We just saw one of the more exciting single weeks an NBA season can provide for one team. The black sheep of the week was the Knicks’ win over the Washington Wizards, which was sandwiched by the best individual performance in the NBA this season and a showdown between the top two teams in the conference. Last Wednesday, the Knicks withstood the 54-point onslaught of Stephen Curry and picked up a much needed win over Golden State, but on Sunday blew a 16-point lead to LeBron James and the Heat. Oh yeah, and then Monday happened.
The Knicks clearly looked hungover from the Miami loss in the first half against the Cavaliers, falling behind by 22 points early. Piling on, Carmelo Anthony left the game in the second quarter after tweaking his knee. The Melo Detractors now have their crutch, because it seemed like the moment Melo went out was when the Knicks woke up. A dominant third quarter and some clutch shots and stops down the stretch erased the deficit and got the Knicks their 36th victory of the season, in dramatic fashion.
We’ve got four games to take into consideration, three wins and a loss against the best team in the league:
1. Carmelo Anthony (Last: 1) – Yes, the Knicks made their huge comeback with him, but they also aren’t coming close to beating Golden State without him. While Curry understandably got all the praise, Melo dropped a 35 and 8 assist performance, hitting two clutch shots down the stretch. After 32 against the Wizards, Melo was one of the main reasons the Knicks even had a 16-point lead over Miami. His 2nd half was poor, but Miami’s all around defense is much to credit for that (although now that Miami has proven they can shut Melo down, it’s now on him to find other ways to either score or affect the game if the Knicks and Heat match up in the playoffs).
We’ll see how his knee is, but I’m sure there is a faction of fans who liked seeing Melo go down and the Knicks make a huge comeback. All I can say is, I’m not one of those people, and I don’t think – at all – that the Knicks are better without him. I think 99% of this season has proved that.
2. Tyson Chandler (Last: 2) – A career-high 28 rebounds, 10 offensive with 16 points to boot, against the Warriors is enough to keep Chandler in this spot. And then there was the end of Monday’s win over the Cavs, which pretty much encapsulates Tyson Chandler as a Knick. First, with the Knicks up two late, Chandler tipped out an offensive rebound to Jason Kidd, allowing the Knicks to widen their lead (Kidd should have salted the game away but missed his first freebie). With the Knicks up by three on the next possession, Chandler switched out on to Kyrie Irving and swatted away his game-tying attempt. How valuable is this guy?
3. Amar’e Stoudemire (Last: 3) – In the second half against Cleveland, STAT turned the clock back to early 2010, when he was THE guy on the Knicks. While a lot of the credit definitely goes to Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith for setting him up, Stoudemire did a great job of rolling to the basket and slipping behind help defenders to make an easy target for the passers, and as usual finished well around the rim. He also showed some toughness a late basket, recovering from a blocked shot and getting one to go on a second effort. His efficiency continues – he’s shooting 75% in his last five games. Most of it has been down low, which is exactly what we want to see from Stoudemire this season. It’s worth noting that it was a really poor decision by Mike Woodson to have Stoudemire on the bench late against Miami. Understandably , it’s very tough to hide him on defense against the Heat, when LeBron James is essentially playing the 4, but the Knicks needed some baskets late, and the way STAT is scoring near the rim right now, he could have presented a bad matchup for THEM on defense, too.
4. J.R. Smith (Last: 4) - Thanks to Steph Curry, nobody realized J.R. Smith had one of his best games of the season against the Warriors on Wednesday, making six 3s and dropping 26. The shot selection and shooting efficiency has been weak recently (4 for his last 21 from 3, all against Miami and Cleveland), but Smith has made up for it by averaging nine boards per game since our last rankings (including back-to-back 12 board performances against Washington and Miami). At the very least, Smith is back to filling up the stat sheet, whether he’s hitting his shots or not. I just wish the Knicks would find a better second set on offense when their first is defended – right now it’s just “Iso J.R. and watch him take a contested step-back”. And even though he seems makes half of those, it’s still not the prettiest sight or the best basketball.
5. Jason Kidd (Last: 7) - This week saw Kidd move to the bench. But a big jump for him in the rankings, finally, mercifully seeming to have broken out of his shooting slump. Kidd knocked down his first four from behind the arc against Miami (and really turned in an excellent overall performance), and made some of those clutch plays/shots down the stretch against the Cavs, the ones we saw so often early on in the season.
6. Raymond Felton (Last: 5) – It’s been really up-and-down for Felton since he returned from injury, and it still seems that whenever he plays well (gets to the rim, racks up a decent assist number, doesn’t get completely and utterly torched on defense), the Knicks win. Felton has really struggled shooting recently, but went 9 -for-18 against Washington with 23 points (a Knick win), and was solid against the Cavs with 10 assists (another win) – his first double-digit assist game since January 27 against Atlanta. Aside from the big defensive play on Steph Curry, Ray was pretty meh against the Warriors and Heat.
7. Iman Shumpert (Last: 9) – Shump looks like he’s just about starting to turn the corner. We’ve seen some more of the disruptive perimeter defense that we saw much of last season. He hasn’t given much on offense since his return, but it was nice to see him knock down three shots from the outside against Cleveland. I personally still really want to see Shump get more minutes at the 2 and preferable some at the 1, but I don’t really see Woodson and I seeing eye-to-eye.
8. Steve Novak (Last: 6) – Novak’s breaking out against Cleveland was long overdue and truly a thing of beauty. Breakfast tastes better the morning after Steve Novak hits clutch threes. Three of his four bombs came at the perfect time, and the Knicks probably don’t complete their comeback if not for Novak. The back breaking threes haven’t happened as often this year as they did last (save from his disappearance in the playoffs), but hopefully there are more on the horizon.
9. Pablo Prigioni (Last: 8) – Priggie Smalls (shout out to Craig Carton for that one, unless someone had it before him then shout out to you, fine sir…) sat against Washington and Miami as Woodson started James White and moved Kidd to the bench, but came back to play 8 minutes against Cleveland with the team shorthanded. He did more in his time than White, that’s for sure.
10. Chris Copeland (Last: 10) – For starters, I personally think he’s a good option for when this team is struggling to put the ball in the hoop. Otherwise, how do you stay even in our player power rankings even though you’ve been deactivated? The other guys on your team are…
11. James White (Last: 13) – White was inserted to the starting lineup against Washington. In the three games since he’s become a starter, White has played 24 minutes, scored 2 points, has 3 fouls, and is a -3. It’s not even that he’s bad; he just exists. End the experiment, Woody.
12. Marcus Camby (Last: 14) – Returned against Cleveland, playing 7 minutes. Still think he can help in the playoffs, big time.
13. Kenyon Martin (Last: Unranked) – Made his Knicks debut on Wednesday, playing 4 minutes against the Warriors.
14. Kurt Thomas (Last: 12) – Didn’t play since or last rankings.
Not ranked – Rasheed Wallace – Out for the remainder of the regular season. If you would have told me in October that Rasheed Wallace would end up being a big loss for the Knicks, I would have…I don’t know. But I wouldn’t have believed you.