Before the season started, former Knick Larry Johnson had a burning question for Amare Stoudemire. "I said, 'Are you ready for New York?'" Johnson asked. "He said, Absolutely.'" Johnson saw his question answered through action last night in the Knicks' home opener against the Celtics. Johnson, who was sitting courtside, saw Stoudemire put up 30 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 12-for-15 from the foul line, mostly off the dribble with strong finishes around the rim. His hard-nosed play and exuberance after big finishes are exactly what Knicks fans want to see return to The Garden. "I like his attitude," Johnson said. "I think he’s definitely the leader of the team. With him and [Raymond] Felton, we’re going to be alright this year." While the Knicks fell just short, 104-101, Johnson also liked what he saw from the team. "I’m enjoying everything. They're playing hard."
While the Knicks showed solid offensive balance early on -- all five starters had scored by the end of the first quarter -- the team tends to stall when Stoudemire has the ball. They seem to rely heavily on him especially to open up the game. The one positive, though, is that the 2 and 3 men do a good job of drifting out to the perimeter to prepare for the three, especially when Felton and Stoudemire are running the pick-and-roll.
Speaking of Felton, he really doesn't look to score all that much. Whether it's him, Wilson Chandler or Danilo Gallinari, the Knicks will need a consistent 15- to 20-point second scorer to have a chance against the NBA's best teams. Outside Stoudemire, the next closest double-figure points man was Chandler with 13. After him, Gallinari had 11. That's not enough. Not only that, the Knicks will need another go-to player besides Stoudemire to take over in the fourth quarter and even take the last shot. Could Felton contribute in those areas? He does have the quickness, ability to get in the lane and the outside shoot to be dangerous in close-game situations.
The box score tells you that Timofey Mozgov only scored five points in the game. But what it doesn't tell you is that he did it in the first five minutes of the game, off of two jumpshots and a free throw. Once again, foul trouble plagued his minutes. He even got called for a technical. If he can control his energy and learn to play defense with his feet, he is guaranteed to be the Knicks' everyday center. By the way, Mozgov got to go up against his favorite player last night, Kevin Garnett, but not the biggest man in basketball, Shaquille O'Neal, who sat with a hip injury.
For all the doubters who question Chandler's marksmanship as a shooting guard, he was 4-for-9 from the field last night and 2-for-3 from downtown. He now has a 59.3 FG% and 57.1 3FG% in the preseason.
Interesting substitutions last night: Roger Mason came in for Mozgov and Ronny Turiaf came in for Stoudemire. That's the benefit Mike D'Antoni has with his rotation. Because of the team's height, he can rotate guys much easier to different positions.
The biggest weakness in the first unit? Watching Stoudemire too much. The biggest weakness in the second unit? Perimeter defense. When most of the starters sat in the fourth quarter, the Knicks held the lead, but the bench allowed the Celtics to come back in the game because of poor movement around the wing to guard shooters. And what happened? The Celtics ended up winning. One consistent defensive bright spot from the second team has been Toney Douglas' on-the-ball lockdown ability.
So what is Johnson up to these days? Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau actually offered him a job to be his assistant, but he turned it down. "I'm focused on being a dad right now," Johnson said. Fair enough.
You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.