Is Mike Woodson driving his Knicks past the breaking point?
To hear him talk this season, Knicks coach Mike Woodson understands perfectly well the dangers of overtaxing his players.
He was quite clear about the need to limit Amar'e Stoudemire's work, to keep him fresh and healthy for the playoffs. And Woodson has said he'd try to limit Carmelo Anthony's minutes, too, to make sure Anthony can play at an elite level come playoff time.
But the Knicks had to play without Stoudemire in Monday night's dismal 92-63 loss to the Golden State Warriors, since Stoudemire broke down after more than 30 minutes in two of his final three games, and played 29 Thursday night in what was likely his final regular season game.
You might think Woodson would apply the lesson of what happened to Stoudemire to Anthony, the star he played 41 minutes per game in January, and who hasn't been the same since.
"We can’t run from the schedule," Woodson said last week. "We know it’s going to be a hectic month. Rest is more important than anything. Guys have to get their rest where they can."
But Woodson got Anthony back Monday night, and immediately pushed him.
It was immediately apparent that Anthony was playing hurt. His movements were irregular, his defensive positioning uncharacteristically poor, and his offensive game was suffering as well. He began the game 1-for-4; he also played all 12 minutes of the first quarter, and another eight minutes in the second quarter, when he also shot 1-for-4.
The Knicks trailed 50-35 at the half. Given that this was the first game of a five-game road trip, Woodson could easily have rested his injured star and simply gotten ready for the remainder of the trip. But he chose not to do that.
Instead, Anthony played another ten minutes in the third quarter, as did Tyson Chandler, the other indispensable starter for the Knicks. Golden State increased its lead to 27 midway through the quarter. Anthony, limping noticeably, and Chandler played on.
Finally, with around three minutes left in the third, and the Knicks down 74-47, Woodson appeared willing to let his stars rest at last. Out came Anthony and Chandler, apparently finished for the night.
And then, in the fourth quarter, with the Knicks down 20 points with 9:18 to go, back came Chandler and Anthony. The Knicks' own announcers puzzled over the move: Walt Frazier flat out said he wouldn't have done it, while Mike Breen surmised that Anthony couldn't be injured anymore, because otherwise what he was seeing wouldn't make any sense.
Thing is, it wouldn't have made much sense anyway, even without the knee injury. That Anthony was clearly struggling when Woodson put him in that spot just made the decision that much odder.
The Knicks fell further behind, and Woodson finally removed Anthony and Chandler with 5:25 left, down 85-61.
"It was real sore," Anthony said after the game. "I tried to get through it and figure it out. I didn’t know how it would respond. It was agitation. I felt it out there."
Woodson has recognized his problem, has copped to it, has expressed the need to adjust his coaching ... and has continued to push his aging roster to its limits and, very apparently, beyond.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
A terrible defensive performance cost the Nets in a 106-97 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
The United States begins second round play Tuesday night against Carlos Beltran's Puerto Rico.
The Yankees signed outfielder Ben Francisco.
Johan Santana isn't happy with the Mets, just because management publicly disparaged his work ethic. Mets officials (unnamed, unnamed) see it ending much like their relationship with Carlos Beltran. I wonder why.
The Big East tournament begins Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the last time in present form.
Iona managed to overcome a dogged but undermanned Manhattan team and win an automatic bid to the N.C.A.A. tournament.
Long Island University-Brooklyn will host the Northeast Conference tournament final Tuesday night in an attempt to earn an automatic bid as well.