2014 has been awfully kind to the New York Knicks. The children of Dolan have won five of their last six games and looked great doing it, knocking off both the San Antonio Spurs and the reigning champion Miami Heat. Whether it’s everyone getting healthy at the right time or just the law of averages finally evening out in their favor, the Knicks are going to have to keep it up if they want to secure home-court advantage in the playoffs, let alone get in. Here are some things to watch for moving forward.
Amar’e Stoudemire/Andrea Bargnani Balance
Amar’e has been playing out of his mind the last two games, putting up a combined 35 points on 22 shots and dominating the post with some downright violent slams. Of course, the concern with Amar’e is always “Can he can keep it up with those Frankenstein knees?” Woodson has him hovering around the 25-minute mark as of late, but he ought to seriously consider giving Amar’e a night off here and there to make sure he’s around when it counts.
Andrea Bargnani should prove helpful in this regard. The two of them make a fine platoon at the power forward/center spot, mostly because they should never, ever play together due to the defensive nightmare that is Stoudagnani. More importantly, if Woodson did decide to cut back on Amar’e’s playing time game to game, Andrea has shown that he can thrive in additional minutes: He was six shy of a complete game against the Miami Heat in what was arguably his performance of the season, going 9-of-13 from the field and taking a crucial fourth-quarter charge from LeBron James.
The Knicks have a tough stretch coming up, playing four games in five days with a brutal back-to-back against the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers. Woodson’s roster savvy could play a major role in determining those outcomes.
If J.R.’s play after his benching against the Heat is any indication, the rest of the league is in for some serious trouble. Then again, you never can predict what the hell J.R. is going to do. It’s been frustrating to see him struggle so mightily because when his head’s in the right place, he can literally do anything he wants to on the court. But that’s just it: He has to want it. If he can cut back on the late nights and retire the mind-numbing shoelace antics, the Knicks have an elite shooting guard on their bench and a legitimate chance to beat any opponent. Mike Woodson is the only coach that’s been able to get through to him thus far, so it’s up to him to keep the Knicks’ X-factor in line.
Carmelo Anthony currently leads leads the league with 39.2 minutes per game, a pace that is not sustainable if he’s going to be 100 percent for the playoffs. Assuming the Knicks’ recent improvement is not an aberration, Melo should be able to sit out a few fourth quarters going forward as the team feasts on weak Eastern Conference opponents. Again, good J.R. would help a lot here. If he can anchor the second unit as he did last season, it should provide a massive relief for Melo, who’s shoulder must be happy he hasn’t had to play his forty minutes a night at the power forward spot.
This will be more of an issue once Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih return, but Mike Woodson has to find a way to integrate these guys into effective lineups. A two-point guard starting unit featuring Felton and Prigioni carried them for most of last year, but has not seen the light of day in 2013-14 for whatever reason. As far as Beno goes, he has not curried favor with his coach since arriving in New York, and Toure’ Murry may have leapfrogged him in the depth chart thanks to his consistent play. Given the Knicks struggles defending the perimeter, it might make sense to stick with Murry.
The Knicks may not have many assets to speak of, but with Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih looking highly disposable (no offense Metta, you are a beautiful alien and I’ll never forget you), I wouldn’t be surprised if the Knicks try to upgrade at the deadline. Even if they don’t, it will be interesting to see how the team reacts to the inevitable whispers. Iman Shumpert has picked up his game since the team-wide vote of confidence from James Dolan, but could easily revert to his head case ways should Dolan go back on his word.