- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.
Today's Burning Question: How much credit does Mike Woodson deserve for the Knicks’ 8-game winning streak?
Mike Woodson seemed pretty satisfied with his team after their win over the Celtics on Sunday.
And it wasn’t hard to understand why.
The Knicks had just won their eighth straight game, and they’d done so with a blend of defense, ball movement and ball protection that Knicks fans hadn’t seen since the first weeks of the season.
“We're back to playing like we started the season in terms of our defense and how the ball's moving offensively,” Woodson said. “It doesn't matter who scores the ball and that's the beauty. Everybody's sacrificing on the defensive end and that's what been winning us games, I think.”
But there’s another reason that the Knicks have won a season-high eight straight heading into Tuesday’s showdown in Miami. That reason is Mike Woodson.
Here are three moves Woodson’s made lately that have turned up roses for the Knicks:
1. GIVING J.R. HIS DRIVER’S LICENSE: Woodson has been talking to J.R. Smith for several weeks about taking the ball to the rim on a more consistent basis.
It seems like the message has finally sunk in.
Smith was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 29.8 points (second in the league) and seven rebounds to lead the Knicks to a 4-0 record. His run of three straight games with 30-plus points off the bench was the first of its kind in more than 20 years.
Most of Smith’s success was a result of taking the ball to the rim, something Woodson had implored him to do since mid February.
During Smith’s streak of 30-plus points, 58 percent of his attempts came in the paint.
Prior to the Knicks' eight game winning streak, just 25 percent of Smith’s shots were in the paint, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
"He’s starting to figure it out," Woodson said.
And the coach deserves credit for that.
KIDDING AROUND: Back in February, it seemed like Jason Kidd couldn’t hit a shot. In a 13-game span from late January to March 1, Kidd shot an abysmal 18.5 percent from the floor and hit just 14.6 percent of his threes. Woodson moved Kidd to the bench to run the second unit on March 1, and the 40-year-old seems to be rejuvenated.
Kidd’s plus/minus since moving to the bench is plus-55. During his 13-game shooting slump, his plus/minus was minus-20.
His shooting has picked up, too.
Since March 1, he’s hitting 33 percent of his threes and has an effective field goal percentage of 50.6. Effective field goal percentage is a measurement that takes into account the value of a three-pointer. During his cold streak, Kidd’s effective field goal percentage was 25 percent.
GETTIN' PRIGGY WITH IT: For much of the season, a sizable segment of Knicks fans wondered why Woodson wasn’t using Pablo Prigioni more often. It seems like Woody’s figured out how to use him.
Woodson inserted Prigioni into the starting lineup on March 18th against Utah. The Knicks haven’t lost since.
With Prigioni in the starting five, the Knicks are scoring 117 points per 100 possessions -- a figure that would lead the league if accomplished over a full season. Prior to that, they were averaging 107 points per 100 possessions.
Prigioni’s also helping on defense. Opponents were hitting 36.5 percent of their three-pointers before Prigioni was inserted into the starting five. Since then, they’ve hit 31.7 percent.
Putting Prigs in the starting five is another example of Woodson making the right move.
Let’s be honest here: It’s always easy to criticize the head coach of a New York team when things don’t go well. (We’ve done so in this space before).
But Woody deserves to get a fair share of credit for the Knicks’ recent success.
QUESTION: How much credit do you think Woodson deserves for the Knicks 8-game winning streak? Do you think he is the coach to lead the Knicks to their first NBA title in 40 years?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.\
5dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann