Knicks-Heat Game 4: What to Watch For

In all likelihood, the 2011 Knicks season will come to an end this afternoon at Madison Square Garden. As we all know, the Knicks are down 3-0 against the powerhouse Miami Heat. Miami optimizes what the Knicks hope to one day become, although the Knicks sit miles away from that level. In game 4, the Knicks will try to snap their NBA-record 13 game playoff losing streak. For the Knicks, very little has gone well in this series. Carmelo Anthony has been horrible, shooting 34%, Tyson Chandler has been sick and ineffective and Amar’e Stoudemire sidelined himself by punching a fire extinguisher after game two. New York has been stagnant and ineffective on offense and unable to slow down the Heat stars on offense. It has been a complete disaster of a series for the Knicks.

In game 4, the Knicks will be playing for pride. To play devil’s advocate to my usually pessimistic self, the Knicks do have a slight chance of winning this game. Defensively they did with Miami in game 3 for the first 3 quarters before LeBron James put the game away with 10 minutes to go in the 4th. In game 2, the Knicks played Miami evenly for about 38 minutes of the game, but were killed by two separate 5 minute stretches in that game. There is a chance that Amar’e Stoudemire returns this afternoon, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I know he’s saying he wants to play and that he did in fact practice yesterday, but I just can’t see it. He posted that nasty picture of his hand yesterday, which looked like he had a baseball seam stitched onto his palm. As you can see in the picture, it is pretty clear to me that the meaty portion of his hand was in fact hanging off. I have a really difficult time he’s going to be recovered enough from almost losing a portion of his hand, to then playing a basketball game in a matter of days. Even if Stoudemire plays, he will have that hand covered up and nobody knows how effective he’ll be. We’ll see what happens today, but I would expect… well, the norm. I think the Knicks will be outplayed and they will lose. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it.

Here’s what to watch for: 

  • Will Carmelo struggle again? If you didn’t see my rant about the Knicks “superstar” after game 3, I invite you to check it out here. I’m not going to rip on Anthony here. I know he’s struggled, you know he’s struggled and hopefully he knows and understands that he’s struggled in the playoffs. If he doesn’t have a great game tomorrow, the Knicks have no chance of winning. It is no coincidence that the Knicks most competitive game of the series, game 2, coincided with Anthony’s best game of the series. Even in that game Anthony was not great in my opinion, but it was better than the combined 10/38 shooting performance he’s put on over the other two games. I know that he’s not the only reason the Knicks have lost this series. I understand that the Knicks haven’t defended well or shot well as a team. I get it. But Anthony is the guy who was unwilling to adjust to a coach he disliked. Anthony is the one who could have tried “harder” throughout the season and Anthony is the one who demands the ball. He is New York’s main cog and when he sucks, the Knicks suck. He has really sucked so far in this series.
  • Can New York have at least one red-hot shooting game? Coming into this series, I thought the Knicks would lose in 5 games. I thought there would be a game in which they get really hot shooting, which would then carry them to a victory. It hasn’t happened yet. The Knicks have shot a horrid 28% from downtown in the first three games. Steve Novak has been completely neutralized by both a smart Heat defense and a stagnant Knicks offense. JR Smith has not been able to get going shooting the ball. Baron Davis and Landry Fields have been… well Baron Davis and Landry Fields while trying to shoot the ball. There’s a reason the Knicks were the 9th worst three point shooting team in the league. They have the ability to have games where they get hot, but they’re wildly inconsistent. A consistently good Heat defense has destroyed the Knicks offense and they’ll probably do so again in game 4. The only way the Knicks can fix this is to 1) either get 2010 Dallas Mavericks hot from downtown or 2) try to run screens to get their shooters open. My bet is that the Knicks won’t do either and they’ll probably shoot poorly again.
  • Do the Knicks have an answer for LeBron. As much as I hate LeBron James, and trust me I really hate him, he has absolutely KILLED the Knicks in this series. He has been nothing short of fantastic on both sides of the ball. James has completely outplayed Carmelo Anthony, one of the hottest offensive players in the league during the last month of the season, and has shown why he will be named the league MVP in the coming weeks. The Knicks have no way of stopping him. Anthony is trying to defend him, but is just over matched. James is too athletic, too skilled and too conditioned for Anthony to keep up for 4 quarters. Maybe the Knicks try to trap LeBron or hedge him harder on pick and rolls, I don’t know. They’ve gotta find a way to stop him if they want to win game 4.
  • Tyson Chandler has to dominate. The Defensive Player of the Year has been nothing short of fantastic this season, but the flu has hampered him throughout this series. He was close to ineffective in the first two games of the series, in which New York gave up 204 combined points, but he was better in game 3. He grabbed 15 boards and New York played 3 quarters of really solid defense before LeBron caught fire in the 4th. In game 4, the Knicks need Chandler to be dominant. I haven’t read anything about his health potentially hampering him, so I imagine he’s pretty close to 100%. If Chandler can dominate the paint defensively against the electric slashing ability of Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, the Knicks will have a chance to win.

Isola: Knicks Working on Contract Extension For Mike Woodson

On Sunday, the Knicks won their first playoff game since 2001. Now, it looks like the man who piloted them to that victory is going to stick around for a while. According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, the Knicks are now in talks with current interim-head coach Mike Woodson about a contract extension. With Woodson looking like the guy, other rumored candidates Phil Jackson and John Callipari seem to be completely out of the running. Isola’s report did not mention potential terms of the contract, but I would estimate terms close to 3 years and in the ballpark of 10-15 million dollars. Woodson has done a good job since taking over for the much maligned Mike D’Antoni. The Knicks finished out the season 18-6 in Woodson’s 24 games as head coach and have won a playoff game for the first time since the French Revolution, albeit having played poorly the rest of the series versus Miami.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I definitely don’t feel good about it. Woodson has done a solid job coaching the team, but I don’t necessarily think that highly of him as a head coach. I will admit that he is a great defensive coach. He took an already good defensive Knick team, top 10 in defensive efficiency under D’Antoni, and turned them into an even better defensive team, top 5 in defensive efficiency under Woodson. However, I’m not sold on his offensive system and his way of coaching offense. I did like a few of the schemes I saw from the Knick offense during the season, but in the playoffs he has badly reverted back to his old “isolation-Joe” style of coaching, stemming back to his Atlanta days. I think the Knicks need a more creative mind to get the trio of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler to excel offensively. Defense is not a problem with the Knicks anymore. Worst case scenario, the Knicks are going to be a solid defense. I am worried about this team’s offense. On paper, the Knicks should be one of the better offensive teams in the league. They aren’t. I believe that Woodson’s offense is way too isolation oriented and that his system doesn’t manufacture baskets. While the Knicks have a lot of talent offensively, it hasn’t produced this season and especially in the playoffs. Rather than manufacture baskets with screens, cuts and offensive movement, Woodson has put the ball in Carmelo Anthony’s hands for isolation after isolation after isolation. If you really go back and look at New York’s offense in the playoffs, they have done a lot of standing and watching while Carmelo Anthony works 1 on 1 on the perimeter. Anthony hasn’t dominated and the Knick offense has been awful. I understand that the Knicks were good offensively under Woodson in the regular season, but I could care less. I do not want this team losing in the first round every year. I want a coach that can bring deep playoff runs and championships to this franchise. Given how the Knicks, from purely an X’s and O’s standpoint, has performed under Woodson this postseason, I’m not convinced he can do that.

All that being said, Woodson does have a lot of things going for him. One of the main things going for Woodson is that Anthony has been far better post-D’Antoni than he was under D’Antoni. Rather than run a point guard oriented system, Woodson has decided to run his offense through Carmelo Anthony. To be fair, Jeremy Lin has been injured which has sort of forced Woodson’s hand, but we have to go off of what we’ve seen out of the Knicks. We haven’t really seen the Woodson era Knicks with Lin, so let’s go ahead and assume that Woodson is going to continue to run his offense through Melo, especially given the regular season success of the offense. Given his greatly increased role in the Knick offense, Anthony is a big supporter of Woodson and has publicly backed him. The whole D’Antoni situation showcased just how much pull Anthony has inside the Knick organization with Guitar-Jimmy Dolan and Scottie O’Neil, so his public admiration for Woodson is a very good thing for the interm coach. Another thing that Woodson has going for him is that he is more staunch on his players than was Mike D’Antoni. “Accountability” has been a big theme since Woodson took over. Woodson has shown a strong enough gut to call out multiple players in the media about various changes he would like to see, such as Carmelo Anthony’s conditioning and JR Smith’s pant level. The team has responded rather well to Woodson’s more strict style. Personally, I think it is sad that grown athletes making millions of dollars need a coach to hold them accountable, but that is conversation for another day.

Overall, I’m not a huge fan of this move. Does Woodson deserve the job based on his performance this season? Probably so. However, are there better candidates out there? Absolutely. Is Mike Woodson a championship level coach? I don’t believe so and Woodson has no track record out there to prove me wrong. In Atlanta, Woodson’s teams never advanced past the 2nd round. In each of his last two seasons as head coach, the Hawks were swept out of the playoffs. In four playoff appearances, including this season, Woodson has accumulated a sorry record of 12-21. Say what you want about Atlanta not having championship level talent, but right now the Knicks don’t have championship level talent. Across the board, the Knicks will lack depth next season. I believe New York needs a coach that can take them to the next level and I’m not convinced Woodson can do that. I would have liked to see the Knicks perform their due diligence. Rather than re-sign Woodson now, I would have liked them to wait until after the NBA Finals. You never know what can happen in the coaching world. Surprise firings happen all the time. I think the Knicks should have waited and fully understood and analyzed the full coaching market before making a decision. Unfortunately, logic and patience rarely win out inside Madison Square Garden and it seems that Mike Woodson is going to be the guy. Buckle up, Knicks fans.

Analyzing Amar’e Stoudemire’s Awesome Defensive Rotation

There were 54.5 seconds left in the game. New York cradled a delicate 87-84 lead over the powerhouse Heat. Down 3-0 in the series, this was do-or-die time for the Knicks defense. Miami ran a high pick and roll between Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Bosh did well to quickly slip screen into the paint while both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler were focused on Wade. The much maligned Amar’e Stoudemire made an awesome defensive rotation to push Bosh out to the baseline, where he then threw the ball into a back court for a turnover. Carmelo Anthony was fouled from three point land on the next possession and the rest is history. In this post, I am going to analyze how Stoudemire made the defensive play of the game for the Knicks.

amare1

As you can see in the image, Wade and Bosh initiate the pick and roll at the top of the key. Notice the position of Chandler and Anthony, as this becomes very important. Also notice where Stoudemire, circled in red, is positioned at the beginning of this play. He is assigned to guard Shane Battier up at the top of the screen. As you can see in this image, Bosh isn’t in great position to set a hard screen, rather  he is setting himself up for a slip screen. Due to the fact that Bosh is a deadly outside shooter, Tyson Chandler is forced to play up on Bosh.

As can be seen here, Bosh doesn’t screen Anthony at all. He gives him a slight push and slips right into the paint. I think Chandler actually played this poorly, as he assumes Anthony will switch. However, when Bosh doesn’t actually set a screen, Anthony has a pretty unimpaired path to Wade. Chandler should have dropped back with the rolling Bosh, but that doesn’t happen.

amare3

As the entry pass comes to Bosh in the paint, notice how Stoudemire is now crashing towards where he THINKS Bosh will end up. Stoudemire takes an excellent angle on this play. He realizes that Bosh’s momentum is going to take him towards the restricted circle, and heads directly there. Carmelo Anthony also does an admirable job of trying to get into the play, but he is too far away to really impact  the entry pass.

amare4

This was taken when Bosh catches the ball. Notice how Stoudemire’s angle completely cuts off Bosh from the basket. Rather than gamble and jump at the ball, which we’ve seen him do in the past, Stoudemire does a great job of working to cut Bosh off and eventually push him to the baseline. You will see it more in the next photo, but Anthony also does a nice job of rotating to Stoudemire’s man, Shane Battier in the corner.

amare5

After Bosh catches the ball, Stoudemire does an excellent job of using his body to push Bosh out to the baseline. Stoudemire puts himself in a strong, square defensive position, not allowing Bosh to attack the baseline nor the middle of the paint. If Bosh was going to score, he would have had to shoot over Stoudemire. As you’ll see in the video, Stoudemire also gets underneath Bosh which forces him to give up the ball. Notice also how Carmelo Anthony has now put himself in the passing lane of a possible Bosh-to-Battier pass. Stoudemire’s rotation allows the Knicks to recover from an initially poorly defensed sequence. Despite the fact that the pick and roll was initially open, you can see now that the Knicks have the play very well defensed. Bosh then panics and throws the ball into the backcourt, giving the ball back to New York with 40 seconds to play.

Knicks Win First Playoff Game Since 2001

It is finally over! The Knicks have finally won a playoff game. It took an NBA record 13 losses before they could get this victory, but that is now irrelevant. Sunday’s thrilling 89-87 Knicks victory over the Miami Heat was just awesome. There’s no other way to describe it. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire led the way, as the tandem scored 61 points. Did the Knicks play a great game? No way. Sure, Miami didn’t bring their A game, but I could care less. The Knicks won a playoff game for the first time since 2001 and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Here are my notes from the game:

  • The Knicks were led by their two superstars today. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, 41 points and 20 points respectively, were fantastic today. Lets start with Anthony. The Knick small forward once again started the game with a cold jump shot. However, rather than just keep shooting them he did a really nice job of working his way into the paint. Anthony missed his first two shots, but then cut on his next two possessions and posted up on his fifth shot attempt. He scored on his 3rd and 5th attempts. I think it was nice to see Anthony, along with Mike Woodson, work to diversify his offensive game today. Amar’e Stoudemire was also very good today. Despite the fact that his left hand was wrapped in 700 layers of tape, he was very efficient scoring the basketball. Knowing that he wouldn’t be at full dribbling strength, not that he’s good at dribbling anyways, Stoudemire did well to operate around the rim. He grabbed 10 rebounds, 5 offensive, and even played good defense at the rim. I analyzed Stoudemire’s defensive rotation late in the 4th that proved to be the defensive play of the game for the Knicks. I think today was a really good sign for the Knicks. Obviously it is just one game, but the Knick stars showed that they do have the capability to play together. More impressively than the fact that they both played well was the fact that they played together. This wasn’t isolate one of them and move everyone out of the way. We saw glimpses of a two man game between the two stars today which was fun to see. I still stand by my idea that one of them, probably Melo, has to go, but if the Knicks can put together a performance like this in game 5 I may have to change my mind.
  • I wish Baron Davis a speedy recovery. His dislocated knee cap was absolutely gruesome to watch and I wish him a speedy recovery. The Knicks are going to miss Davis, mainly because they’re incredibly thin at point guard. I guarantee that we see Jeremy Lin in game 5. I don’t support throwing him out there, but I think the Knicks are going to do it. Stay tuned…
  • Here is video of Baron’s injury. Squeamish people, don’t watch
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7zxALHr814]
  • Mike Bibby was captain clutch today. His three pointer with 1:23 left in the 4th was one of the biggest shots of the game. He’s not a great defender at his old age, but he has tried to defend. I thought he moved the ball well and gave the Knicks positive minutes in Baron Davis’ absence. Bibby has played relatively well this series (by Mike Bibby standards) and he came through in the clutch today.
  • Jorts gave the Knicks solid minutes for the second straight game. I really like what Jorts did today. He played hard, tough and did the dirty work. Harrellson isn’t a perfect player and had a few defensive breakdowns, but overall I thought he was solid. Unfortunately Jared Jeffries’ knee is just not right, but Jorts has compensated somewhat for Jeffries’ defensive production. He even played solid defense on LeBron to close the second quarter and forced the Queen into a long jump shot.
  • Weirdly, Tyson Chandler didn’t play very well. He didn’t really impact the game much at the rim and was in foul trouble for most the second half. He also had a horrid foul on LeBron in the waining minute of the game. If there has any Knick this season that has earned the right to have a bad game or two, it is Chandler. However, this is not the time for him to be struggling. He has been New York’s most consistent player this season and he has to get back to that level in game 5. If the Knicks are going to make this series interesting, they’re going to need more defensive dominance from Chandler.
  • Sorry for the late recap, folks! I was so pumped up by Stoudemire’s defensive rotation that I wanted to write that first. Then I decided to go hit up the world famous Taco Shop in Tucson for a great Fiesta.