The Knicks are just as disconnected in the locker room as they are on the court. There’s no one voice that speaks for them, just as there’s no player setting the tone, creating a template on either offense or defense that the rest of the team can follow.
Consider, in chronological order in which they were said, these quotes from the starting frontcourt after the Knicks lost to the Lakers, 99-82, Thursday night.
“With the way this season is, we didn’t get much time to come together and get things said and get an understanding of where we’re going to get our shots.”
“There’s no excuses. There’s definitely no excuses. It is what it is at this point in time. You can’t cry over a short training camp. It’s all about playing basketball right now.”
-- Carmelo Anthony
“We’ve only had a short amount of time. We’re still trying to figure it out. Offensively we’re just not smooth right now. It takes time to get it together.”
-- Amare Stoudemire
In the box score that’s two for “it will take time” and one “lack of time is no excuse.” Whose voice should matter the most? Stoudemire got to New York first. Anthony is the most heralded. Chandler won a championship. Yet no one has established himself as The Man on this team.
So the Knicks look aimless, seeming to regress by the day, their exciting Christmas victory over Boston both negated by subsequent losses to the Warriors and Lakers and diminished by the fact the Celtics have yet to beat anybody since.
Their defensive average of 98 points allowed per game ranks in the bottom third of the league and yet, surprisingly, their greatest concern is offense right now. The coaching staff’s greatest concern is finding a way to get Chandler more involved, even though he was brought there to shore up the defense.
Chandler managed 13 points Thursday, mostly because he made 11 of 14 free throws. (The only thing the Knicks did well all night was hit free throws, 34 of 41).
One play typified the difficulty they’ve had incorporating Chandler. The Lakers’ Jason Kapono, who is five inches shorter than the 7-foot-1 Chandler, switched on to him and Chandler reached up his hand to ask for the ball on the right block. Mike Bibby saw the mismatch, but couldn’t figure out a way to deliver the ball to him. He wound up passing elsewhere.
But let’s be honest: the Knicks won’t rise and fall with Chandler’s touches in the paint. The way they’re constructed they need Carmelo and Amare to total at least 47 points – their combined career averages – to win games.
They went for 48 (37 by Melo) against Boston, but in the next two games have produced 29 and 42. There’s no guarantee they’ll hit the number at Sacramento Saturday because Stoudemire sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter and says he is day to day.
Can the defense hold things down if Amare is hurt? Uh, would that be the same defense that let the Lakers shoot 72 percent in the first half? The Lakers actually shot better from the field with the Knicks attempting to check them than they did standing unguarded at the free-throw line (67 percent) in the first half.
Granted, there was no way to stop some of the shots Kobe Bryant threw up, including the 3-pointer that banked in after he was fouled on the way up. But the least they could have done was attempted to run out and wave a hand at the shooters who camped out in the corners after that and knocked down 3-pointers left and right to put this game away midway through the fourth quarter.
With so much going wrong, where to start fixing the Knicks? What to say?
“If I knew, I’d go in and tell them,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I don’t know yet, but we’ll turn it around.”
D'Antoni had the most disturbing comments of all, when he said he hasn't had a good feeling about the Knicks offense all month, and that the only reason they beat Boston was because of outstanding individual performances, not great team play. Normally coaches waiver between false bravado when things aren't working or intense nitpicking to counter excessive, premature praise. What D'Antoni has done is turn over his cards and shown a 3 and a 5, off-suited. He just admitted that he ain't got it.
The Knicks can expect Baron Davis to run the point when he returns from his back injury. That should help. Only Davis still can’t provide an answer as to when that will be.
Until then, we’ll continue to wonder just what this team is, and to whom it belongs.