NEW YORK -- Since Mike Woodson replaced Mike D'Antoni on March 14, the Knicks have been averaging just below 100 points per game -- 99.4 to be exact.
That point total has enabled the Knicks to stay in front on the scoreboard in what has been a down scoring season -- across the board in the NBA due to the condensed schedule -- while also putting a clamp on opponents the Woodson way.
Now, the Knicks need to find a way to make up 17.6 points per game because star power forward Amare Stoudemire is out indefinitely with a bulging disk in his back. And several people close to the team believe it's an injury that will keep STAT out for the remainder of the 2011-12 campaign, including the playoffs.
That's not good news for Knicks fans, who have found some optimism through the team's 7-1 stretch under Woodson, as they still remain the eighth seed in the East. But even the interim head coach raised the possibility that Stoudemire could have surgery during his pregame press conference Monday night.
So what does that mean for the Knicks? Two main things need to happen. One is, someone needs to step up consistently on offense. Tonight, it was Carmelo Anthony, who scored eight more points than his exact 20.0 season average. And two, the Knicks need to especially maintain their shutdown defense, which has forced opponents to score 90 points or more only once in the past five games.
Well, make that six after tonight. The Knicks held the Bucks to 80 points, including only 28 in the second half. After the game, Baron Davis' key word to describe the defense was "active."
"Since coach has taken over, we've been very active defensively, getting deflections, getting into passing lanes and forcing teams to really play one-on-one isolation basketball," he said. "We forced [the Bucks] into a lot of tough situations and we didn't let them move the ball as well."
While Jeremy Lin (14.6 points per game) sat out with a sore right knee, he's day-to-day and is likely to return Wednesday night against the Magic. Woodson said in Stoudemire's extended absence, there has to be more of an emphasis on the defensive end because the team doesn't have immediate replaceable scoring.
"It's gotta be right now," Woodson said, referring to defense as the key ingredient without STAT. "The second half was tremendous defensively. It was an ugly game, but we just kept grinding and grinding and getting defensive stops."
The Knicks applied Stoudemire-like energy and emotion right away to the game, building a 30-26 first-quarter lead. That mindset translated to step-ahead defensive rotations inside the perimeter, as they forced the Bucks into taking 43.5 percent of their attempts in the first period from 3-point range (10-for-23). That inside pressure continued for most of the game.
But the one area they were slacking a bit on was closing out on shooters, especially Bucks small forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. He had 24 points at halftime on 5-for-6 accuracy from beyond the arc. But the Knicks made sure to not let that happen in the second half. Iman Shumpert, who helped limit 21.0 points per game scorer Monta Ellis to only four points on 2-for-14 shooting, said the team's improvement in transition defense was key to putting a stop to Dunleavy Jr.
"Dunleavy kept getting open late in the first," the rookie said. "He didn't really cool off, so we knew we had to pick it up and just find him in transition, and keep Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis at bay, and it worked out for the better."
Davis explained more in-depth about how the team was able to contain the lightning quick Bucks' backcourt to a combined 19 points in the game.
"We were physical with them," said Davis, who helped force his defensive matchup, Jennings, into a 6-for-22 shooting night. "Tyson [Chandler] held the paint down and we were doing a lot of switching. I think the most important thing is we didn't give them any easy layups. For the most part, we forced them into tough shots and we often always had a hand in the defender's face."
Chandler was the biggest reason the Bucks took those tough shots, and that's been the case all season. While he's not a league-leader in blocked shots (only 1.5 per game), most of his impact on the game doesn't show up in the box score. His long arms and footwork guarding pick-and-rolls and his timing altering shots in the paint always gives the Knicks an advantage to take over possessions quickly, without allowing too many second-chance opportunities.
But Chandler can't do it himself, and he knows how important his vocal leadership is to his teammates, in order for them to be aware of what to do defensively.
"It’s very important I establish myself, very important I communicate with guys out there," he said. "We’ve got some guys playing different positions, so I’ve got to make those guys feel comfortable on defense."
Tonight, while the Knicks struggled to make shots -- only 35.1 percent from the field -- all the guys were on the same page defensively. Looking back on his time with the 2004 champion Pistons, a team that really only had one star (Richard Hamilton), like the Knicks have now with Anthony, Woodson knows it's all about making stops no matter who's on the court.
"That team won the title playing defense and rebounding," Woodson said during Monday morning's shootaround at the Knicks' training facility. "That's what we did. ... We've just got to keep it that way."
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