The loss sends the Knicks into the All-Star break with a 20-32 record and out of the top eight seeds in the East. For a team that finished second in the conference a year ago and entered this season with title aspirations, calling the performance so far disappointing would be a vast understatement.
Last night's loss against the Kings summed up pretty much everything that has gone wrong so far in New York, and that will have to be changed down the stretch if the Knicks are going to get into the playoffs.
Terrible Point Guard Defense
Throughout the season, the Knicks have been unable to defend opposing ball-handlers, especially on the pick-and-roll. There have been constant complaints from fans and some players about head coach Mike Woodson's insistence that defenders switch on every screen, which has created severe mismatches at times.
To be fair to Woodson, even when defenders try to get through screens and avoid switching the results have not been much better, as Knicks point guard Raymond Felton, in particular, often looks like he is trying to run through a wall when he is screened.
Last night may have been rock bottom when it comes to letting other teams' point guards go off. First-round draft bust Jimmer Fredette came off the Kings' bench averaging just 7 points per game over his nearly three-year career. However, if last night was the first time you had seen him, you would think he was the leading candidate for sixth man of the year, as he torched the Knicks for a career-high 24 points on 6 three-pointers.
A guy who had hit only 4 three-pointers over his previous nine games hitting 6 in the Garden (many of which were open looks) exemplifies why the Knicks are not going anywhere unless they provide some resistance to opposing guards.
Overreliance on Carmelo Anthony
Clouded by New York's struggles has been the MVP-caliber season of the team's unquestioned superstar, Carmelo Anthony. Averaging just over 27 points and a career-high 8.6 rebounds per game, Anthony's effort has been the only thing making the Knicks watchable for the better part of this season. Woodson clearly realizes this, and has ridden Anthony to the tune of a league-leading nearly 39 minutes per game, which has repeatedly led to Anthony noticeably (and understandably) wearing out as games go on.
Last night was no exception. Anthony started out on fire, scoring 17 points in the first quarter in leading the Knicks to an 11-point lead. As the game got closer upon the explosion of Fredette in the second with Anthony on the bench, Woodson felt forced to rush Anthony back on the court and keep him there for a mind-blowing 48 minutes 25 seconds through the four quarters and overtime.
Again, Anthony's effectiveness began to slip late, as he scored no points in overtime and finished just 12-28 from the floor after the hot start. His late-game struggles should only get worse if this continues for the balance of the season until Woodson can find a way to field a productive lineup for 48 minutes without wearing out the team's star.
The main fear in Woodson overusing Anthony is that he will end up injured, which has been the third common theme for the Knicks this season. With Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Kenyon Martin and Felton all missing substantial time throughout the season, it has been difficult to find consistency anywhere other than Anthony. This has led to the Knicks' complementary players looking out of rhythm virtually all the time and struggling to run effective offensive or defensive sets.
Against the Kings, it was more of the same. Although Smith was supposed to play through a fractured cheek bone, he ended up a late scratch. In addition, Bargnani and Martin remained out with longer-term injuries. Without Smith and Bargnani, the Knicks continued to fail on the perimeter, with Knicks other than Anthony shooting just 4-13 from three. Considering the double-teams consistently thrown at Anthony in the post and the strengths of Stoudemire, it is imperative that the Knicks have guys who can knock down threes. Due in part to injuries, that did not happen last night and has not happened this year.
Although it will be no short order, these three things must be addressed before the Knicks are going to make a run at the playoffs. To make it work, it will be up to the front office to find some way to cure the point guard ills, the onus will be on Woodson to protect Anthony and utilize the other players more effectively and the team will need some luck on the injury front.
Del Pearson is a lifelong Knicks fan from Upstate New York. His favorite players of all time are Walt Frazier and Carmelo Anthony. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson44.
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