Tyson Chandler will swap his suit for a uniform on Wednesday. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
New York Knicks fans who've spent most of this season being buffeted from bummer to bummer got some good news at the Knicks' Wednesday shootaround:
Woodson: Chandler is going to play.
Woodson says Bargnani will come off the bench while Chandler starts. Melo at the 4
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 18, 2013
That'd be starting center Tyson Chandler, who's missed the last 20 games after suffering a fractured right fibula in the first quarter of the Knicks' fourth game of the season, a Nov. 5 home game against the Charlotte Bobcats:
The Knicks went on to lose that game, and proceeded to drop 14 of the next 20 to fall to 7-17 on the season, the third worst record in the woeful Eastern Conference. Things have mostly been very bad, and weird, in Chandler's six-week absence. (Whew.)
The Knicks weren't yet world-beaters even with Chandler around and had looked disorganized and penetrable at times before his injury, but his absence has emphasized the massive difference he makes on the defensive end. In the 106 minutes Chandler played before going down against the Bobcats, his work in patrolling the back line, dissuading drivers and covering up mistakes on the perimeter helped New York hold opponents to just 92.2 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com's stat tool. With him off the court, replaced largely by reserve Kenyon Martin and sieve power forwards Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire, the Knicks have been among the league's most permissive teams, giving up 106.7 points-per-100 and dropping all the way down to 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency.
Knick opponents have shot 47.6 percent from the field since Chandler hit the bench (third-highest mark in the league over that stretch, up 6.1 percent from when Chandler's in the game) and 66.3 percent inside the restricted area (second-highest, up more than 16 percent over the with-Chandler mark). The Knicks' lack of interior defense and rim protection has perhaps never been clearer than Monday night, when they allowed a game-winning layup by Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (who later said "There was absolutely nobody even paying attention, so I just drove it in there") that set off a final-seven-seconds meltdown that became the talk of the town after another remarkable loss. (It may well continue to be so, what with Carmelo Anthony saying Wednesday that he had his reasons for not calling a timeout on the game-ending possession after Woodson declined to, despite the Knicks having three timeouts left.)
It'd be unrealistic to expect Chandler to come in after six weeks on the shelf, play heavy minutes and solve all the Knicks' problems — he said Wednesday he'll be gauging his fatigue level and look to come out of the game if he's feeling too winded to meaningfully contribute. And while the Knicks will be facing the Milwaukee Bucks — one of just three teams that has both a worse record than New York and has been outscored by more points per 100 possessions than New York (joining the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers) — they will be doing so without the services of injured point guards Raymond Felton (sore left hamstring) and Pablo Prigioni (broken right big toe), as well as bigs Martin (strained abdominal muscle) and Stoudemire (who may or may not be injured, but who will reportedly not be available on Wednesday). Also, expected starting wings J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are shooting 28.8 percent and 16.7 percent, respectively, from the field over their last six games. There are plenty of other problems facing Woodson's team.
But with the season seeming ready to spiral out of control and calls for Woodson's firing increasing, a healthy Chandler and a return to a Melo-at-the-4, spread-the-floor lineup (even if it's still not what Woodson prefers) seems to at least open the door to a solution. Then again, if the Knicks can't beat the league-worst Bucks even with Chandler back, famously cantankerous owner James Dolan might feel even more compelled to come up off that vote of confidence and make a change. Pretty high stakes for a Wednesday night matchup between two of the four worst teams in the NBA, huh?
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