- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- The last time the New York Knicks started a season 2-0 was in 1999. That sounds like a long time ago until you realize four of their players were in the league at the time.
Cue up the jokes and the remarkable stats -- with an average age of just less than 33, the Knicks are the oldest team in NBA history -- but realize that is a double-edged proposition. Making a fair judgment on the Knicks' decision to invest heavily in graybeards over the offseason probably will be decided months from now when the team's health and relative energy level for the important games can be evaluated.
But there's no missing the impact of the injection of maturity the Knicks are displaying in the early going. And there's no dismissing the quality of the wins they racked up over the weekend at the Garden, blasting the Miami Heat by 20 points Friday night and then walloping the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday 100-84. Neither game was ever close.
It certainly seems that much of it can be attributed to the presence of Jason Kidd, whose influence on and around the Knicks is widespread. The Knicks sure are old but they also look more focused than the unsteady, Linsanity-longing, Carmelo Anthony-all controlling mass that whimpered out in five games against the Heat last spring.
Kidd, despite being 39, is as engaged and involved as ever. The nuances and instincts he brings have thus far been tangible. Especially with Anthony, who to this point seems engaged to the idea of moving the ball and being active defensively. He is giving extra effort, chasing loose balls, looking to work out of the post as the power forward, even inviting double-teams so he can create open shots for teammates.
These are not tenets of Anthony's game, at least they've never been until now. He is still taking a lot of shots and some of them are bad. But Anthony's resolve at the moment is to act more like Kidd than it is to act like he's alone at a pop-a-shot machine, as he was accused of fairly often last season. It should not be assumed he will just stick to it; the first week of the season is for resolutions. But as long as Kidd is playing there is someone to hold him accountable. At least, in theory.
"It forces me to mature out there," Anthony said about the influence of the veterans. "Having the veterans, those guys bringing me up under their wings. It's a learning process to have guys like Jason. I've never been on a team with veterans like we have. Everybody in the world knows I can score. For me to come out here and do something else, it makes us better."
Kidd even seems to be rubbing off on Knicks coach Mike Woodson. Known for his belief in isolation offense -- he was the facilitator for the iso-Joe act Joe Johnson fell into when Woodson coached the Atlanta Hawks and he stood by as Anthony averaged 25 shots and the team just 82 points in the playoffs last season -- the Knicks are now actually passing too much.
If there was a criticism in the way they took apart Philly on Sunday, when they shot 51 percent and made 11 more 3-pointers after hitting 19 against the Heat, it was they sometimes over-passed. Suggesting this concept a year ago would've drawn laughs.
Woodson is keeping two point guards on the floor for stretches of the game, starting Kidd alongside Raymond Felton, and playing three point guards in his rotation, including newcomer Pablo Prigioni. The days of J.R. Smith or even Anthony himself bringing the ball up the floor -- a tactic employed during the playoffs -- seem over for now.
"You should never have to take a shot where two or three guys on you. Melo understands that and you can see it in his play. He's being unselfish," Kidd said. "You can't guard the pass, the ball is always going to travel faster."
Kidd had 12 points and 6 assists in 25 minutes Sunday, not exactly affect-the-outcome stats. But watch him closer and you see how he touches so many more plays.
He worked to create angles for entry passes to Anthony that made it harder for the opposition to double-team. He anticipates passes defensively, darting into lanes and breaking up options or entire plays.
Once he used a slight head fake that baited Spencer Hawes into moving toward Anthony expecting a pass, only to hit Kurt Thomas via the back door that created a three-point play chance. Once he embarrassed the quicker, younger, taller and more athletic Nick Young by attacking him on a drive and scoring over him. Young was so flustered by the play that he raced to the other end, trying to score to make up for it. He turned the ball over.
It was comical and also the result of an in-game adjustment, something Kidd is deeply involved in. He is in the middle of huddles during timeouts even when he isn't in the game.
"I got lucky," Kidd said with a smile about the drive. "The guards had to drive because they were sticking to our shooters."
The NBA is fragile, especially with aged veterans. The Knicks could look like a completely different team Monday, when they play the back end of a home-and-home with the 76ers. When all the jumpers aren't falling, the injury to Amar'e Stoudemire could show up in the scoring column some nights. With Anthony and Smith, players who have to fight their preternatural urge to shoot every time, sticking with the ball-movement plan will be a challenge at times.
But at the moment, the Knicks appear to be better equipped to compete on a more sustained basis with the style they've brought to start the season. Many of those changes seem tied to Kidd's arrival.
"When you defend and multiple guys touch the ball, you have a chance to win," Kidd said. "I don't care who's on the floor."
9hMichael C. Wright