Monday, March 7, 2011 Updated: March 8, 8:02 AM ET
Amare & Melo? No, it was Jared's night
By Chris Sheridan ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are going to get all the ink.
Jared Jeffries will go down as a footnote: The only member of the New York Knicks who failed to score a single point in their highest scoring game of the season, a 131-109 drubbing of the Utah Jazz.
But Jeffries is more than a footnote.
He will likely remain the starting center for New York for the remainder of the season, a mini-bombshell that coach Mike D'Antoni dropped before watching his superstar duo click together better than they had in any of the eight games since the epic MeloDrama ended with the blockbuster trade that bought Anthony to New York.
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"He's a very good defensive player, he moves the ball, he understands what we want done, he gives us that multiple possessions on the offensive rebounding, tapping balls out. He's just an energy guy that kind of glues everything together," D'Antoni said. "He's a valuable piece for us although he doesn't score, but he doesn't have to. This team is a little bit different than a normal team. You don't have to space the floor as much because you have such good individual players, so I just think it's a perfect fit for us."
Jeffries missed his only two shot attempts Monday night, both from point blank range. But he did grab six rebounds, three on each end, blocked a shot, came up with a steal and made two key plays before the game got out of hand that don't show up in the box score -- saving the ball as it was going out of bounds and then firing it off an opponent's torso to allow the Knicks to retain possession.
He has appeared in four games and logged 100 minutes since re-signing with New York following his buyout from the Houston Rockets, all without logging a single field goal -- although he has scored one point as a Knick, making one of two free throws in New York's home loss to Cleveland last week. (ESPN colleague John Hollinger texted after the game that he is taking April 7 in the Jared Jeffries' First Knicks Field Goal pool.)
"I try to bring an element that I know I'm good at. It was tough not playing all year, I'm still trying to find my rhythm and get my legs underneath me," Jeffries said. "But for the coach to have that type of confidence in me, it means a lot. It's a testament to what they've put together here, and I'll find things I can do to compliment what Amare and Carmelo bring to the team."
Jeffries moved into the starting lineup against the Cavs on Friday when Ronny Turiaf was sidelined with a sore knee, he stayed in that role Sunday night as the Knicks won in Atlanta, and D'Antoni made the surprise announcement before Monday's game that he is planning to keep Jeffries in that role from here on out, no matter if the opposing big man is Dwight Howard, Shaquille O'Neal, Joakim Noah or Erick Dampier lining up against him in the first round of the playoffs.
Jared Jeffries' hustle plays outnumbered his shot attempts against the Jazz.
Jeffries' lack of heft and girth will lead to the Knicks getting overwhelmed at that position on most nights (Exhibit A was Al Jefferson's game-high 36 points Monday). But D'Antoni has always believed in playing to his team's offensive strengths, and this performance from the Knicks' two superstars -- 34 points on 12-for-16 shooting in 30 minutes for Anthony; 31 points on 12-for-15 shooting in just 24 minutes from Stoudemire -- demonstrated the Knicks may occasionally be better served by having a player on the court who should actually be prohibited from shooting the ball unless he plans to dunk it.
"That's all part of getting my legs underneath me. Right now I have no legs, but that'll come from getting into game shape," Jeffries said.
Having been with the Knicks for a major portion of their lost decade, being involved in a game as lopsided as Monday night's was a new experience for Jeffries -- and for a lot of folks in the crowd, too.
It was over early, for all intents and purposes, as the Knicks opened up an 18-point lead in the first quarter and led by as many as 31, getting five 3-pointers from Toney Douglas (20 points in 23 minutes) and four more from Anthony as they played their fourth consecutive game without Chauncey Billups (deep thigh bruise).
The loudest cheer of the night came when Andy Rautins took his warm-ups off with 6:50 remaining, and the Canadian kid actually got double-teamed near midcourt on the Knicks' final possession as the Jazz forced the ball out of his hands to keep the crowd from erupting as they did when Rautins scored his only bucket of the night, a jumper with 2:38 remaining on which he benefited from a highly favorable continuation ruling from the referees.
Other highlights included Renaldo Balkman making his first 3-pointer in two seasons, Derrick Brown flushing a windmill dunk, Shelden Williams dishing a career-high six assists and former heavyweight champ Joe Frazier getting a loud, appreciative ovation on the eve of the 40th anniversary of his heavyweight title fight against Muhammad Ali in the very same arena.
And there was one other difference, too.
Jeffries was cheered (usually, he produces only groans) for the hustle plays he kept making, on the glass and on the baselines as he sailed into the stands to keep balls alive. There may finally be a semi-permanent place for him now that he is back, and Tuesday night's game demonstrated that there is always a place, even on a high-octane team playing unusually efficient offense, for a guy who can make a difference without producing a single point.
So get used to seeing Jeffries out there.
The job is his to lose, and he won't lose it if his hustle plays continue to outnumber his shot attempts.