Knicks Mix Ready for Playoff Run?
Carmelo, Chandler speak on New York’s post-season push.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
The scene is always the same in the Knicks’ visiting locker room. A congregation of media in the center, and one or two players trickling in and out. There will always be plenty of people to cover the team. The question is, at the end of the season, what will there be to say?
At times, I’m not even sure the Knicks knew what the next chapter would hold. In a condensed season, they had no shortage of storylines.
For now, New York is headed in the right direction after securing a Playoff berth for the second straight season. The Knicks, with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony together for their first full season, are hoping to build on last year’s first round sweep at the hands of the Celtics. While much has been made about their chemistry on the court, Anthony is confident he and Stoudemire can make it work.
“I think people are just looking at that situation a little bit too closely,” he says. “We’re both basketball players, we both know how to play the basketball game. I don’t think we will ever have a problem coexisting out there on the basketball court and [Sunday against Atlanta] was a prime example of that. When he had it, we played off of him, when I had it, we played off of me, and good things happened out there.”
Anthony has dealt with his own share of the spotlight, as the prolific scorer’s game has been scrutinized now more than ever. While he had never been a point forward in his career, the burning spotlight of a string of Knicks losses opened the floodgates for questions about his role.
“It’s been a roller coaster season for everybody—players, coaches,” says Anthony. “Overall, it’s been an up and down season. It’s just good that we are able to find our identity towards the end of the season and win some basketball games when it counts.”
While Anthony notched a huge triple-double against the Celtics last week, he is also averaging over 30 points per game in April, a testament to his ability to score at will and singlehandedly shoulder the offense if needed.
And while Anthony is a constant force on offense, the Knicks are relying on Tyson Chandler to serve as his counterpart on the other end of the floor. “Tyson, he’s our anchor, man,” says Anthony, “He allows everybody to push up on the ball, pressure the wings, pressure their players, hopefully they drive, shot blocking, just holding that whole middle down, keeping us going. Vocally, he’s a loud mouth out there, he gets us going on that end.”
After Mike Woodson took over as interim head coach, the Knicks have allowed 91.7 points per game, which is good for fourth in the NBA during that stretch. Part of that can be attributed to the defensive focus of Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert, who always seem up to the task of guarding elite wings. Asked about the defensive growth of the first and second year players, Chandler says, “They both have gotten better throughout the year. Their progression has definitely been noticeable. From beginning to now, they understand what’s coming at them—you know, pin downs and pick and rolls. They’re communicating. It’s night and day from where they were at the beginning of the year.”
While the Knicks currently don’t have starting point guard and mid-season sensation Jeremy Lin, they have a mix of veterans and young players that play dynamic, if not consistent, basketball on both ends of the floor. On the key to preparing for a Playoff run, Chandler says, “I think first we all have to go in healthy. I think the rest period was great for Amar’e. I was able to take [Sunday night] off. I’m sure at some point Melo will get a rest. It’s very important that we go in healthy and ready to go. We have to have a different focus about us. After that [final] Bobcat game, we all need to sit down, meet, and understand what’s at stake because you have to completely turn it up.”
In regards to if his championship run last season with the Mavericks enables him to bring a certain sense of calm to the team despite ups and downs, Chandler says, “Yeah, you know I’ve been through it and I just went through it last year. I understand what it’s gonna take for us to get there. I gotta do my job in preparing my teammates for what’s gonna be ahead of them—especially the young players. Stat, Melo, Bibby, Baron—a lot of guys logged a lot of minutes in Playoffs so they understand what’s at stake. Young guys gotta make sure they understand.”
“Just we have to really lock in, we have to really, really lock in,” he says on the message to younger players. “We have to lock in to what we’re trying to accomplish out there. Only way you beat a team is by every possession you accomplish what the coaches see as best fit for the game plan. If you make a mistake on one rotation, it can cost you the game. Playoffs—it’s a different ballgame.”
While the Knicks have an intriguing roster and the potential to make a splash in the playoffs, it remains to be seen whether the talent can come together in the form of a first round upset. While this season has been a roller coaster—one thing about the Knicks remains the same—plenty of spectators will be along for the ride.