The Knicks won another needlessly-thrilling basketball game on Wednesday, beating the Orlando Magic 103-98. While it’s a victory in the standings, they may have suffered a big loss to their roster, as Carmelo Anthony left the game in the 3rd quarter with a sprained ankle. Raymond Felton, who was playing his first game in a while due to a hamstring injury, strained his groin and left the game in the fourth quarter. But after nearly fully blowing a 25 point lead, the Knicks held on to improve (I guess?) to 9-18. Some thoughts:
- This was a game that proved how important a coach choosing the right lineups and combinations can be. In the first half, Andrea Bargnani was pretty awful, mostly playing in one of Mike Woodson’s “big” lineups with Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. When Bargnani sat in the second quarter, the Knicks outscored the Magic 36-14 in quite possibly their best, most complete quarter of the year. For a long while, Bargnani was the only Knick to carry a negative plus/minus for the game. Then, to open the second half, Woodson returned to the Chandler-Melo-Bargnani trio and the Knicks’ big lead started whittling down. When Melo got hurt and Chandler needed some rest (more on this later), Woodson went with a front court of Bargnani and Stoudemire, and you can imagine how that went (hint: not well). So, Bargnani was going to ruin this game, right?
- Not quite. With about eight minutes to go in the game, and things looking bleak, Woodson brought Bargnani in to replace Stoudemire, playing him alongside Chandler in the front court. It basically won the Knicks the game. Bargnani made some big shots down the stretch and played decent enough defense, surely better than Stoudemire was giving them, and the Knicks held on.
- Beno Udrih played atrocious, failing the eye test with flying colors. Absolutely terrible, especially defensively in pick and roll situations. But he made six clutch free throws that sealed the game, so thanks for that; we’ve made you the featured image of this recap.
- Let’s get something straight. Mike Woodson shouldn’t have gone back to the big lineup with Chandler-Melo-Bargnani to start the second half. But then after Anthony went down, what exactly was he supposed to? Tyson Chandler needed rest. Metta World Peace is hurt. Cole Aldrich is a prop. I suppose Woodson could have gone to an uber-small lineup of, say, Udrih-Hardaway, Jr-Smith-Shumpert and either Bargnani or Stoudemire. But I find it really difficult to totally freak out at Mike Woodson when the cupboard is so bare and his hand was so clearly forced by things he can’t control.
- That second quarter, though. That looked like ’12-’13 Knicks. There was one sequence of plays in particular that got me all fuzzy and nostalgic: Chandler blocked a shot on one end, the Knicks came down and missed on the other but Shumpert flew in and grabbed an offensive board. He flung it out to Smith, who quickly swung it to Melo for an open, in rhythm 3-pointer. That’s how the Knicks won 54 games last year.
- This was J.R.’s best overall game of the season. He picked up a double-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and made 3-of-6 from deep. That’s four straight games with scoring in the teens, where he’s shooting 41% from 3-point range; while the overall shooting numbers still aren’t great, at least there is some scoring production at the moment. It’s worth noting that Smith didn’t have a real preseason and training camp, and had knee surgery in the offseason. I know, I know…what is patience?
- Iman Shumpert looks like he ever-so-slightly is coming out of his slump. We’ll need to see it more consistently, but he was much more aggressive and active tonight than he has been in weeks. That huge steal and lay-up late in the fourth was vintage Shump (and brought back memories of Game 6 in Boston last playoffs). If Smith and Shumpert can both snap out of it and play to their potentials, the Knicks will look like a much different team.