Melo, Amare make it work vs. Hawks
Maligned duo soared in Atlanta. But can they maintain chemistry when it counts?
ATLANTA -- They finally have their two stars on the same floor and now the trick is keeping them on the same planet. It's a plucky process that might take a while to master and yet the New York Knicks are trying to nip it in time for the playoffs, which start in five minutes.
So send along your best wishes to Mike Woodson as he tries to convince us the "chemistry" between Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony was not a cruel creation in a nutty professor's lab, but something that can be resolved. As we've seen lately.
The beauty of the Knicks' 113-112 win over the Hawks in Atlanta wasn't found only in the final moment, when Stoudemire challenged Marvin Williams at the rim to thwart a bold attempt at a game-winning basket. Instead, there was evidence in the previous 47 minutes and 59 seconds that the issues between Stoudemire and Melo are, as Melo later said, "being made out to be more than it is."
Once again, both players found a way to win together, something they've done seven times now in nine tries under Woodson. Against the Hawks, Melo took his turn with the ball, then Stoudemire took his swings. Funny thing is, those swings knocked out the other team. The Knicks have a firmer grip on seventh place in the East after the tense victory that showed us how two offensive stars can find a rhythm together.
"I don't think he and I will have a problem co-existing on the court and tonight was a prime example of that," Melo said. "When he had the ball, we played off of him, and when I had it we played off of me. And good things happened out there."
For the fifth time in six games, Melo scored 30-plus points, torching the Hawks for 39. Stoudemire, in his second game back from a back injury that caused him to miss 13 games, managed 22 points. It was a left-right combo that jabbed the Hawks all game and it looked natural. Scarily so. Like these two had been doing this all along, which we know isn't the case.
"There's enough to keep me involved in the offense," Stoudemire said. "It's a matter of utilizing all of our weapons and playing smart basketball."
Yes, right now it is true bliss between them, the way the Knicks imagined when they bought the idea these two would be their LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The task of keeping Melo on his current roll while bringing back Stoudemire seemed tricky, but once again the Knicks are pulling it off under Woodson. The new coach had the touch in the immediate aftermath of the firing of Mike D'Antoni, when the Knicks went 6-1 with both players on the floor, and this was reaffirmed Sunday.
And so, do you trust what your eyes are telling you? Or does your gut, and basketball sense, suspect you are being suckered?
The record doesn't lie. In some respects, Stoudemire and Melo were compatible like a fingernail and a blackboard. The Knicks are 29-37 including playoffs with a pair of Olympians, which, when you think about it, is awfully tough to do. But to be fair, most of that was under D'Antoni, and the personnel is different, too. This season, from an individual standpoint, both players enjoyed their best ball while the other sat and watched from the bench.
Can it work? We won't know the full truth this year. Not without a real training camp and some soul-searching and ego trimming on everyone's part. And even then, that might not be enough. But whether one of them should be jettisoned from the Garden is an issue for tomorrow. Right now, the Knicks are on the clock to figure a way to reap the benefits of Melo and Stoudemire and also Tyson Chandler while minimizing any conflicts. It's a front line that should dominate any other in the league, but it's also a front line that sounds and looks a lot better than it has shown itself to be. These three, as a combo, might tease you harder than an older brother unless they flourish in the first round.
This, more than anything else, is Woodson's biggest challenge. If Woodson gets Melo and Stoudemire fully in step on defense, where the Knicks are vulnerable, where smaller teams create a matchup nightmare for these two, hand him a contract extension. For better or worse, this marriage made in rotisserie-league heaven must work. Or else the Knicks will be a one-round-and-done team for the foreseeable future.
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"There are enough shots to go around on this team," Woodson said, "as long as I put people in the right position. Our guys know who can score for us. I just don't want guys to be selfish, and anyway, at the end of the day, I want everybody playing defense."
Make no mistake, this team orbits around Melo. As it should. He's more dangerous than Stoudemire. Other teams worry about Amare. They fear Melo. There's a difference. Melo is lethal with the ball, maybe the league's best rhythm scorer. And he isn't planning to change. Nor should he.
And that's the point. To hear Stoudemire and Melo, they want to bond on the floor. Badly. On their terms, of course. They want to win championships and put this notion to rest, once and for all. And yet they cannot, and on some levels will not, stray from what made them millions of dollars.
"We're out there having fun, we're out there working together," Melo said. "To be honest, I'm not worried about that aspect. It's basketball. You go out there and play."
When Melo scored 12 points a few days ago against Cleveland in Stoudemire's first game back from the back injury, he knew what was coming.
"People put too much on that game against the Cavaliers," he said. "I'm playing my game, the way I've been playing the last 12 weeks, and trying to win games."
As long as the Knicks win, this should not be contested.
Anyway, the real problems center around defense, something neither is known for. The Knicks did give up 112 points and 54 percent shooting to the Hawks without Chandler, who took a day off. Until Stoudemire and Melo can deal with the defensive challenges they'll face, their chemistry will come into question.
Right now, it's all good -- two players living with one ball, on the same floor, under one game plan. But as we know, the Knicks didn't bring them to New York for an April win over the Hawks. Let's check back this time next week and see if these stars are still aligned.