both sides of the ball. If the Knicks keep up that 2:1 ratio, or even just win the turnover battle in general, it will lead to many more undefeated weeks over the course of the season. Maybe it has something to do with how much fun the players have watching their coaching staff run wind sprints. Or maybe we're just playing smart basketball. Or maybe it's the wind sprints thing again...
JR Smith: A well documented skeptic of Smith's ability to help a winning team, I have to tip my hat to JR. Smith has had as good a start as anybody over the first four games, this week in particular. Smith dropped a balanced line of 17/7/5 against Philly and then added 22 more on Friday - nine of which came with Melo on the bench in the 3rd quarter, a run that allowed the Knicks to separate themselves from the Mavs for good. His ability and athleticism have never been his problem, but rather his erratic shooting and shot selection coupled with his overly aggressive "Watch this steal and dunk, Mom!" defense that led to his man being open more often than the aforementioned steal-drunk combo. But this week, Smith shot the ball at an absurdly efficient rate (15-for-31 including 5-of-7 from deep) and matched that with really good, smart defense in both games. Smith has anchored the second unit thus far and was the team's MVP over last week's games.
Neither Bounding and Nor Astounding: We got out rebounded in both games, 54-44 in Philly and 50-43 at home against the Mavs. Nitpicky, I agree, but it's something to watch over the course of the season. We rank in the bottom half of the league with 41.8 boards a game and even further down with only 10.3 offensive rebounds a night. With so many of our "big" men standing around the outside shooting, it's understandable why that second number is what it is. So far, it hasn't hurt us, but when the team struggles to shoot the ball, let's hope they all hit the glass hard knowing it isn't something at which they are naturally dominant.
Taking Advantage of the Charity Stripe: After sinking all 19 of their FTs against Philly, the team missed 12 freebies on Friday night, all of which came from the hands of the starters. The team won't win in a blowout every night, and Melo (9-14 on free throws on Friday) and his fellow starters need to take advantage of their foul shots if they are going to squeak out some of the closer ones.
Steve Novak's Championship Belt: 2-for-9 over the week, and only 1-for-6 from downtown, Novak looked a bit off this week. Two games is an unfairly small sample size, and I'm far from worried about his ability to bounce back, but with the team shooting the ball so well, it's a conspicuous contrast for Novak, our best shooter, to be cold.