HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Here we go again.
The first time it was Linsanity and all of the madness the arrival of a true global icon (Jeremy Lin) brought to the New York Knicks (along handfuls of wins) during his breakout moment last month. There was a seven-game win streak wrapped into a cosmic stretch that saw the Knicks go from a struggling outfit to a potential postseason matchup nightmare for anyone unlucky enough to draw them in the playoffs.
Then the bottom fell out.
Now comes Woodsanity … well, it might be wise to hold off on that one for at least a few more days. But the Knicks are definitely at it again. They’re 4-0 under interim coach Mike Woodson, who took over after Mike D’Antoni departed the premises last week.
The Knicks aren’t just playing well since Woodson took over … they’re playing great. They are playing like the team folks expected them to be when Lin, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and the rest of the Knicks’ talented roster had everyone whipped into a frenzy heading into All-Star weekend.
The balanced offensive effort combined with a heightened attention to detail on defense has them back in sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference — and they’re rising. New Yorkers see a lot that they like out of the Woodson-led Knicks, as Tim Smith of the New York Daily News points out:
Oh what fun it is for these resurgent Knicks, who have totally bought into Woodson’s system and philosophy. There is nothing Linsane about what’s going on.
“The spirit of the team, the energy of the team, we’re sacrificing, we’re buying in,” Lin said. “Using each other and individual shot attempts may be going down for specific people, whether it’s me or Melo or Amar’e. But then everyone else is getting more shots and the shots are easier. We’re able to keep the defense honest by using all five guys all the time.”
After Mike D’Antoni resigned one week ago as coach, everyone thought Lin would be taking a seat on the bench. With veteran point guard Baron Davis nursing a sore hamstring, Lin has maintained his spot in the lineup and seems to be settling into the job of running the team. He played much more under control and in the flow of the offense against the Raptors, committing just three turnovers.
“I just tried to be aggressive,” Lin said. “I’m not sure how many shots I took but I was trying to put pressure on the defense, and if it was open, it was open. I got some easy ones from other people looking for me. Melo, Landry (Fields) , those guys hit me with a couple of passes where I was open.”
They have a huge test tonight in Philadelphia, facing a team that smashed them last time (106-94 March 11 at Madison Square Garden). That was the game Anthony and Stoudemire watched from the bench in the fourth quarter as the Knicks gave up the fight before the bell rang for the final round. Days later, D’Antonio was gone and the Woodson (interim for now) era began.
For all of their struggles in the time before Woodson took over, just four games separate the Knicks and the 76ers in the Atlantic Division.
The last time these two teams met Anthony and Stoudemire weren’t in the comfort zone they appear to be in now. They weren’t talking like this:
“Guys are playing at a very high, confident level right now,”Anthony said. “We just want to bottle that up and move on and keep it going.”
“Everybody feels great. Having fun, enjoying the game of basketball, and that’s what it’s about,” Stoudemire said. “When you enjoy doing your job, then it makes it much easier to play and that’s what’s happening right now.”
And opposing coaches certainly weren’t speaking about them the way Raptors coach Dwane Casey did after they took apart his team last night:
“They’re a tenacious, different team,” he said. “It’s amazing, their tenacity, the way they attack. If you don’t meet it, they take you out.”
Woodson’s presence has certainly infused the Knicks with some confidence and a reassurance that things will run the way they should, for at least for the remainder of this season.
There is a sense of freedom that comes with that as well. Woodson is a hard-nosed coach, but has allowed guys like J.R. Smith, Fields, Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert and Jared Jeffries to play with the same liberties they did under D’Antoni, which is arguably the best move he’s made during this opening stretch.
In another life, when Woodson coached the Hawks, he might have struggled to relinquish that sort of power to his reserves and role players. But not this time around.
“It’s fun. It’s fun to watch,” Woodson said. “Make no mistake about it, it was our defense that got us the spurt that we needed, and you know that’s what good teams are supposed to do. We’ve just got to bottle it up, man, and just continue to do it.”
We’ve heard talk like this before and it didn’t last.
Now that they are in the midst of this second surge, if you will, we’ll see if the Knicks have the staying power necessary to make things last.