New and Improved Knicks Will Show Old Stripes Before Long

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 24, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 23:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks watches a shot against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on November 23, 2012 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

If Jeremy Lin taught us anything last season it was this—basketball is a different beast in the Big Apple.

The city's basketball reputation (deserved or not) existed long before the Linsanity. But for a player to turn a decent stretch (weeks, not months) into the kind of media attention that Lin received, it was obvious that the basketball world had adopted an Empire State of Mind.

So it comes as no surprise that New York's 8-3 start has fostered talks of championship contention. Or that those talks have too often failed to mention the abundance of unsustainable qualities that have directly resulted in the record.

Friday night's 131-103 drubbing at the hands of the Houston was an aberration. Clearly this team is not 28 points worse than the 6-7 Houston Rockets.

But there were some areas of this game that could foreshadow some season-long struggles.

For starters, to say the New York Knicks struggled defensively in this game would be like saying that Knicks fans are mildly concerned about the impact of Amar'e Stoudemire's return. They allowed the Rockets to shoot 51.7 percent from the field. They failed to challenge Houston's top two leading scorers, James Harden (33 points, 7-of-15) and Chandler Parsons (31 points, 13-of-17).

During the team's three losses this season, they've allowed their opponents to top the century-mark each game (116.7 points per game). Only once in their eight wins has an opponent reached 100 points, and they've allowed just 76.4 points per game in those contests.

While this team has some talented defenders (Ronnie Brewer, Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby), the team's leaders (Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and, eventually, Stoudemire) are all offensive-minded players. They have the ability to summon some strong defensive showings, but this team's going to experience defensive lapses throughout the season.

The Rockets also punished the Knicks on the glass on Friday to the tune of a 49-30 rebounding advantage. This has been an area of concern for coach Mike Woodson throughout the season. The Knicks managed eight wins in their first 10 games despite a minus-three rebounding differential.

Anthony in particular struggled on Friday night. Despite scoring 37 points (on 14-of-24 shooting), he tried to do too much on the offensive end. He was reckless with the basketball, turning it over a game-high seven times. This has been another common theme in Knicks losses. In New York's three losses, Anthony's averaging 6.3 turnovers compared to just 1.8 in the team's eight wins.

Perhaps Anthony's lack of faith on Friday (just two assists in 34-plus minutes), stemmed from Smith's struggles.

The shooting guard, who had been enjoying a renaissance season, connected on just two of his 13 field-goal attempts. Raymond Felton, the team's third-leading scorer entering Friday's game, has never been the type of shooter to carry his team through offensive droughts.

For the Knicks to rediscover that scoring balance that characterized their hot stretch, they'll need Anthony to be a willing passer and his teammates to convert their offensive chances.

There appears to be far more signs suggesting the Knicks' current two-game losing streak may be more indicative of this team's makeup than their early-season success was.

This was an offensive club that was winning with their defense. It was a team spreading the floor with shooters, but two ball-dominant players (Anthony and Smith) featured heavily in the offense and a third (Stoudemire) getting ready for his touches. They were finding victories despite losing the rebounding battle on a seemingly nightly basis.

Stoudemire's pending return could set this franchise into a tailspin much like the one that Lin helped them out of last season—if that pitfall doesn't come even sooner, that is.