The New York Knicks have given their fans many reasons to fret so far in the 2013-14 season, but things have looked up of late. Heading into Thursday night's nationally televised matchup with the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks had won three of four games in impressive fashion, with the only loss coming in a tight contest with the Houston Rockets marred by one major mistake from J.R. Smith.
New York continued those winning ways against the two-time defending champs, defeating Miami 102-92 in one of their best performances of the season. The highlight was this late third-quarter putback jam from Tim Hardaway Jr. over veteran Ray Allen, who's old enough to remember playing against Hardaway's famous father.
Hardaway figured in a slightly decreased eight-man rotation for head coach Mike Woodson. The most glaring omission from that group was serial shoe-untier J.R. Smith, who appears to be falling out of favor as the Knicks grow tired of his immaturity and (likely more important) poor shooting on the court. While recent trade talk appears to lack substance, team brass want to send a message. Smith spent the entire game on the end of the bench, outside of even the civilian-clothed Metta World Peace, and Woodson offered no comment on the situation when asked a question by TNT's Rachel Nichols during his in-game interview. It's tempting to chalk the Knicks quality play up to the absence of the ball-stopping Smith, but at this point it's safer to consider it a coincidence.
Nevertheless, they really were quite good in this one. Carmelo Anthony led the way with 29 points on 12-of-24 shooting (plus eight rebounds and five assists), but it was a team effort that included unexpectedly effective games from Andrea Bargnani (19 points on 9-of-13 shooting) and Amar'e Stoudemire (14 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes). The Knicks shot 53.7 percent from the field on the night and 63.2 percent in the second half, which shouldn't be sniffed at despite a less-than-exhaustive effort from the Heat. Plus, while Miami shot 54.4 percent as a team and got excellent offensive nights from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (combined 23-of-32 shooting for 55 points), the Knicks effectively limited all other players without defensive linchpin Tyson Chandler in the lineup.
Watching the Knicks requires a healthy amount of skepticism in reaction to any one positive data point, but these last few games now qualify as a legitimately impressive stretch. At 13-22, the Knicks still have a long way to go to avoid punchline status. But it's at least possible to see how they could get there.
(Video via The Point Forward)
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