***********Record during the week: 3-1Game results: Loss @ Nets (89-96); Win @ Bucks (102-88); Win v. Wizards (108-87); Win v. Suns (106-99)Overall record / Place in standings: 12-4; 1st place
Bouncing Back: It always shocks me to hear stats about teams that haven't lost two games in a row all season, or haven't hit a three game skid over the course of their last 100-plus games. Losing streaks happen, no? A rough stretch of schedule, a few injuries, or just a couple miscalls or bad bounces can send a team into a slump. Over the last decade of Knicks basketball, we experienced a seemingly endless run of four and five game losing streaks. It was called January and it hit every year. But since last March, under Mike Woodson's lead, this team has only lost back-to-back games once (last week against the Mavs and Rockets). To put that in perspective, we had five two-or-more-game losing streaks in the first three-and-a-half months of the 2012-12 season under D'Antoni. So maybe this is a positive every week, but given the intensity of the Nets loss on Monday, it was a welcome change to see the team not only bounce back against the Bucks, but outplay them to the point that by halftime I forgot why I was ever even scared of Brandon Jennings dropping 40-plus on us in defeat. As I see it: good teams go on winning streaks, great teams do not go on losing streaks. 16 games in, the Knicks have been able to pull both off rather convincingly.
Getting Open From Deep: I hear people say things like "this team takes too many 3s" and "they can't shoot this well from behind the arc all season" as ways of tempering their excitement about the team's 12-4 record. In years past, I would have agreed, nodding along with the logic that we can't live - as we will ultimately die - by the three. But this season is a completely different story. There is a huge difference between hucking up bad shots at the end of the shot clock because the team has no offensive rhythm and what's going on with the Knicks today. Wide open 3s are a good thing. They're worth more than 2s, ya know? So when this team shoots 35-for-79 (44%) from behind the arc in its wins and only 6-for-21 (29%) in its lone loss , it's easy to think that if we hit our 3s we win and if we miss them we lose. Plain and simple. But the fact is, the issue is less about how many we take and hit, and more about how many of those attempts are good, open looks. I've never seen a Knicks team get so many wide open looks from three. Some of those shots are open because of a pump fake (see: Novak against the Suns), or lazy defense by another team's guard going under a screen; but a lot of the team's open looks are a result of offensive scheming and good, crisp passing. No matter how hot or cold the team is, if the player is wide open, it's a high percentage shot. The numbers tell the story: Felton, a career 33% shooter from 3, is currently shooting 41%; JR Smith, a career 37% shooter from 3, is shooting 45.7%; Brewer, 26% before, 41.7% now; Melo 33% before, 43.5% now. And the list goes on. That's not just a team-wide, five-week hot streak. It's how much better these guys shoot when they get open looks. And that doesn't have to stop. So if you're going to use the adage that this team "lives by the three and dies by the three," at least amend it for accuracy's sake to: live by the open-three-after-good-passing-and-strong-screening, die by the lazy huck. Doesn't exactly have the same ring to it, but at least its more on point.
Pablo Prigion-si: Two weeks ago I made an equally
terrible amazing play on Pablo's name, but for a different reason. During the Nets loss, we saw a little too much of the old stand-around-and-watch style offense, and Kidd, in his absence, was given much of the credit for this sudden regression. But Prigioni, who, rookie or not, had been a dud up until this week, showed his value and played great against both the Bucks and the Wizards. Much like Kidd, Prig will rarely have a huge night in a box score (11 and 7 is about as good as we can ever really expect), but for anybody who watched the Nets game and the following two contests, it was clear that the Argentinian was the one driving the second unit with his penetration, passing and timely hooping. Did my disparaging comments motivate him to elevate his play? It's hard to say - so let's just say maybe and call it even...
A Little Huffing and Puffing: The team looked tired two weeks ago at points, and downright exhausted against the Nets. Felton, who has been great for this team throughout the first stretch of the season, missed what seemed like 135 layups in the final quarter and the defense was a step late all around. Last season's short-but-condensed schedule left teams gasping for air, but a lot of that was also due to the fact that there was no "oh right we're pro ballers, we should probably get into shape" grace period before the season was underway. After a relaxed start this year, the Knicks' schedule has been heavy over the last 10 days, and last week the team showed its first signs of fatigue. After the Nets overtime loss - during which we did close to nothing well over the last eight minutes of the 4th and OT - the team bounced back nicely, but looked a bit sluggish in their inability to finish off the Suns yesterday afternoon. The Garden should not have been in a position to groan when Brewer clunked two free throws with just under a minute to play. That said, a hot start to both halves provides wiggle room for a lethargic close, so let's hope the team gets into the rhythm of the schedule and shakes off any lingering cobwebs for good.
Late Game Execution: The final minutes of regulation and the entire overtime period against the Nets was ugly. The fourth quarter against the Suns wasn't particularly clean either. Sandwiched in the middle were two blowouts. Not saying anybody needs to worry, but if you're looking for an area to improve upon after a 3-1 week, the team could tighten up its play over the final eight minutes and practice some last possession plays because the game-winning off-balanced-Melo-jumper is 0-2 so far this season.
Marcus Camby: He was hurt, then he was going to play his way back into game-shape, then he just stopped playing, and yesterday he was out with a foot injury. Yesterday's game notwithstanding, how does Camby not see the floor if he is at all healthy? Especially with the void left by Amar'e. I mean, Kurt Thomas gets burn and he looked like a bumbling old man out there yesterday against the Suns. Coming off another birthday and another injury, I get that the staff thinks it prudent to give him as much time to heal as he needs. As it stands, I would agree - we are winning without him, total rebounds be damned. But this guy signed a three-year deal this off-season and played more-than-competent ball last year. At some point, Camby needs to get his health and strength back and start showing the fans and his teammates what he can do.