By John Schmeelk
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Most of the stories about the Knicks on Tuesday have been about their dramatic comeback sans Carmelo Anthony. To the Knicks' credit, they did overcome a 22-point deficit without their best player, thanks to a renewed effort on defense that held the Cavaliers to 13 points in the third quarter and 36 points in the second half.
It was a great comeback, but one that never should have been necessary.
To say the Knicks came out flat on Monday night would be the understatement of the season. There was no effort. They didn't try. Normally, having a let-down game right after a big game against the Heat would be expected, but this is a pattern for the Knicks, not some aberration. It has been the root of their inconsistency all season. This year, the Knicks have come into a number of games believing they could just show up and win without putting forward a decent effort.
They are an overconfident and arrogant team.
This season, the Knicks have lost games to mediocre teams like the Rockets (twice), Trailblazers, Raptors (twice), Wizards, 76ers and Kings. In all but one of those games, the Knicks allowed 97 points or more, and 100 or more in all but two. Overall, the Knicks have given up 100 points in 14 of their 21 losses. On Monday night, the Knicks allowed the Cavaliers to score 61 points in the first half and shoot 68 percent from the field. As Mike Breen put it: "Cleveland is simply playing much harder than the Knicks."
Worst of all is that the team ignored everything Mike Woodson preached to them before the game. Watching the MSG pregame show, both the coaches and players made it quite clear that Woodson's message was that the team's defense had to be tightened after allowing so many layups and dunks against the Heat. It was drilled into them. Yet in the first half against Cleveland, the Knicks took a huge step back defensively and were even worse than they were against Miami in the second half. It was either layup, dunk or wide-open jumper on every possession.
Woodson is saying the right things, but the team is ignoring him. They listened the first three weeks of the season, when they were one of the better defensive teams in the league and were not just beating -- but dominating -- some of the inferior teams in the league. Unfortunately, rather than seeing what effort can do for a talented NBA team, the Knicks decided they could still win even if they don't give full effort every game. They can flip the switch and turn it on as they please, and everything will be fine.
That's why they sleepwalked through a half against Cleveland. That's why they came out after halftime with a 14-point lead against the Heat, got happy with themselves and dialed back the defensive intensity. Tyson Chandler has made this point all year long: the intensity and commitment to defense isn't always there. The team is not willing to give the effort necessary to be championship caliber, even though they have the talent.
Put the blame on the coach if you want, but I honestly think he is saying the right things. The players have to listen and buy in. It's pretty clear that they aren't. That needs to come from the team leaders and stars, and it will filter down to the role players. It hasn't the past two months.
That's why this Knicks team has been a .500 team for almost two-and-a-half months. That's why they are slipping towards the bottom third of the league in terms of defense. It's why they are so inconsistent.
It's why there's a good chance that they won't be the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. They choose not to give the effort to earn it. They think they can win without it. They think they are a lot better than they are.
They are wrong.
They are an arrogant basketball team. It should have cost them a win on Monday night, and they were lucky it didn't. It could cost them this season if they don't figure it out soon.
- Thank goodness I haven't seen many "The Knicks are better off without Carmelo" articles this morning. I hope people saw how the Knicks offense ran in the fourth quarter when Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire were off the floor. It was not pretty.
I don't know how you don't really worry about the injury, though. The Knicks' history in this regard is not good. The medical staff can't figure out why it has been hurting for the past two weeks, and then it just "gives out" on a non-contact play? That doesn't sound good. I'd be shocked if he plays Wednesday, but I'm sure he'll try to push it Thursday against Oklahoma City. The risk here is enormous, to simply let your star play with a bad knee when no one can figure out what's wrong with it. His long-term health needs to be the priority here. I understand that no one thinks it is serious, but there are way too many question marks to be feel good about it. The Knicks' medical staff doesn't exactly inspire confidence either.
- The Knicks are settling into a war for the No. 2 seed with the Pacers for the rest of the season. I don't think anyone else in the conference will be able to catch either team by the time the season is over.
- And the Stoudemire minute restriction has gone poof in the first game that Anthony got hurt. Was it real to begin with, or just something to make Stoudemire feel better about as he was playing just 25 minutes per game? I wonder.
- I'll write on this later in the week, but leaving James White in the starting lineup makes absolutely no sense. Woodson needs to get his rotation figured out, but that won't happen until Anthony's health situation is clear.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
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