Posts Tagged ‘Steve Novak’

Defense Grew Rockets’ 22-Game Streak


HOUSTON — As far as seismic shifts in the landscape go, there was no tremor, no low rumble of an earthquake’s warning and it never hit with the fiery blast of a volcanic eruption.

When the Rockets went 49 days — seven full weeks — without a single loss in 2008, it grew quietly for the longest time like an oak tree’s roots growing up through the cracks in a sidewalk until one day it was busting apart the concrete.

The 22-game win streak, second-longest in NBA history, is the outlier in the record book, the one that nobody, even themselves, saw coming, and many, even in hindsight, can still not comprehend.

Before the defending champion Heat, led by the three-headed juggernaut of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, joined the club, only three teams in history had won 20 in a row. The 1971-72 Lakers with their record of 33 consecutive wins and a star-studded roster of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich went on to win the NBA title. The 1970-71 Bucks, led by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, ran off 20 straight on their way to win it all.

In fact, of the top eight win streaks ever in the NBA before the Heat, five of those teams won championships. Only the Rockets did not get out of the first round of the playoffs.

“Our names will be mentioned with Hall of Fame people,” said point guard Rafer Alston. “We have something to tell our kids.”

Shane Battier, now with Miami, has called the Rockets’ streak “organic,” part of a process that evolved over time.

It wasn’t often flashy or pretty, but it was effective, like seeing a boa constrictor slowly squeeze the life out of its prey.

The Rockets were led by Tracy McGrady’s bundle of offensive skills, but they survived the loss of Yao Ming and they won and won with a growing confidence and surging defense. During the 22-game streak, they held 19 of their opponents under 100 points and 13 under 90. They won 14 games by double figures, an average margin of 12.36, and had only three games decided by fewer than six points. They won 15 games at home and seven on the road.

The Rockets even won the last 10 without their All-Star center Yao, whose season was ended by a stress fracture in his left foot on Feb. 26.

“Every time a team gets a chance to come close, the streak comes up,” said forward Luis Scola, now with the Suns. “It was a great stretch. It was a good team. If we lose any of those games it wouldn’t change that fact. But maybe that team wouldn’t be as remembered.

“You know we were playing well. It was a fun team to play with. The momentum that we had going. We were playing very well. We were beating teams just because we were good…That month and a half was great. I remember it was a lot of fun.”

The Rockets were 15-17 on Jan. 2 and 24-20 when they beat Golden State 111-107 on a night when Yao was dominant with 39 points and 19 rebounds. They were fighting for their playoffs lives, sitting precariously as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Two nights later, they went on the road to win at Indiana 106-103 and ran off seven straight wins where they never gave up 90 points.

“What we’re developing is a great team like the Pistons,” said McGrady. “A great defensive team going out there and playing together and not relying on one or two people to score the rock.”

No. 8 was their narrowest escape, needing Steve Novak to come off the bench to hit a 3-pointer — his only field goal of the game — with two seconds left to rescue an 89-87 win over the Kings.

The streak continued through trades. On the afternoon of No. 10, they sent Bonzi Wells to New Orleans and Kirk Snyder to Minnesota, yet didn’t miss a beat in thumping Miami. They attracted real notice around the league when they whipped the No. 1-seeded Hornets in New Orleans.

When the Rockets took the floor on Feb. 26, the word was out that Yao was lost for the season and the fears inside Toyota Center were palpable. But with 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo blocking shots, waving his finger and filling the middle, the streak rolled on.

“You could probably check this, but I’m thinking all the way to the 17th or 18th game of the winning streak we still were in the eighth spot or the ninth spot or something like that,” Scola said. “It was a really tough year for the West. The playoffs were in jeopardy.” (more…)

Meet The Three-Point Participants


The Foot Locker Three-Point Contest will be held Saturday night with five stations arranged around the arc and five balls at each spot, the first four worth one point and one red, white and blue “money ball” worth two points. Players will have one minute to try and complete all five locations.

Kevin Love of the Timberwolves, out with a hand injury, will not be defending the title won a year ago in Orlando.

The Eastern Conference lineup:

Paul George, Pacers: Though not known for his 3-point shooting, George is on pace to improve his percentage behind the arc for the third season in a row. That has been part of a climb from 7.8 points a game as a rookie to 12.1 in 2011-12 to 17.5 the first 61 games this season.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers: The escalation from No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 to All-Star in 2012-13 includes an improvement from pretty good on 3-pointers to challenging for a top-10 finish. Imagine where his scoring average goes if Irving starts to make threes more of a priority.

Steve Novak, Knicks: A man made for this competition. Novak is a career 3-point specialist, often posting a better percentage from behind the arc than on two-pointers. He was fifth in the league in 3-point accuracy heading into Wednesday’s games.

The Western Conference lineup:

Ryan Anderson, Hornets: The winner of Most Improved Player last season while in Orlando is the ideal complement for Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon after moving to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade. Now Anderson is on pace to finish better than 40 percent on 3-pointers for the first time in his career.

Matt Bonner, Spurs: He is averaging all of 12.1 minutes (11th on the team) and 4.1 points. And he absolutely deserves to be at All-Star weekend. Bonner is second in the league in 3-point percentage and on pace to shoot better than 45 percent behind the arc for the second time in three seasons.

Stephen Curry, Warriors: Barring a late injury on the Western Conference All-Star squad for the Sunday main event, appearing in the 3-point contest will have to do as a consolation prize. It may do very well, though. Curry is third in the league in accuracy behind the arc, making him one of the favorites to win the title.

Green And White Fly Slam Dunk Colors

HANG TIME, Texas — The last time James White and Gerald Green were in a slam dunk contest together, they practically blew the roof off with a 2010 Russian Cup performance that’s become a YouTube cult classic.

So perhaps it is fitting that they will be comrades along with Terrence Ross, representing the Eastern Conference in the 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, as State Farm All-Star Saturday Night includes an overall team format for the first time.

White, Green and Ross will square off against the Western Conference threesome of Jeremy Evans, Eric Bledsoe and Kenneth Faried.

Evans, the 6-foot-9 forward from the Jazz, will be looking to defend the individual title that he won a year ago at Orlando.

The Pacers’ 6-foot-8 Green won the event in 2007 at Las Vegas when he leaped over a table to dunk in the final round to beat out Dwight Howard and finished runner-up to Howard in 2008 despite a crowd-pleasing first-round dunk where he blew out the candle on a cupcake that was sitting on the back of the rim.

State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, an all-inclusive skills showcase, will take place on Feb. 16 at the Toyota Center in Houston and will be televised live by TNT at 8 p.m. ET.

Two of the league’s long-range shooters — Stephen Curry of the Warriors and Steve Novak of the Knicks — will lead opposing teams in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. Curry’s West teammates will be Ryan Anderson of the Hornets and Matt Bonner of the Spurs. Joining Novak on the East team will be Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers and Paul George of the Pacers.

It’s worth noting that Novak will be returning to the Toyota Center court where he broke into the NBA with the Rockets in 2006, while the league’s top 3-point percentage shooter — Kyle Korver of the Hawks — will not take part. But Anderson has the most 3-pointers this season.

The Taco Bell Skills Challenge will have Texans Tony Parker of the Spurs and Jeremy Lin of the Rockets joining forces with Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard for the West against the Hawks’ Jeff Teague, the Sixers’ Jrue Holiday and the Bucks Brandon Jennings.

The Sears Shooting Stars Competition, which features NBA players, WNBA players and NBA legends, will have James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Tina Thompson, Maya Moore, Robert Horry and Sam Cassell of the West taking on an East team of Brook Lopez, Chris Bosh, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Dominique Wilkins and Muggsy Bogues.

As part of the new format, points earned by each conference throughout the four All-Star Skills Competitions will determine the conference that earns the title of 2013 State Farm All-Star Saturday Night champion. Dwyane Wade of the Heat will serve as the East team captain and the Clippers’ Chris Paul will lead the West.

In addition, NBA Cares and State Farm will make a joint donation of $500,000 as part of the event, with $350,000 going to the winning conference’s charities and $150,000 to the runner-up conference’s charities. All of the charities will be selected by the conference captains, the NBA, and State Farm.

In drafting players for Team Chuck and Team Shaq in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal went in opposite directions with their top picks. Shaq built his foundation on the high-scoring backcourt of Irving and Lillard, while Barkley went for big men in Anthony Davis and Faried.

The 62nd NBA All-Star Game will be played on Feb. 17, at the Toyota Center.

When Is Enough Ever Enough?


HANG TIME, Texas — What better occasion than Super Bowl Sunday, our annual genuflection to wretched excess, to ask: When is enough enough?

Along about the time when the Knicks were tap-dancing on the chalk outline of all that was left of the Kings on Saturday night, the venerable Kurt Thomas rose up to launch one more 3-point shot.

Does the fact that Thomas, at 40, is the oldest player in the NBA, get him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps his failing eyesight couldn’t see the Madison Square Garden scoreboard that showed his team ahead by the fairly comfortable margin of 110-60?

What of the Knicks piling onto Sacramento with a whopping total of 43 shots from behind the arc on the night, J.R. Smith swinging his arms like a runaway windmill after nailing one, Carmelo Anthony and Steve Novak firing imaginary guns after hitting their targets?

“I’m not trying to rub this in,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “When it’s time to go to the bench, I do that. I’ve been on the other end of it in my career.”

Five nights earlier in Salt Lake City, the Rockets put the finishing touches on the worst home beating in the history of the Jazz, 125-80, by shooting 8-for-13 on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

“They didn’t let up one bit,” Utah forward Paul Millsap told the Salt Lake Tribune. “But believe me when I say we will see them again and, hopefully, it will be the other way around.”

Interestingly enough, on Friday night in Toronto, in the final seconds of a 98-73 thumping, it was the Clippers Caron Butler that raised eyebrows around the league. As the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas was dribbling out the clock, Butler approached and made like he was extending his arm in a handshake. When Valanciunas let down his guard, Butler then reached out to swipe the ball and tried to run off to score before he was fouled.

So what are the unwritten and unspoken rules of etiquette in these situations? Is there anything that says any one of these players did anything unsportsmanlike or unethical?

Remember, this was not teenager Danny Heater of West Virginia pouring it on with 135 points against an overmatched team of high schoolers. The Kings and Jazz and Raptors are all highly-paid pros. And, of course, the Raptors won the game.

“Is the clock still ticking? Are the lights still on? Is the game still being played?” asked Matt Bonner, the Spurs reserve who has had more than his share of experience in late-game situations.

“What you’re always taught is to keep playing hard and to always protect yourself any time you’re on the court. You can’t suddenly tell guys who are in at the end of the game to stop competing.”

To his credit, Kings coach Keith Smart told Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News that he did not mind the celebrating.

“I don’t feel that way,” the Sacramento coach said. “We’re all big boys. Guys don’t get a chance to play much, they want to shoot and keep playing. You can’t tell them not to shoot. Take your lumps and move on.”

In late-game situations, while the victims just want to hurry and get off the court, there can be other players getting a chance to shine.

“Look, there have been times when I haven’t played much all night and then we’ve got a big lead and Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) might send a bunch of us out there for the last seven or eight minutes,” Bonner said.

“Hey, I want to play. I want to do well. This is my chance. Pop might tell us no fastbreaks or something like that, but he still wants us to run our offense the right way, to play the game and take the shots.”

It is understandable. The reserves only move up in the rotation when they show what they can do. As Smart said, they’re all big boys and if you don’t like it, well, you could go out and defend all those 3s?

So then, how does anyone come up with a reasonable explanation for Butler’s rope-a-dope on Valanciunas?

Bonner shrugged, “Play till you hear the horn.”

When enough is officially enough.

Schedule Turns Favorable For Knicks


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Raymond Felton‘s prize for his first game action in a month was a recurring blur named Jrue Holiday.

The Philadelphia 76ers point guard and first-time All-Star ripped Felton and the New York Knicks on Saturday night for 35 points in a game that was never close and the Sixers won 97-80.

Felton’s return as the Knicks dropped to 26-15 in reaching their official 41-game halfway point, gave New York as close to a fully healthy roster as it’s had all season. Iman Shumpert played his fourth game back and Amar’e Stoudemire, in his 11th game back, posted his first 20-point game, getting 20 on 8-for-13 shooting.

Just .500 in their last 10 games, the Knicks are now sort of in re-start mode, although a jump-start was needed in Philly.

With only Rasheed Wallace still out, coach Mike Woodson is now charged with meshing Felton and Shumpert — Saturday was their season debut together — figuring out the best way to limit Jason Kidd‘s minutes and the best lineups to play him with, as well as determining if the improving Stoudemire is best suited to keep coming off the bench — although Woodson has said he likes Stoudemire off the bench with J.R. Smith and Steve Novak.

Against the Sixers, Woodson opted for a three-guard starting lineup with Felton, Kidd and Shumpert. Kidd, overplayed during Felton’s absence, was scoreless in under 15 minutes, limited by a bad back.

Felton, playing for the first time since breaking his right pinkie on Christmas Day, was rusty, missing six of his eight shots and he was a step slow against Holiday, which was true for the entire Knicks team.

And it’s not like Felton was the only offensive culprit either. Shumpert missed all six of his shots and Smith’s struggles took him to 0-for-8 overall and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. Carmelo Anthony needed 28 shots to score 25 points.

So where are the Knicks as they begin the second half tonight back at home against the Atlanta Hawks?

That’s to be seen.

The Knicks at least have their point guard back. Before Saturday’s game, they were 20-8 with Felton and 6-6 without him. They’ve got Shumpert back. They’ve got Stoudemire back.

In addition, the schedule turns favorable with the start of a five-game homestand, and only two of their next seven games are against teams with winning records.

Now it’s a matter of how long it will take for the team to mesh and to get back to the higher rate of winning Knicks fans were getting used to.

Clippers Top League’s Best Benches


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — After Thursday’s 90-77 win in Minnesota, the Los Angeles Clippers are now 3-0 without MVP candidate Chris Paul.

All three wins have come on the road against good teams, and in none of them have the Clippers required a huge performance from one of their other starters. In fact, Blake Griffin has averaged just 16.3 points in the three wins. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, has done a decent job of running the team, but has totaled only 11 assists.

The Clippers won the three games — and won them all comfortably –for the same reason that Paul has been able to sit the entire fourth quarter in nine of the 37 games he’s played in: They have the best bench in basketball.

Here’s all you need to know about the Clippers’ bench and why they’re a much-improved team: Last season, the Clips were outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Griffin was on the bench. This year, they’re outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the bench.

That’s a 23.3-point turnaround and that’s really what it’s all about. A good bench should build on leads, not lose them. That’s why the Bulls’ bench was so good the last couple of years, even though it didn’t have anybody who could really score. When Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were on the floor together, the Bulls shut down foes and scored enough to build on the lead the starters gave them.

With that in mind, here are the best benches in the NBA …

L.A. Clippers

The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.

Though Crawford is known for his offense, this is really a defensive unit that has only scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, just a notch above the league average. But it has allowed only 88.3, making it the second-best defensive unit of the league’s 72 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.

The question is how Grant Hill fits in. In Hill’s first game back, that unit only played six minutes together. And in the last three games, it hasn’t played together at all, though that may have more to do with Bledsoe starting.

Either way, it would be disappointing if coach Vinny Del Negro broke up such an effective unit. And it really could affect where the Clippers finish in the Western Conference standings.

San Antonio

Though Manu Ginobili has been neither healthy nor sharp, the Spurs’ bench continues to get the job done. It’s just tough to determine where the starters end and where the bench begins, because eight different guys have started at least nine games for San Antonio already. But coach Gregg Popovich‘s ability to mix-and-match lineups will little drop-off is part of what makes the Spurs’ bench so good.

The Spurs don’t have a full bench unit like the Clippers. Their latest starting unit is Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Their most-used lineup that includes at least three other Spurs has only played 38 minutes together, and that lineup includes Parker and Duncan.

This is why we’d rate the Spurs’ bench behind that of the Clippers. But San Antonio is still outscoring its opponents by a solid 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Duncan off the floor. That’s a very good thing. (more…)

Knicks-Bulls Seems Like Old Times


HANG TIME, Texas — The only things missing were Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing clubbing Michael Jordan like a baby seal as he drove through the lane, Charles Smith missing layups or maybe Jeff Van Gundy derisively referring to Phil Jackson as Big Chief Triangle.

It was just like old times when the Knicks and Bulls collided on Friday night at the Garden — tempers flaring, heads butting, technical fouls flying and, in the end, of course, Chicago winning.

Where else but the Big Apple would it be more appropriate to make snap judgments and leap to hasty conclusions? Especially since the New York media have spent the first third of the season once more pounding the drumbeat of hope — or fantasy — for the Knicks’ first championship since 1973.

This was the second time in two weeks that the feisty Derrick Rose-less Bulls had stuck the Knicks, who are more earthbound at 5-3 since that soaring flight over Miami on Dec. 6.

First, let’s go over the gory details of the Friday Night Fights from main man Marc Berman of the New York Post (that’s BOTP, if you’re a Twitter follower of our hilarious good buddy @FisolaNYDN):

In the worst Garden night of the season during which they fell behind by 25 points late in the third quarter, the Knicks fought the referees, fought the Bulls players, but didn’t fight hard enough to win. As the final buzzer sounded on a discouraging 110-106 loss, coach Mike Woodson, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler — all ejected — weren’t around to hear it.

The loss dropped the Knicks (19-7), percentage points behind Miami (17-6) for best record in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks, who also lost to Chicago two weeks ago, shot 33 percent in the first three quarters and trailed 83-61 and then blew their cool.

First, Anthony got ejected with 6:45 left for a hard slap on the ball held by Joakim Noah, picking up his second technical foul. Then Woodson followed Anthony to an early shower 1:30 later, earning his second technical for profanely berating the referees. Woodson, outcoached by Tom Thibodeau, appeared to mouth “terrible bleeping call,’’ then adding “bleep you.’’ as a kicker.

Bad move as all hell broke loose after that.

Fact is, despite all the talk about the Knicks’ excellent defense and chemistry and coaching and cohesion and Anthony, so much of their sizzling start has been based on their shooting the ball at a record-setting pace from behind the 3-point line. When Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Steve Novak, Anthony and virtually anyone in a NY uniform are connecting at a 40 percent clip while Tyson Chandler takes care of business on the inside, that’s a recipe for success.

However, the question has always been whether the Knicks could keep up that pace from downtown? In their last three games, the outside temperature has cooled with the Knicks shooting 28-for-86 (32.6) from long range, which has included a pair of losses this week to the Rockets and Bulls.

Is the answer as close as the Erie Bayhawks of NBA D-League, where Amar’e Stoudemire is putting the final touches on his rehab from knee surgery?

On one hand, Woodson says: “We’re going to post Amar’e some when he comes back. We will stick him down there and try to get him the ball, and let him work a little bit and see what happens.”

On the other are reports that the Knicks have tried to peddle the contract of the 30-year-old Stoudemire to every other team in the league unsuccessfully. The dilemma was spelled out wonderfully on Friday by Howard Beck of the New York Times:

In his prime, Stoudemire was the N.B.A.’s most lethal finisher in the pick-and-roll. But that role has been usurped, too, by Chandler, who is taller and longer, with a bigger bounce and healthier knees.

The obvious solution is to have Stoudemire anchor the second unit, running the pick-and-roll with Pablo Prigioni, while Novak, Smith and Rasheed Wallace spread the floor with their 3-point shooting.

But playing as a reserve means fewer minutes and a diminished profile. For all his public diplomacy, it seems doubtful Stoudemire would be content. On Thursday, he told reporters he was ready to “return back to dominance,” which hardly sounds like the words of a player ready to cede the spotlight.

Ask those who have worked with Stoudemire, and they eventually invoke the same word: prideful. Not selfish or egocentric, but simply prideful — a man who views himself in grand terms and spends every minute trying to live up to the image. At age 30, even after multiple knee operations and back problems, Stoudemire still views himself as an elite player.
Reintegrating Stoudemire — whether as a starter or a reserve — might be the greatest challenge the Knicks face this season. (His famously poor defense is also problematic.)

It is a cruel crossroads for Stoudemire, one he never could have foreseen. He surely deserves a better fate.

But considering the way the Knicks opened the season with a bang, stirred the passions in New York and raised the possibility of challenging Miami’s supremacy in the East, they do too. Old times against the Bulls weren’t such fond memories.


Knicks Did The Right Thing!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When presented with the promise and global recognition of what might be and the sobering reality of what is, the New York Knicks made a choice. In fact, they made the right choice where last season’s point guard sensation, Jeremy Lin, was concerned by not keeping him in the fold.

Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton make it much easier to see that now, what with the quality work they have put in this season for the 18-5 Knicks, who welcome the star of the off-Broadway smash, Linsanity, back to Madison Square Garden tonight (7 ET, NBA TV) for the first time since Lin signed with the Houston Rockets as a free agent.

The Knicks chose veteran leadership and production over the charade that was the overnight sensation that Lin became during his breakout stretch of play. Don’t misunderstand us, though: Lin is a solid player, but not the folk hero he was played up to be during Linsanity. And as our man John Schuhmann points out, Houston’s offensive and defensive rating with Lin on the court is worse than it is without him on the court.

Kidd is a winner and arguably the most underrated athlete (in any sport) of his generation. Felton played some of the best basketball of his career in his first stint with the Knicks in their pre-Lin era. He’s picked up right where he left off this season by combining with Kidd to form one of the most potent backcourt duos in the league.

Lin, as expected, is going through some of the growing pains you might expect for a player whose starting experience as a point guard includes all of 48 games, a little more than half of an NBA season. There have even been rumblings about him being a backup in Houston in order to help ease his transition. Can you imagine the outrage if he was still in New York and someone was contemplating a move like that?

In fairness, Lin’s had his moments this season. He looked like the Lin of … well, Linsanity, when he exploded for 38 points and seven assists in a Dec. 10 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. But he did that while the Rockets’ best player, James Harden, was sidelined with a sprained ankle. Lin has a habit of playing his best when his team’s best player is wearing street clothes. Most of his best work with the Knicks came when Carmelo Anthony (as well as Amar’e Stoudemire) were not in the lineup.

On the flip side, Kidd and Felton play the same with or without the big dogs in the lineup. It’s the difference between having proven talent at the controls and a developmental prospect who might not be best suited as a full-time starter running your show.

That doesn’t mean that Lin deserves anything other than a rousing round of applause from the Knicks faithful tonight. He did provide weeks of cosmic pleasure for those fans and fans of an underdog story everywhere. His rise with the Knicks was easily the best story of the season and one of the best in recent pro sports history in this country.

As fleeting as it was, Linsanity was every bit as fun for the rest of us as it was surreal for Lin, who said he’s expecting things to be “wild” tonight.

And I agree with his former Knicks teammates, who believe Lin’s contributions to the resurgence of the franchise deserve to be appreciated on their own merit.

“He’s one of those guys people will remember for his time here,” Steve Novak told the New York Daily News. “It wasn’t a very long, long time, but it was special. There’ll be a movie about it one day.”

(There’s a certain famous filmmaker/Knicks superfan who could do the Linsanity story proper justice … paging Spike Lee!)

At this stage of his career, would you be more comfortable with Lin running your team or doing so with a promising young rookie like Portland’s Damian Lillard?

If you have to think about that for more than three seconds, it should be clear by now that the Knicks did the right thing!

Knicks Grind Their Way To 4-0

NEW YORK — The New York Knicks are now 4-0 after Friday’s 104-94 win over the Dallas Mavericks. They’re the only undefeated team left in the league and should remain so for a while, with only a game against the Orlando Magic between now and next Thursday’s visit to San Antonio.

Friday’s victory wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the previous three, which came by an average of 19.3 points. And it was against a Mavs team missing two of their best players, a far cry from the full-strength Miami Heat, who the Knicks crushed a week earlier.

But this one was arguably the Knicks’ most impressive win of the four, because they didn’t shoot well.

In their first three games, the Knicks’ offense lived on jumpers. Only 32 percent (79/245) of their shots had come from the paint, easily the lowest rate in the league and well below the league average of 47 percent. As a result of their excessive jump-shooting, they weren’t getting to the free throw line or getting many offensive rebounds.

The Knicks were shooting a red-hot 45.3 percent from 3-point range though. Their 43 3-pointers were the most any team in NBA history had made in its first three games. It made for some entertaining basketball, but it was a style that was obviously unsustainable.

Still, Knicks coach Mike Woodson seemed unconcerned before Friday’s game.

“All our longs shots have really been good shots,” he said. “Nobody’s really forced anything. So I’m pleased with the way the offense has been flowing.”

But the shots stopped falling on Friday. The Knicks shot just 15-for-43 (35 percent) from outside the paint, including 8-for-22 from beyond the arc, against the Mavs. Their *effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint was 44.2 percent, right around the league average and well below their 55.1 percent mark from their first three games.

*Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA

It wasn’t a very pretty shot chart.

Knicks shot chart vs. Dallas

The Knicks still scored an efficient 104 points on 95 possessions on Friday, because they took care of the ball, got to the basket and to the line. Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler had the pick-and-roll working. Ronnie Brewer was making great off-ball cuts to the basket. Carmelo Anthony attacked off the dribble. Heck, even Steve Novak even ran a back-door cut on Friday.

Of the Knicks’ 84 shots, 41 came from the paint. And their free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 38/84 (0.45) was more than twice their rate in their first three games (0.21).

Though it wasn’t nearly as explosive as what we’d seen previously from the Knicks, it was an offense that’s much more sustainable over the long haul. It’s one thing to drain jumpers all night, and it’s another to grind out a win when those jumpers aren’t going through. As important as the Knicks’ shots in the paint was how well they defended in the fourth quarter, allowing just 16 points on 23 possessions.

The question now is whether the Knicks can keep taking care of the ball as well as they have. They had just nine turnovers on Friday (another huge reason for the win) and have turned the ball over on just 12 percent of their possessions, a ridiculously low rate, through four games.

Turnovers were the real problem last season, when the Knicks regressed offensively more than any team but the Charlotte Bobcats. So if they can continue to rank near the top of the league in turnover rate, the Knicks can get back to being a top-10 offensive team.

It’s still very early, but the Knicks have now shown that they can win in more ways than one. And that puts some more substance behind that 4-0 record.

Knicks Hit Heat With ‘Sandy’ Aftershock


Dwyane Wade, among NBA players, might be in charge of fashion and fatherhood, but fortunately for the New York Knicks, their fans and the five boroughs, he isn’t in charge of NBA scheduling.

In the game that Wade thought shouldn’t even be played – a reasonable and sober position, given the crush of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath on so many New Yorkers’ lives – things hardly could have turned out better for the home team.

The lights were on at Madison Square Garden and they were hot. Led by their media-conscious star forward Carmelo Anthony (30 points, 10 rebounds), the Knicks beat the NBA’s defending champions by 20, giving beleaguered citizens a welcome diversion at the end of a grueling week.

Anthony – who also served notice through the MSG P.A. announcer that he’s known these days as “Melo Anthony” (can the “Car-“) – addressed the fans before tipoff, then postmarked the Heat. As reported by Marc Berman of the New York Post, the devastation outside the arena had something to do with the dynamics inside it:

“We were kind of up and down the last couple of days,” Anthony said. “Then we heard they had canceled the marathon. We were like, we had to go out there and play and give New Yorkers a couple of hours of peace for coming to the game to support us.”

A warm shower would have been peace. A bowl of soup, a sandwich and some Internet access would have been peace. What the Knicks gave their fans was more than that, a little something to get excited about. They hit 19 of their 36 attempts from 3-point range (5-of-8 from Steve Novak). Raymond Felton, stepping into the Linsanity void, triggered it with 14 points and nine assists. New York grabbed a 17-6 lead and never faltered. (more…)