|ESPN.com: BlogsColumns||[Print without images]|
"Twenty-three and 14, a one-shot deal? No, I think I'll try it again," D'Antoni said.The sight of the Knicks playing with an effective center (OK, so he was dominant against the likes of Greg Monroe and Chris Wilcox, which mitigates the superlatives anyone should be throwing around) and thus allowing Amare Stoudemire to play at his natural position of power forward, gave the team a different and more natural look, allowing Stoudemire to expend his energy on scoring (33 points) instead of rebounding and trying to defend the paint. Not only was Stoudemire his usual productive and efficient self (he shot 11-for-19 from the field and 11-for-12 from the foul line), but D'Antoni also made sure to remind reporters as he exited his postgame news conference that Danilo Gallinari (29 points) also may have played his best game of the entire season. The Knicks put this one away in a fourth quarter that began with the score tied 91-91, with Mozgov providing the early separation by dunking a miss by Toney Douglas for a 95-91 lead that only grew from there. It had been 10 games since Mozgov had even gotten a sniff of garbage time, and he racked up 15 DNP-CDs in the past 17 games as D'Antoni alternated starting Ronny Turiaf or Stoudemire at center. Turiaf got the nod in the starting five again Sunday as Wilson Chandler (strained calf) missed his second straight game, but he was on the bench with two fouls less than five minutes into the first quarter. Mozgov's first shot was from 3 feet away and traveled roughly 6 feet, and his next two attempts were layups that both bounced off the rim and out. But from there, he made five of his next six shots to go into halftime with a line of 11 points and six rebounds, and Mozgov got the call again when Turiaf picked up his fourth foul just 2:13 into the third quarter. From there, the 7-foot-1 Russian played the rest of the game, even hearing the fans chant his last name as the clock wound down in the final minute. "It was great, I really liked it," said Mozgov, who reckoned he hadn't produced a statistical line of this caliber since two years ago when he was playing for Khimki Moscow. D'Antoni had been saying for the better part of the past two months that he erred at the start of the season when he thrust Mozgov into the starter's role, not properly accounting for the difficulty Mozgov would have adjusting both to the difficulties of rebounding in the NBA and growing accustomed to the manner in which NBA referees call fouls against rookies -- especially foreign rookies whose mettle is often tested first by the guys with the whistles. D'Antoni acknowledged having a "here we go again" flashback to Mozgov's early-season struggles when the big Russian missed those first three shots. But Mozgov settled down and persevered, and the results in the box score spoke volumes.
"Obviously the work he did with the coaches is paying off," D'Antoni said.So we now segue to the inevitable question of whether Mozgov was being showcased for inclusion in a possible trade for Anthony, a route the Knicks have been trying to maneuver down for the past several weeks by picking the brain of former Nuggets general manager Mark Warkentien about the best way to proceed forward. In their quest to enhance the value of the players they are trying to trade to Denver, they are in essence using Warkentien's knowledge of the Nuggets' inner workings to make the deal more palatable to owners Stan and Josh Kroenke, who will have final say on whether the Nuggets will move their franchise player or keep him for a playoff run, gambling that Anthony might eventually succumb to the allure of the $83 million he would be leaving on the table, and also gambling that Anthony could still be moved to New York in a sign-and-trade deal over the summer if such deals are still allowed under the new collective bargaining agreement. Just a few days ago, the debate in New York was whether it would be worth it to include Landry Fields in a proposed package for Anthony. This week, you can argue the same point about whether Mozgov is a keeper or a spare part. Perhaps Anthony himself, who has become talkative again lately, will weigh in on the merits of each of those players Monday night when he pays his one and only visit to Prokhorov's rental unit on the other side of the Hudson. And if Melo says he's a bigger fan of Mozgov than he is of Mikhail, we'll have another clue to decipher as we count down to the Feb. 24 trade deadline wondering whether the trade that has been slow-brewing since the start of the season will finally go down -- and whether either of the two prized Knicks rookies (yes, there are now two thanks to Mozgov's big night) will be staying in New York for the long term.