After the opening tip last night against the Nuggets, it appeared the Knicks took Amare Stoudemire's team message -- to play with a "sense of urgency" -- too literally. They showed no patience on offense and fired away from all cylinders, starting the game 0 of 9 from three and 4 of 15 from the field. Fortunately, the Nuggets missed shots too early on, and Landry Fields was able to make some things happen (more on him below) to help the Knicks tie the score at the end of the first quarter, 26-26.
While the Knicks finally showed a "sense of urgency" in the fourth quarter, cutting a 16-point deficit to two, the Knicks went cold again from the field and the Nuggets took advantage of their offensive possessions.
Here's where the Knicks went right and wrong last night:
• First with Fields, who's starting to find his mark on a more consistent basis, and is now No. 3 on ESPN Insider's rookie rankings (behind John Wall and Blake Griffin). After going four games without breaking double-digit scoring, in his last four he's had 11, 16, 12 and 21 points last night. Not only that, he had 17 rebounds.
Going back to that first quarter, while his teammates were missing from the outside, Fields was attacking in transition and in the halfcourt set, and he made three consecutive baskets. One of them was a highly athletic putback off of a Raymond Felton miss, which he's making a routine highlight; in fact, Fields had a team-high five offensive rebounds, and to highlight that stat even more, the Knicks' main bigs, Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf, combined for only one.
Felds was also the guy collecting seven defensive rebounds in the first quarter, which helped the Knicks diminish second-chance scoring opportunities for the Nuggets. And his defense on Carmelo Anthony was respectable: Fields' hand was right in Melo's face on jump shots and limited his penetration somewhat.
Fields has the been like a tour guide for the Knicks when they've been lost on the court. His heads-up playmaking and timeliness around the basket has helped them find a way when nothing else seems possible in the offense. The Knicks need to learn a thing or two about patient shot selection from Fields, who's now sixth in the league in field goal percentage (58.8 percent). Let's just say Landry is playing the entire field well.
• Felton had a near triple-double last night (19 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds), but he still has a couple of areas to work on in the pick-and-roll.
First, what Felton tends to do when the screen is set is go around it and quickly pass it out to Stoudemire or the perimeter shooter. That's where the offense stalls and the 3-point shots go up. Felton needs to attack the screen harder and keep his dribble alive longer to make the big-man defender play up on him. That way, he'll be able to keep the defense on edge more.
Watching Felton run the pick-and-roll consistently, defenders have enough time to stay on their man and they don't need to switch as much, which doesn't give the Knicks the chance to expose a lot of mismatches or find angles on the court to drive to the basket. That's when they settle for the outside shot.
Felton also needs to be more of a weaver through the defense, not a waverer on the outside. And when he does attack, he has to be a little more patient and not rush his midrange shot (last night he was 5 of 13 from the field).
• The Knicks lead the league in blocked shots (88), but they also are fourth-worst in the league in personal fouls per game (24.2). When your starting center, Timofey Mozgov, is averaging nearly as many fouls to points (2.6 to 3.1), that's saying something about him being an early rookie disappointment (ESPN Insider).
What the overall team fouls demonstrate is that the Knicks are getting beat to the basket, and either their length and athleticism makes up for their lateness and blocks the shot or those factors cause the foul. The Knicks have to improve their reaction time on defense so their opponents don't jump out to early leads in transition or make them look foolish off backdoor cuts or middle-of-the-lane dunks (like Nene last night).
• The Knicks' bench can't fade way, and it starts with Toney Douglas. In the Knicks' last two wins, Douglas averaged 24.5 points per game. But during their six-game losing streak, he's averaging 4.5 and last night he had a bagel and played the least amount of minutes in any game this season (16). That's partly due to Fields playing better, who in reverse of Douglas played his most minutes of the season last night (37).
While playoff teams always have a star player or two, they wouldn't get there without their defense and bench production. Not only does Douglas have to be a consistent producer, Anthony Randolph also has to step up. And don't forget about Kelenna Azubuike, a bona fide starting shooting guard, who will be coming off the bench at some point this season.
• • •
While the Knicks finished the game 9 of 31 from downtown, they made two key back-to-back 3s in the fourth quater to get within 12, and from there the Knicks cut the deficit even closer. The Knicks made a gallant comeback effort, but it wasn't enough as they lost 120-118 and fell to 3-8 on the season.
After the game, all the talk was about Anthony's future plans, who has been rumored since the offseason to become a Knick. First, he has an unsigned $65 million contract extension awaiting his signature. He said, "What would it take [to sign it]? Me and [Nuggets general manager] Masai [Ujiri] are talking. We have great conversations going back and forth. He understands my options are open, but for the most part we have a good dialogue going."
At this point, the Knicks need to keep focusing on building on what they already have.
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