Melo leads Knicks past Heat to 18th win, topping last year's total

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Dan Devine
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Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks have plenty to smile about these days. (AP/Lynne Sladky)
Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks have plenty to smile about these days. (AP/Lynne Sladky)

Back in September, Jose Calderon made a bold proclamation. The New York Knicks, the veteran point guard said, would improve upon the worst season in franchise history, and "win more than 17 games."

Take a bow, Jose.

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Behind a brilliant game from All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, continued strong offensive play from center Robin Lopez and a variety of second-unit contributions, the Knicks went into AmericanAirlines Arena and knocked off the Miami Heat, 98-90, snapping a streak of eight consecutive losses to Erik Spoelstra's crew. The win extended the Knicks' own winning streak to three games, and improved them to 18-19 on the season to make a soothsayer out of the Spaniard, and with plenty of time to spare.

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New York shot 55.7 percent from the floor against a Heat team that entered Wednesday tied for second in opponent field-goal percentage and ranked fourth in the NBA in points allowed per possession. Despite stringing together several solid runs — a 13-4 jolt early in the first quarter, a 13-2 stretch late in the second — the Knicks never really put up a crooked number, nor did they torch Miami with long bombs, shooting just 3-for-8 from 3-point land as a team.

They just kept moving the ball and themselves, pushing off misses, attacking spaces when they appeared in the Heat defense, making tough shots, and doing it all consistently and effectively enough to withstand big nights from stars Chris Bosh (28 points on 12-for-22 shooting, five rebounds, two assists) and Dwyane Wade (18 points on 8-for-16 shooting, six rebounds, six assists).

"They didn't have an explosive offensive night," Wade said after the game, according to Steven Wine of The Associated Press. "It was just very efficient."

"Efficient" isn't a word that was frequently associated with the '14-'15 Knicks, who finished last season 29th among 30 NBA teams in points scored per possession. While this year's model isn't exactly setting the league ablaze — New York's now 17th in offensive efficiency, scoring an average of 101.6 points per 100 possessions — it's becoming increasingly evident that this year's Knicks are, y'know, basically a normal, roughly-average NBA team, which is a great leap forward.

In a way, Wednesday's win represented something like the best-case scenario of what Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson seemed to envision this summer as he set about building a club that could compete now while laying the foundation for longer-term success.

Lopez, the veteran 7-footer viewed by many as a fall-back option, made Miami's Hassan Whiteside work on the interior, making nine of his 12 shots en route to a season-high 19 points. He also determinedly protected the rim and boxed out, helping the Knicks hold their own inside against the likes of Whiteside, Bosh and the Heat's penetrating guards. Lopez's stats didn't jump off the page, but it wasn't accidental that New York outscored Miami by 18 points in his 34 1/2 minutes.

Calderon, the 34-year-old lead guard whom Jackson acquired before last season and who struggled mightily in his first year in Manhattan, continued to make the extra pass and confidently step into quality looks. He chipped in nine points on 4-for-5 shooting with five rebounds, two assists and a steal, helping keep the Knicks' offense on schedule and flowing while remaining a threatening enough shooter to force Miami to respect him; he's averaging 11.6 points per game over the last five outings, shooting 65.7 percent from the field and 69.2 percent from 3-point range.

Forward Derrick Williams, a top-of-the-lottery talent whose struggles to find an NBA niche turned him into a lottery-ticket signing this summer, again offered sparks of athleticism and scoring punch. The former No. 2 overall draft pick added 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting with eight rebounds in 17 1/2 minutes off the bench, making his presence felt both on the break and in the half-court:

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While the imported vets made their contributions, coach Derek Fisher also gave his young charges some spin, with rookie point guard Jerian Grant and sophomore Langston Galloway spelling Calderon and Arron Afflalo for stretches. The Knicks' top rookie, power forward Kristaps Porzingis, struggled offensively, missing seven of his 10 shots, but he worked to get himself to the line, cashing in on all six of his freebies to finish with 12 points.

Moreover, the stick-thin 7-foot-3 Latvian continues to play sound positional defense and work his tail off to protect the basket, knowing that the times when it doesn't go his way:

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... don't erase the ones when it does:

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"I love his confidence," Anthony said of Porzingis during a postgame interview on ESPN. "I love how humble he is as a person. He wants to learn, he wants to get better. He's in the gym; he's a gym rat, and that's one thing that I love. I'll go to war with him any day."

Ultimately, getting that buy-in from 'Melo was always going to be the key to marrying the seemingly divergent approaches of signing professional veterans and letting the youngsters grow and develop. Well, that and getting Anthony healthy and fully operational after undergoing season-ending surgery on his left knee in February.

The 31-year-old has been playing some of the best all-around basketball of his career of late, taking steps forward as a defender and passer while continuing to showcase the ability to cook opposing defenders:

Anthony needed just 12 shots to pour in a team-high 25 points while adding five rebounds, a Knick-best four assists and two steals in 36 1/2 minutes in the win, New York's fourth in five games. Afterward, 'Melo praised the contributions from up and down the roster that have helped get the Knicks on track.

"A lot of these games is, we're just grinding it out," he said. "We're still trying to find our identity, how we want to play, trying to find some consistency throughout the season. But these past three games, man, we've shown something as a team, as a unit. And it wasn't just me — it was a total team effort in this three-game win streak, so we want to build off this momentum.

"One thing about this team: everybody wants to get better," Anthony added. "Everybody wants to learn. And I'm learning from them just as well as they're learning from me."

Add to that some rotational shifts that suggest Fisher is also learning in his second year on the bench:

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... and a growing sense among the Knicks' players that changing their style up can make them harder to guard:

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... and New York's got a recipe for something much better than last season, and maybe even for success.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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