- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Knicks are 32-18 entering the All-Star break, sitting comfortably atop the Atlantic Division. They’re on pace for 52 wins, a number they haven’t reached since 1996-97. But things are far from perfect at 2 Penn Plaza.
Since Dec. 15, New York is just two games over .500. The club has lost three of four heading into the break. As a result, several troubling issues have emerged. And if the Knicks want to be playing at the end of June, those issues need to be addressed in the second half of the season.
Below, we take a look at five things the Knicks need to keep an eye on in the final 32 games of the season:
1. THEIR DEFENSE
In the first nine games of the season, the Knicks played near flawless defense. They ranked fourth in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) and sixth in opponent field goal percentage en route to an 8-1 start. Since then, they’ve ranked 19th in defensive rating and 22nd in opponent field-goal percentage (46.3 percent).
Mike Woodson said fine-tuning the Knicks' D will be his top priority in the second half.
“That’s going to be the focal point coming back after the break,” Woodson said.
2. SHUMPERT'S PLAY
Second-year guard Iman Shumpert just hasn’t been himself since coming back from ACL surgery on Jan. 17. Of course, it’s understandable Shumpert would be a step slow: He spent eight months rehabbing after surgery.
Still, Shumpert was viewed as a cure to the Knicks' shortcomings on defense, particularly on the perimeter and against the pick-and-roll. That hasn’t happened. The Knicks have been routinely torched by point guards in games before the break (see Holiday, Jrue and Teague, Jeff for two examples).
What does Woodson want to see from Shumpert in the second half?
“Play defense. Rebound the basketball and do some dirty work,” the coach said.
3. LINEUP SHIFT?
Putting Brewer in the starting five would give Woody two strong perimeter defenders on the floor to start the game.
The potential problem: Brewer has struggled to make shots. In order to start, Brewer needs to knock down the open shot. That’s something Kidd has struggled with lately. The 39-year-old was scoreless in 32 minutes on Wednesday night and is averaging just 2.6 points in 26 minutes per game over his past five outings. Yikes.
Said Woodson: “He’s missed some good shots here as of late, some really open shots. He’ll make them eventually.”
4. INJURIES TO OLD GUYS
When Chandler’s on the floor, the Knicks' rebounding rate, or percentage of missed shots rebounded, is 44.8. When he’s off the floor, it falls to 40.6.
With Chandler out there, the Knicks’ scoring differential per 100 possessions is +7.6. When he’s off the floor, the Knicks are being outscored by two points per 100 possessions.
With Wallace (stress reaction in left foot) and Camby (left plantar fascia) back, these numbers should even out a bit. Woodson expects Wallace to return to practice after the break. Camby’s status is less certain.
When both are healthy, they should help Amar'e Stoudemire defend the paint for the Knicks' second unit.
5. THE BEASTS OF THE EAST
Despite their recent struggles, the Knicks remain a confident bunch. From Woodson on down, the team believes it has a legitimate shot to compete for an NBA title.
Yes, that means they think they can beat the Heat. Miami is red-hot of late, going 8-2 in its past 10 games. And, oh by the way, Miami is led by the best player on the planet playing the best basketball of his career. The Knicks trail LeBron James and the Heat by 3 1/2 games in the Eastern Conference. While keeping an eye on the Heat, the Knicks will also have to watch their backs because they have a few teams creeping up behind them.
Central Division foes Chicago and Indiana are both within three games of the Knicks and are awaiting the return of a marquee player in the second half (for Chicago, it's Derrick Rose; Indy's waiting on Danny Granger). Brooklyn's been up and down but is 2 1/2 games back of New York.
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