10:40 am Nov. 26, 2012
After a pair of losses late last week to the Dallas Mavericks and, in a much-watched matchup with Jeremy Lin's new team, the Houston Rockets, the Knicks got well on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, routing the Detroit Pistons, 121-100.
Yes, the Detroit Pistons are one of the league's worst teams. But all the Knicks really did on Sunday was to get back to playing the team game that has carried them to a 9-3 record so far, tops in the Eastern Conference and earned against some of the N.B.A.'s best teams.
Carmelo Anthony continued his recent hyper-efficient tear, scoring at roughly a point-per-minute rate while shooting the highest effective field goal percentage of his career. An ability to make quicker decisions, and to recognize the inherent limitations of leaning into the double teams instead of passing out of them, have made him a more effective offensive player, and improved the looks for his teammates as well.
That the Knicks are shooting just under 42 percent from three-point range as a team isn't solely a function of unsustainably hot shooting to start the season, but also the result of good shooters getting unlimited open looks, thanks to a need for opposing defenses to collapse on Anthony.
That was true even in the two losses against the Mavericks and Rockets, where the problem was not a Knicks' offense rated most efficient in the N.B.A. so far, but a defensive effort that was lacking, all the more apparent because of the strong defensive efforts the team gave in the nine games that preceded this week.
It is unlikely that any N.B.A. team would play with the defensive intensity the Knicks showed early on in each of the 82 games played in the regular season. But the ease with which the Knicks went from all to nothing was disconcerting, given that their weak-defense mode forces them to be nearly perfect offensively to win.
But the team appears to have created a winning formula with the players on hand. It is up to the Knicks to lock in these gains now, or as many of them as possible, from J.R. Smith's great all-around play (he had 15 points, 10 rebounds, five assists on Sunday, yet it isn't clear that was even his best game of the season) to Raymond Felton's career year (he's not only easily outpaced Jeremy Lin this season, he's playing at near-Linsanity levels from last season).
That will make whatever they ultimately receive from Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, once they return, added bonuses, rather than needed components. Teams counting on injured players to return and provide critical aspects to team play are usually disappointed. The Knicks look like they won't need to do so, with both players making the Knicks more dangerous on offense and defense, respectively.
Put it this way: the two most disappointing parts of the Knicks' start have been Tyson Chandler's defense, which has been somewhat limited to date, though he'd never admit it, by a knee injury suffered late in preseason, and Steve Novak's three-point shooting, which had been flagging until Sunday's 5-for-7 effort.
Both of these things should revert to career norms, to the advantage of the Knicks. How much of the rest of the team's improvements also revert will tell us everything about how good the Knicks really are.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
An Irish newspaper reports that David Beckham could become an owner/player for the New York Cosmos.
A soccer gossip site says the New York Red Bulls could be ready to dump Rafa Marquez.
Apparently, all the worries about the Giants were unfounded.
The Yankees believe they can retain Ichiro Suzuki.
Seton Hall made sure St. Peter's didn't do to them what they did to Rutgers.