HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Being undefeated after the first two games of a season in football would be cause for alarm, the good kind. Being undefeated two games into the NBA season, on the other hand, doesn’t exactly move the needle.
In New York, where a mercurial three-week stretch of great basketball can inspire a global movement, two great games from the hometown Knicks is raising a few eyebrows, though. They haven’t started a season with back-to-back wins since the 1999-2000 season.
A sound thumping of the reigning world champion Heat Friday night was followed up with a quality win over Philadelphia Sunday. The Knicks aren’t just winning, they are winning in style, shooting a ridiculous 47.6 percent from 3-point range and sharing the ball (22.5) like a group that’s been together for years (as opposed to the reality of just a few months).
If we didn’t know any better, we’d think Knicks coach Mike Woodson‘s on to something with this two-point guard attack (led by veteran starters Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd) and with no Amar’e Stoudemire in sight.
But the biggest change in these Knicks is Woodson’s demand that they defend like a championship team, something of a foreign concept for some of the individuals on the Knicks’ roster not noted for their stopping prowess.
If they’re going to make believers out of the masses, the Knicks will have to lean more on that than they do their torrid long-distance shooting.
“That’s all I look at, because you’re not going to shoot the ball every night,” Woodson told ESPNNewYork.com. “We made a bunch of 3s (against the Heat), but that’s not going to happen every night. But if our defense can stay consistent and we rebound the ball with most teams, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to win.”
He’s right. They cooled off considerably from 3-point range after Friday’s 19-for-36 showing against the Heat. And they’re bound to get back to reality in the coming weeks, perhaps as early as tonight’s rematch with the Sixers in Philadelphia.
Defend the way Woodson demands, though, and the shooting numbers and offensive production won’t necessarily define this bunch the way it did under Woodson’s predecessor, Mike D’Antoni.
The biggest buy-in on this new defensive-minded approach Woodson needed was from his players, guys other than reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, who has always been a “defense-first” cat. And they appear to be all in, per Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com:
“That’s what we’ve got to do to win games,” Raymond Felton said afterward. “Sometimes, you’re not going to have great shooting nights, but if you play defense every night, you’re going to put yourself in a great position to win.”
Carmelo Anthony has been the Knicks’ anchor defensively. Woodson challenged Melo last season to make stops when the coach took over in April, and he made strides on that end of the floor. So far this season, he’s been challenged by LeBron James and Thaddeus Young, and he stepped up both times. Sunday afternoon, Anthony made it difficult for Young to score down low, and he even had two blocked shots — one of which he ran down and almost saved the ball while diving into the stands.
“Just the way Melo’s been playing, as far as really keying in on defense, guarding his man, diving on the floor for loose balls, diving in the stands. When you’ve got your star player doing that, everybody else has got to step up and play, no matter what,” Felton said.
Scouts agree Anthony is a tough defender, but he just needs motivation, and Woodson has been the right coach to push him. Now, his consistent defensive hustle is rubbing off on the other guys.
“It’s really contagious when you see your star player going out there, diving in the crowd, giving up open shots, going for loose balls,” J.R. Smith said. “It really filters throughout the team, so as long as he keeps doing that, I think everybody won’t have a problem doing it.”
If Woodson has made believers out Smith, Anthony and some of these other Knicks, you shouldn’t be far behind!