1:00 pm Feb. 5, 2013
The New York Knicks completed a five-game homestand on Monday night with a resounding 99-85 defeat of the Detroit Pistons. The Knicks built an early 20-point lead and never looked back against one of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference.
So why, then, did Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler each put in a full night's work?
Anthony played nearly 37 minutes in a game in which the Knicks were never challenged. He remained in the game long after the outcome was all but decided, with coach Mike Woodson removing Anthony with just 1:31 to go in the fourth quarter and the Knicks leading, 95-79.
The same was true for Tyson Chandler. The team's only center at the moment played more than 36 minutes, leaving at the 4:49 mark of the fourth quarter. Even if Woodson wished to keep him in to grab his 20th rebound for the third straight game (a feat last accomplished by Willis Reed), that happened at the 6:04 mark; a timeout followed, and only after that timeout and a pair of trips up and down the floor did Chandler get removed.
The Knicks are currently as healthy as they've been since the start of the season, and the results show it. They won their last four games by double digits, a trick they also pulled off over the first five games of the season. And in both Saturday night's 120-81 rout of the Kings, and Monday night's win over the Pistons, the Knicks built an enormous early lead.
But then, as now, Woodson hasn't taken the opportunity to get his star veterans some much-needed rest.
Back in November, Woodson did limit Anthony where he could. Though Anthony played at least 38 minutes, 55 seconds in four of the team's first six games, by the end of November Woodson had dialed Anthony back to just 35.4 minutes per game. That number rose to 37.9 per game in December, and stood at an untenable 41 per game in January.
As for Chandler, the 29.5 minutes he averaged in November climbed to 35.3 in December and 34.2 in January as Rasheed Wallace suffered a foot injury, and Marcus Camby's return from a foot injury faced a setback.
To rely so heavily on both makes some sense, in individual games. Anthony is the team's best scorer and most valuable player. Chandler is arguably the league's best center and really, the only center currently on the Knicks.
But this isn't a Knicks team built to win every last game of the regular season. Like Gregg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs team, the Knicks are a veteran-laden bunch with the playoffs in mind. Popovich angered the league and drew a fine earlier this season for resting a number of his starters in a nationally televised game against the Heat; the larger lesson to be learned from the Spurs is that no one plays as many as 33 minutes per game, and only Tony Parker tops 30 minutes per game. That's been the case, incidentally, for the past four years. Popovich knows something about long playoff runs, with four N.B.A. titles to his credit.
The Knicks have four players at 33 minutes or more per game: Chandler, J.R. Smith, Anthony and Raymond Felton. In critical games, such usage is understandable, particularly in the case of Chandler and Anthony.
But if the Knicks aren't going to rest their key players, at least a little, in hardly contested home games against the lesser lights of the Eastern Conference, it is fair to wonder if they ever will. The impact that has on this veteran team's ability to make a sustained playoff run could be significant.