Yes, “Happy Days Are Here Again!” The Knicks landed Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups last week and have gone 2-2 since that time. The Knicks beat the Miami Heat, 91-86, on Sunday () on the heels of their defense no less. One would think that this was a great week for the franchise that has been wading through the muck and mire for the last decade. Not so fast, my friends. Remember that one loss was to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Does this mean the trade was a bust and they are going backwards? No. Knicks fans have to keep in mind that this is a work in progress and the Carmelo deal is a huge step in this process. But the team still has a few more moves to make.
The Knicks are going to have to make some more moves in order to make this thing work. Even in the Milwaukee win, the Knicks got pounded on the boards and it was even worse in Cleveland. No matter how you slice it, they are going to have to get someone capable of grabbing double digit rebounds every night. Pat Riley once stated when he was at the helm of the Lakers, “No boards no rings!” It was true then and it holds true today. Finding that player will be Donnie Walsh’s main mission over the next six months. In order for the Knicks to take the next step they are going to need to find someone to control the paint and the boards.
Despite the poor showing on the boards against the Bucks and the overall poor showing against the Cavs, there were more encouraging signs coming out of the first week of the Carmelo Era. He averaged close to 28 ppg including dropping 27 after a tumultuous week of very little sleep before his first game as a Knick. Chauncey Billups demonstrated that he was not some “Throw-in-Player” in this mega deal as he made huge plays down the stretch in both victories. But the most important thing I took away from these first four games is that the team collectively might have realized that they are going to have to commit to defense if they are really going to do anything this season.
The Knicks perhaps played their best defensive game since the days of Jeff Van Gundy against the Heat. The Knicks closed out each half on 16-0 and 15-6 runs, respectively. Both runs were sparked by the team’s defense. They held Miami under 90 points. This team was at home and they have been steamrolling over the opposition as if every team was the Washington Generals. Anthony Carter told Mike D’Antoni that he has contained Dwayne Wade in the past. D’Antoni took Carter up on his suggestion. Carter was not tooting his own horn as he did an excellent job on Wade, helping keep him to 12 points.
Then, out of the blue, Anthony stepped up to the plate and demanded to guard LeBron James in the closing minutes. Anthony held his own, especially, in the final seconds, when he stayed in front of the Chosen One and Amar’e Stoudemire came over blocking James’ attempt in the final seconds.
Carmelo was never considered to be defensive-minded player. Just ask the folks in Denver, who always thought that Carmelo treated the “defensive end” as a necessary evil that he had to endure in order to get the ball back on the offensive end. If Carter and Anthony can continue to provide that type of defensive pressure, then this trade takes on a whole new dimension. We knew Billups was brought here to provide some defense. I guess we all forgot how good Carter played defense. But, if Anthony plays the defense like he did on Sunday, things could get really interesting around here. Can you imagine the Knicks being known for their defense as well as their offense?
Some felt that Carmelo was not a perfect fit for D’Antoni’s offense, which is based on ball movement. Melo tends to hold on to the ball so that he can create his own shot. Billups is at his best when he is walking the ball up and he has time to dissect the defense. Anthony, Billups and D’Antoni are going to have to make some adjustments. We did see some encouraging signs against the Heat as Melo moved well without the ball, scoring on a nice backdoor cut and a sweet pick and pop, both off feeds from Stoudemire. Chauncey has already showed his value in both victories. D’Antoni has to find a way to maximize his best players’ talents. Considering D’Antoni’s offensive mindset, he will figure it out.
The Knicks did lose to the Magic after beating the Heat. They gave up 69 points in the second half after leading by 11 at the intermission. This just demonstrates the need for that defensive presence in the middle. The key for the remainder of the season will be consistent defensive play.
We are now in the second phase of the Knicks’ reclamation project. Getting Amar’e was phase one, and we got more than we bargained for in getting Billups along with Melo in phase two. Securing that rebounding and defensive force in the middle as well as a bonafide point guard should be a little easier with Melo and Amar’e secured for the next five seasons. With Billups in the mix, the point guard is not as a big of an immediate issue at this time. Acquiring that interior defensive presence will be essential if this team is going to consistently win over the next season and half.
Most of the pieces are in place. D’Antoni has offensive fire power and some decent role players on his bench. If the Knicks can find someone to hit the boards we could have something really special in the near future.