It's been a consistent formala that produced the remarkable 20-7 record over the first third of the Knicks' season.
There's Carmelo Anthony playing at an M.V.P. level, strong three-point shooting from the surrounding players, effective use of the pick and roll from Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler and, most of the time, strong defense.
But all of those factors were missing for a half of Sunday's 94-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, and some were missing for the whole game.
Through one half, Anthony shot 3-for-11, including an 0-for-7 second quarter. The Knicks were 2-for-9 from three. Raymond Felton didn't record an assist. And the Timberwolves, backed by 6-for-11 three-point shooting, had 55 points.
Still, even though the Knicks eventually prevailed, little of that changed in the second half. The Knicks finished 5-for-26 from three, Felton had just two assists, and Anthony didn't even get warmed up until the fourth quarter.
The defense, and Anthony's late heroics, were enough. Anthony scored 19 points in the fourth, including, most tellingly, racking up nine of his 11 free throw attempts. And the defense allowed the Timberwolves just a pair of 18-point quarters, and 1-for-11 shooting from three.
With the Knicks playing poorly for large stretches of the previous four games, is there reason to worry?
"Once again, we dug ourselves a hole and we fought out of the hole today," Anthony said, following the game. "This game was one of them games that we didn't want to lose and we wasn't going to lose."
The Knicks now face a five-game road trip, starting Tuesday against the Lakers. The Knicks need to change their recent form if they're going to replicate their early success. But they should be able to manage it.
Take the three-point shooting, for instance. The Knicks weren't likely to post the kind of accuracy numbers they managed over the first half-dozen games of the season. But the past four games, they've been well below what anybody has reason to expect, either.
Since Monday night's loss to Houston, the Knicks are shooting just over 30 percent from three. The team receives 76 percent of its attempts from five players--Anthony, Steve Novak, Felton, J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd--all of whom have both season and career percentages from deep far above this.
The return of Amar'e Stoudemire should help here. While he didn't play on Sunday, he is expected to make the west coast trip, and debut sometime this week. What had been periods of time with the Knicks searching for offense, mitigating Anthony's rest, are likely to become periods built around Stoudemire. If he commands defensive attention at close to Anthony levels, Novak, Smith and even Pablo Prigioni will benefit with open threes. If not, Stoudemire will benefit from one-on-one coverage for the first time since ... ever, really.
The Knicks also appear likely to get Marcus Camby back for the Laker game, allowing them to address their rebounding gap the way they probably thought they had when signing Camby this summer. Camby has been one of the better rebounders in the league for years; the Knicks, despite their strong start, saw themselves outmuscled in both losses to the Bulls, and one to the Memphis Grizzlies. Camby can help to mitigate that gap.
It would certainly help if Felton could resume playing like he did in November (fifteen shot attempts Sunday, and two assists, in 39 minutes won't get it done), or if Ronnie Brewer can even resume shooting at the meager levels he's managed throughout his career.
But clearly, this is about to be a different Knicks team. As odd as it may sound to say about a group that amassed a 20-7 record, that's probably a good thing.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Nets beat the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday, 95-92, but they did it without Kris Humphries, who was benched.