The Knicks looked like the class of the East.
On Dec. 15 they held an 18-5 mark. Two of those 18 wins came against the Heat, both of them of the 20-point variety.
But New York has cooled off considerably since that torrid start. Of the next 43 games on their schedule, the Knicks won barely half—22, to be exact.
Amar'e Stoudemire worked his way back from preseason knee surgery only to bow out after 29 games to undergo the same procedure. Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler joined "STAT" on the sideline in street clothes.
With the playoffs lurking just around the corner, do the Knicks have enough time to reroute this season back in the right direction?
They'll have to try do so with a drastically different look than the one that accompanied their hot start. Stoudemire's expected to miss the remainder of the regular season. Rasheed Wallace (foot surgery) and Kurt Thomas (broken foot) may be lost as well.
And former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler is out at least another week after an MRI revealed a bulging disc in his spine (via Frank Isola of the New York Daily News).
But the league's oldest team did receive some positive injury news. Anthony, who had battled leg soreness for several weeks, returned to action on March 20 against the Orlando Magic, said he felt "good" and was no longer "thinking about (his) knee," (according to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com).
The Knicks would love a full complement of frontcourt players—or even anything that closely resembled it—but no player holds more importance in this team's playoff success than Anthony.
He's the NBA's most utilized player with a 34.2 usage rate (via basketball-reference.com). Despite the tremendous weight of responsibility placed on his shoulders, the 10-year veteran has thrived under the pressure.
His 26.4 points per game marks his highest scoring average since landing in the Big Apple near the 2011 trade deadline. His 37.8 three-point percentage ties a career high. And he's on pace to set a new career mark in the all-encompassing player efficiency rating at 22.6
New York's perimeter shooting is plummeting back to earth. Since New Year's Day, the Knicks are shooting just 34.9 percent from long range (via NBA.com). Prior to that, they were connecting at a 39.3 percent clip.
Whether a factor of the team's aging roster or coach Mike Woodson's defensive-minded approach, the Knicks struggle to find consistent offense. Well, everyone on the roster not named Anthony does.
But clearly this team can't be banking its future success on getting more out of a player already stretched dangerously thin.
The Knicks need to rediscover the unselfish ball movement that keyed their early success. They have to aggressively attack the basket, using dribble drives with thoughts of scoring rather than penetrating under a pass-first persuasion.
Once defenses are forced to respect those drives, suddenly those outside shooters get some badly needed room to operate. New York may not look it as of late, but it still employs a horde of snipers on the roster. That early-season success from deep was no accident.
But a big portion of shooting success lies in solid shot selection. It's hard to say these Knicks are patiently waiting for the same high-quality looks considering their field-goal percentage has dipped each month of the season (via NBA.com).
Maybe these injuries will prove to be a blessing in disguise. They opened the door for versatile rookie Chris Copeland to re-enter Woodson's rotation. They cleared a spot for veteran Kenyon Martin, who brings Chandler's toughness but also an offensive game that extends outside of the paint.
The Knicks will be OK. Anthony's presence alone will keep them from bottoming out and should help them keep a favorable matchup with one of the vulnerable teams lying at the back end of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
They might not be the serious threat to Miami that so many thought they could be. But with the defending champs riding a 24-game streak, who is anymore?
Overnight success hasn't greeted the team the way its fans hoped it would on Anthony's arrival. But a postseason venture beyond the first round is a major step toward restoring the Knicks to relevance.
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