Thursday, February 24, 2011

Knicks beat Bucks despite lack of chemistry, defense

(photo courtesy of

Anybody who tuned into Knicks-Bucks last night expecting a flawless, smooth performance were likely disappointed. Realistically, how could you expect a team that just traded four rotation players and hadn't practiced together to look like a cohesive unit?

New York shot 50 percent from the field last night, but take away a sterling 10-for-12 night from Toney Douglas and the rest of the team hit just 44 percent of their shots. Two days after the Knicks shipped half of their team out West, it was one of the guys who stayed who may have been their best player.

This isn't to take anything away from Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, who had stellar debuts despite a lack of efficiency. Anthony scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds but shot just 10-for-25 from the field, while Billups had 21 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals despite a 4-for-12 shooting night.

Anthony struggled to finish around the basket at times after strong moves to the hoop, but you have to imagine that the Brooklyn-born star was feeling some goosebumps in his first game at Madison Square Garden as a member of the home team. Don't expect his issues finishing at the rim to continue.

Amar'e Stoudemire, on the other hand, took just 13 shots and finished with 19 points. The Knicks spent a lot of time watching Anthony isolate one-on-one, even more than when Stoudemire was their go-to guy. Expect these two to become more comfortable playing alongside each other as the season winds down and don't expect Anthony to get twice as many shot attempts every night.

The Knicks have struggled to score this season with Stoudemire on the bench but when he fouled out late in the game, it was Anthony who came up big with clutch baskets. His short jumper in the lane between three defenders put the Knicks up six with 26 seconds left and provided the dagger in his Garden debut.

Anthony's arrival may have come just in time; after receiving his 15th technical foul of the season last night, Stoudemire is one eye roll or shoulder shrug away from a mandatory one-game suspension.

What Anthony and Billups didn't bring, outside of four steals between the two of them, was defense. Milwaukee ranks dead last in the NBA in points per game and the Knicks let them score 108 points, the Bucks' third-highest output of the season. The other two came against Toronto and New Jersey, two teams headed straight for the lottery.

It's going to take some time for this team to gel, and not just on the offensive end. Rotations, help defense and communication on switches all take time as new players get adjusted to a new system. It should also help once Mike D'Antoni adds Corey Brewer, one of the Knicks' few defensive-minded players, to the rotation.

The Knicks have another "warmup game" against Cleveland on Friday before taking their talents to South Beach to face the Heat on Sunday night. Last time they visited American Airlines Arena they lost by eight; will the result be any different with a new batch of players?

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