By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com
The situation looked dire for the New York Knicks at the end of 2013.
Sitting at 9-21, the Knicks trailed the Toronto Raptors by five games for the lead of the weak Atlantic Division. Carmelo Anthony pointed to the team’s lack of effort as the biggest cause for concern after a December 28 loss to the Raptors.
“We’re a little bit inconsistent as a whole, as a unit, as a group. The effort is definitely not there some days or it’s there and then sometimes it’s not,” Anthony said. “We play with effort in spurts. We’ve got to get some consistency from that standpoint.”
For Anthony, a free agent this summer, he never imagined the Knicks (who won 54 games last season) would be in this position.
“This is not how I envisioned it, this is not how we envisioned it coming into this season,” said Anthony. “But it is what it is at this point. We can’t be crying about it. We’ve got to find a solution to it, got to take it one game at a time and figure it out.”
Six games into 2014, it seems the Knicks have figured it out.
They’ve won five of their last six games, including impressive victories over the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. The biggest difference has been the team’s renewed focus on defense. After holding their opponents under 95 points just 10 times over their first 30 games, the Knicks have held opponents under 95 in four straight games. This defense should improve even more upon the return of defensive anchor Tyson Chandler, who has been out the past three games with an upper-respiratory illness.
Even better news than the defense for the Knicks is the improved play of Amar’e Stoudemire, who is averaging 10 points in 23 minutes over his last five games. He scored 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting in the Knicks win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.
“He’s getting his power back and he’s getting his confidence back,” Anthony said after the game. “I think when he plays like that and we start believing in him a little bit more, he’s only going to get better.”
Throughout these wins, however, there’s still been controversy. The league’s $50,000 fine of J.R. Smith for untying players shoes led to a benching by head coach Mike Woodson. Thankfully for Knicks’ fans, Smith seems to have learned his lesson after he returned last night to score an energetic 11 points off the bench.
“Be serious, be a professional and don’t take this opportunity for granted,” Smith said on the lesson he learned. “There’s a lot of people in the world who want our jobs and we can’t take it for granted. It can be taken away just that fast.”
New York will continue to be challenged in the coming weeks as they play four games in five nights, including matchups with the Phoenix Suns, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers.
The season started off incredibly rough for the Knicks. But it seems things are finally coming together and their season can still be salvaged in a weak Eastern Conference.