Say what you want about the New York Knicks roller coaster season or mediocre record. The truth of the matter is this collection of Knicks players are overflowing with potential…to the point where the team has been on the verge. But the question remains, on the verge of what? At times, implosion seemed likely. Other times, a breakout appeared possible.
With the resignation of Mike D’Antoni as head coach, and under the focused leadership of newly-installed coach Mike Woodson, the Knicks appear to have finally turned the ship in the right direction, winning five straight since D’Antoni’s exit including Wednesday’s 82-79 triumph over the Sixers in Philadelphia.
“It was a big situation for us. We needed a win and this was very important to keep our momentum going,” Amaré Stoudemire said after the game.
That momentum has been generated by the Knicks’ defense, which stifled the young, spry 76ers throughout the game. Defense has been the key reason for the latest Knicks resurgence, but the major difference between this salvo and the prior Linsanity-laced one is Mike Woodson. He is stressing defense first and foremost from all his players. And the Knicks have apparently bought in.
Woodson, unlike his predecessor, is relying more on the defensive capabilities of rookie Iman Shumpert and athletic back-up guard JR Smith on the perimeter to help compliment Tyson Chandler’s efforts down low.
Even Carmelo Anthony, the presumed culprit in D’Antoni’s decision to resign and by no means a defensive stalwart, has admitted to playing harder under Woodson. Anthony scored just 10 points against the Sixers, but his defensive effort against Andre Iguodala was outstanding. Melo battled Iguodala (13 points) to a virtual standstill.
Another guy not known for garnering many defensive kudos is Stoudemire. But with 4:12 left in the game, Stoudemire tracked down and rejected an Elton Brand drive to the goal, then celebrated with Knicks fans in the crowd.
“My rhythm’s back, my strength’s back, my timing is back,” Stoudemire declared after finishing with 21 points and 9 rebounds.
The same might now be said of the New York Knicks themselves. This team is looking extremely threatening coming down the stretch and may just overtake Philly for the Atlantic division title. And considering that Stoudemire, Anthony and even Smith are proven scorers in the Association (another playoff X-factor), the Knicks are clearly molding into a clear and present danger.
Title contenders beware: If you wear a Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls jersey on your chest, this team may be one playoff booby trap you might wanna try to avoid.