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Hartnett: Knicks Desperately Miss Shumpert's Suffocating 'D'

By Sean Hartnett
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The Knicks have given up over 100 points in consecutive deflating loses to the Portland Trail Blazers and the Sacramento Kings.

Typically, Mike Woodson's teams are recognized as tough-guarding, disciplined units. Lately, the Knicks are failing to play consistent, defensively-sound basketball for the entire 48 minutes. Their perimeter defense has been weak and they're getting beat on the pick-and-roll.

On Tuesday night, the Knicks put themselves in an early hole by being outscored 58-47 in the first half by the Blazers.  Offensive outbursts got the Knicks close at various points in the second half, but the Knicks never gained a lead and eventually lost, 105-100.

Having Raymond Felton out for four to six weeks has hurt the Knicks on the defensive end. At 39, Jason Kidd lacks the speed needed to stay with younger, quicker point guards.

Felton's injury has forced Woodson to slide Kidd from shooting guard to point guard. In Felton's absence, Woodson is juggling minutes between Kidd and 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni.

Neither could keep up with fleet-footed Damian Lillard, who scored 21 points including a clutch step-back three-pointer with 35.2 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Melo And Smith Can't Do It All

J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony converted a late three-point play by driving to the hoop, throwing down an emphatic dunk and sinking a free throw that got the Knicks within three points. Melo scored an incredible 45 points in 41 minutes, but missed a 26-foot three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining.

It shouldn't always be on Anthony and J.R. Smith to be on-fire shooters every night. The Knicks need to be making stops on the defensive end. Sure, having Felton back would help. More than that, the Knicks need the presence of dogged-defender Iman Shumpert.

Knicks Missing Shumpert's Tenacious Defending

Iman Shumpert
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Knicks desperately need the guy on the sidelines with the Kid 'n Play flat-top haircut back on the court. New York will not see Shumpert return to their lineup until February.

Last season, Shumpert was hailed as an uncommon rookie for his mature abilities on the defensive end. Rookies usually come into the league lacking defensive focus and tenacity. Clearly, that wasn't the case with Shumpert, who earned two third-place votes in the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year voting.

The Knicks sorely miss Shumpert's tenacious on-ball defending. They're giving opponents too much space to sink wide-open shots. On Friday, the Kings hit 15-of-30 three-point attempts in their slim, buzzer-beating 106-105 victory.

Lack of defensive intensity has been a recurring theme for the Knicks. They have a bad habit of allowing opponents to go on huge runs before turning on the focus in the second half. The Blazers hit 41-of-81 field goals on Tuesday and Nicolas Batum went 6-for-12 from three-point range.

Lately, the Knicks are allowing mediocre opponents to cut into their impressive win-loss record of 21-10. They need to turn things around by playing better ball on both ends of the court.

When Shumpert returns, he will give the Knicks the energy and focus that they're missing on the defensive end.

Unfortunately, that boost won't come until sometime in February.

How much of an impact will Shumpert bring to the Knicks when he returns in February? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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