Knicks' D can't tackle LBJ & Co. like this
February, 2, 2014
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK –- LeBron James was picking up speed like a runaway locomotive hurling straight at Carmelo Anthony.
And with under four minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Heat looking like they were in cruise control, Anthony did something the Seahawks' Legion of Boom would be proud of –- he made a textbook open-court tackle, grabbing and throwing King James down all at the same time.
“I mean, he was coming at me full speed,” Anthony said. “I gotta get the first hit before he delivered a hit.”
Unfortunately for Anthony, the rest of the Knicks just didn’t have enough of that same Charles Oakley hit-first mentality. Not nearly enough. The Knicks fell woefully short in their latest measuring-stick game as the Heat cruised past them, 106-91, without breaking much of a sweat.
By the end of the night, James was toying with the Knicks, burying a fadeaway three-pointer in the corner before attempting a pass off the backboard to himself that was broken up. A disgusted Oakley would have punished James with a forearm shiver for attempting an All-Star Weekend dunk-contest trick. Instead, James finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals without much of a struggle for any of it.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Knicks offered little resistance to LeBron and the Heat in Saturday's 106-91 defeat.
New York's four-game winning streak is history. The Knicks (19-28) had a chance to make another statement win against the Heat, but they revealed a more realistic glimpse of what they probably are as a team.
Offensively the Knicks are getting better, and they played with some fire on that end of the court. J.R. Smith (20 points) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (17 points) are providing Melo with some much-needed offensive help.
But when playing against the two-time defending world champions, the Knicks have to play close to a perfect game. And they didn’t come close to doing that. They can’t turn the ball over 18 times like they did on Saturday night before a star-studded Super Bowl-eve crowd. And they have to play some defense. Miami shot nearly 54 percent as the Knicks gave James little resistance with the exception of Anthony’s foul.
Before this game, the Knicks had beaten the Heat in four of their previous five regular-season meetings. The lopsided results had some Knicks fans thinking that their squad is the Heat's Kryptonite. But don’t be fooled. If these two met in the playoffs, the results would be closer to what we saw on Saturday.
The Heat may have had their struggles getting motivated through the gut of a long regular season in their latest title defense. But if the Knicks had to face the Heat, or the Pacers for that matter, it will be a quick exit.
Even with a healthy Iman Shumpert -- who was held out on Saturday -- the Knicks don’t play the type of defense that is required for deep postseason progression. The Heat and Pacers will make Anthony earn every single point he can get.
On Saturday, Shane Battier made Melo work for his 26 points, denying or fronting him on more than half of his touches when guarded by the Heat stopper, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Only two of Carmelo’s eight field goals came with less than five seconds left on the shot clock, and they were contested. And Battier helped the Heat harass Anthony into seven turnovers.
The Heat made sure to limit Anthony’s touches, as the Knicks were only able to get him 56 Saturday -- well below his season average of 70 per game according NBA.com.
On the flip side, James did his damage with 30 points and seven assists in 60 touches -- at times, seeming satisfied just playing the role of facilitator and setting up his teammates.
The Knicks got within five of the Heat twice in the fourth quarter but it never felt that close because the Knicks didn’t play the kind of defense that threatened Miami, which shot 59.1 percent in the final period.
The Knicks played well enough to beat the likes of the Bobcats, Lakers, Celtics and Cavaliers -- teams they beat on their streak. Mike Woodson’s squad is playing markedly better than it was just over a week-and-a-half ago when it was busy losing to the likes of Philadelphia at home.
However, they aren't playing anywhere close to the level of the East's elite. The good thing, is they don't have to in order to make the playoffs in the "Leastern Conference."
But if the Knicks didn’t already know this, they do now: They need to avoid the seventh or eighth seed at all costs.
Otherwise, they’ll see more of what they saw on Saturday. And we’re not talking about Melo’s impressive tackling skills.