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Saturday, November 26, 2011
Five issues the Knicks must address

By Ian Begley

The lockout's over and the season's back on.

For the Knicks, that means it's time to address some pressing issues before they roll the balls out on Christmas Day.

Expectations in Year 2 of the Carmelo Anthony Era are high -- and they should be. Finishing over .500 is no longer a cause for celebration. Making the playoffs isn't a lofty goal, it's a must.

With that in mind, here are five issues the Knicks need to address if they are to take a step forward this season:

CENTER OF ATTENTION: The Knicks ranked 20th in rebounding and 26th in opponent field goal percentage last year. They allowed an average of 45.4 points in the paint, the fifth-highest total in the league, and were outrebounded by 3.5 boards per game. Bottom line? The Knicks need help on the front line.

Ronny Turiaf, whose $4.5 million player option was picked up in the offseason, is a nice piece on the inside but can't be the only one if the Knicks want to contend. Which means Glen Grunwald & Co. have to spend to get a center. Quick-fix free-agent candidates such as DeAndre Jordan, Samuel Dalembert and even old friend Kurt Thomas could be pursued.

BILLUPS’ BACKUP: In addition to center, the Knicks have a huge hole to fill at backup point guard. The dropoff between starter and sub last season was unmanageable. Toney Douglas showed everyone he wasn't a viable option to back up Chauncey Billups when he struggled in the first round of the playoffs. Anthony Carter, now 36, certainly isn't the long-term answer.

The Knicks may have a candidate in rookie Iman Shumpert, but if he isn't the right fit, they will have to go the free-agency route. Possible options include Marcus Banks, Sebastian Telfair and Pooh Jeter among others

WALKING WOUNDED? Amare Stoudemire injured his back on a dunk attempt during warmups prior to Game 2 of the Knicks' first-round series against the Celtics. He played in the pain the rest of the series. Four months later, he was still feeling affects from the spasms. On the eve of training camp, Stoudemire appears to be healthy. But these things have a way of flaring up.

Other injuries which bear watching: Billups' surgically repaired knee and Carmelo Anthony's left knee and elbow, both of which were repaired with arthroscopic surgery in the offseason.

THE WOODSON WAY? You don't really need statistics to tell you how bad the Knicks were on defense, but we'll give them to you anyway: D'Antoni's club was tied for 27th in points allowed, in front of Phoenix and Minnesota (both lottery teams). The Knicks allowed opponents to make almost half of their shots (47.2 percent), ranked 24th in points per shot and were outrebounded by 3.5 boards per game -- the third-highest differential in the league.

All of which led to the offseason hiring of defensive specialist Mike Woodson. Woodson, the former Atlanta Hawks head coach, was credited with building the defense that helped Detroit win the 2004 NBA title. Now, he faces an even bigger challenge: making the Knicks' defense matter again.

CHEMISTRY TEST: Anthony and Billups didn't have much time to get acclimated to D’Antoni's system last season. After a decent debut, Anthony's Knicks went through a 1-9 stretch in March. It was clear then that chemistry was an issue. The new-look Knicks straightened up late in the regular season to finish 42-40, but Billups never look entirely comfortable running D’Antoni's at-times up-tempo system.

There also were stretches when Anthony and Stoudemire seemed to suffocate one another on offense; Anthony's drive-first approach didn’t mesh with D'Antoni's "seven seconds or less" style.

The new stars (and the old one) insisted all along that they just needed time to coalesce.

Well, they won’t have that luxury thanks to the lockout.

D'Antoni and his staff will have a short training camp to get everyone on the same page. Is that enough time to prepare for a six-month chemistry test? We'll find out soon enough.