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New York Knicks Rallying Around Melo

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

The Knicks have won two impressive games over Esatern Conference foes minus two key contributors.

New York Knicks Rallying Around Melo

Ever since Mike D'Antoni unceremoniously resigned a couple of weeks ago and the Knicks had subsequently begun to flourish under Mike Woodson, I have been hesitant to write about the Knicks because I had many conflicting feelings.  But after last night's overwhelming/dominating/flabbergasting win against the Orlando Magic, I have to get everything out.

I was and always will be a D'Antoni sympathizer, and seeing him forced out of the picture after such a tumultuous tenure with the team left me feeling sour.  I never felt that D'Antoni got the chance he truly deserved with a team that is more suited to his style.  The closest thing he had to that was the first half of last season's squad, but that was promptly broken up in the Carmelo Anthony trade.  Now as a coach, you also have to be able to adjust to the roster you have.  D'Antoni had some flaws in that regard, but for the most part I found that he was extremely under-appreciated and was sad to see him go out like that.  Seth Rosenthal at Posting and Toasting summed up pretty much everything I felt and did so much more eloquently.

What made me even more sour was the immediate response the Knicks team had after D'Antoni left and assistant Mike Woodson stepped into the interim role.  They started winning, and winning big.  It wasn't like they were doing much differently, especially with hardly any time to implement new sets or philosophies.  There was just a different attitude about the team, and it all stemmed from Carmelo Anthony.  The highly capable scorer was now making his presence known on the defensive end, showing more effort on that side of the ball and saying as much after games.  The newfound commitment to defense now that D'Antoni had left seemed very strange to me.  It's not like D'Antoni was adverse to his players playing hard defense or holding them accountable to it, so this also riled me up and made all of this Knicks' success a little bittersweet.

Once Jeremy Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire went down after a bad loss to the Raptors, some schadenfreude kicked in.  Carmelo Anthony, the guy who blew up the roster to come to New York via trade and then (possibly maybe but certainly not for sure) ran Mike D'Antoni out of town, would have all of the Knicks' playoff hopes on his shoulders.  With a slight grasp on the eighth seed, Melo would have to navigate the Knicks through a tough yet vital portion of the schedule.  And if it all blew up right here, there would be no other scapegoat.    

But, as you can see, it hasn't blown up.  Melo has risen to the challenge over the last team games, going for 28 points and 12 rebounds in an ugly but impressive 89-80 win against Milwaukee on Monday.  He then following that up with 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists in the 108-86 throttling of Orlando where he shot 60% from the field, all with a groin injury that he played through.

But more impressive than the scoring (which was absolutely vital for the Knicks without Stoudemire and Lin) was his effort all over the court.  He of course put up a few of his trademark bad shots in traffic or out of rhythm, but more often than not he played within the offense.  In each of the last two nights, he's recorded a steal and a block, not to mention a number of other deflections that don't really show up in the stat sheet.  Melo moved the ball out of double teams to find open men and analyzed the floor on his isos to find cutters like he did on this dish to a cutting Landry Fields last night:

And of course, all of this success can't be attributed solely to Melo.  Tyson Chandler continues to be the most valuable player on the team for his low post defense and his work on the boards.  Baron Davis, despite all of his deficiencies and his lack of conditioning, has provided exceedingly quality minutes of late.  Iman Shumpert had probably his best game as a Knick last night with 24 points (on 10-21 shooting) and 7 rebounds.  Steve Novak continues his hot shooting and makes defenses pay when they collapse away from him.  Landry Fields, despite not scoring as often, continues to do the little things.  And J.R. Smith brings plays like this almost every night:

Last night was a perfect confluence of all their games meshed into one super-human effort from the group.  In the second and third quarters, the Knicks outscored the Magic 65-30.  Melo personally led the charge to start the second half, scoring 12 points and dishing out three assists.  Dwight Howard was held to just 12 points and five rebounds thanks to superb defense from Chandler.  The Knicks were unconscious from deep (until garbage time in the 4th quarter) hitting 12 threes.  They out-rebounded Orlando 49-34.  

But all of this play can stem from the effort of Carmelo Anthony.  He's clearly playing with a purpose now, and when your star player makes plays and shows that kind of will, it permeates through the rest of the roster.  Instead of demonizing Anthony like I have been doing inside my head for not trying this hard for D'Antoni, maybe I should look at the alternative.  Maybe Mike Woodson just knew how to access this side of Carmelo Anthony, knew what it would take to inspire this effort and intensity.  

I took it personally that Melo wasn't playing like this before, like it was a big "Eff you" to the me as a fan that had to watch him let defenders waltz by and hoist up ill-advised jumpers.  But all that really matters is that he's playing this way now, at just the right time, and putting this Knicks team that could really make some noise on his back.  I can get behind something like this.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see the New York Knicks as they make their playoff push.


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