By Dan Kelly @DanKelly_NBA
After a red hot 18-5 start to the NBA season the Manhattan Knickerbockers have stumbled into the All Star break with two consecutive home losses and a 14-13 record in their last 27 games.
They hold a two-and-half-game Atlantic Division lead over their young brother the Brooklyn Nets but issues abound in the Big Apple.
“There are lot of things I think we need to work on but for sure we need to sharpen our defense,” said Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who looked like a proud but exhausted parent as he leaned into the microphone following the loss to the Raptors on Wednesday .
“For sure that is going to be the focal point when we come back after the break…Defensively we havent dropped off a whole lot. I just want to get more consisitency about our play throughout the game…where we can dictate the game based on our defense.”
J.R. Smith, who’s shooting has sunk down to an even 40% (his worst percentage since his second year in the league), echoed Woodson’s thoughts.
“We haven’t been the defensive team the way we started the season,” he said. “We were aggressive, communicating and excited to play and we haven’t done that the last 12 games.”
The Knicks began the season as the No. 1-ranked defense when they were holding opponents to 90 points per game. Since then they have dropped back towards the middle of the league. The Knicks have allowed their opponents to shoot 46 percent from the field this season, which is 19th in the league and they’re allowing 106 points per 100 possessions, which is good for 16th in the league.
Injuries and old bones have contributed to the Knicks average defense.
Jason Kidd, who turns 40 next month, went scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting with two assists in 32 minutes against the Raptors on Wednesday and remains a shadow of the player he was as the Knicks started 18-5.
Defensively, he was repeatedly isolated by the Raptors for easy drives to the rim.
“Probably rest is going to do him (Kidd) some good,” Woodson said. “He’s just gotta re-think some things too in terms of how he can continue to help us. I still got enough confidence in Kidd. He’s gonna make shots when we really gotta have them.”
Rasheed Wallace, 38, has been struggling with a stress reaction in his left foot and hasn’t played since Dec. 13.
He is expected back at practice on Tuesday.
“I’m not saying he’s a definite,” Woodson said. “He’ll probably do some things on the floor. I’m not going to stick him right back in a uniform. Tuesday he should be able to do something. I’m hoping. That’s what we’re banking on.”
Regarding injured center Marcus Camby, also 38 and battling plantar fasciitis, Woodson could only shake his head.
“I don’t know,” he said. “At this point I really don’t know right now.”
Iman Shumpert, last season’s recipe for containing Dwyane Wade and other electric guards, has been working to get back into top form following his ACL tear during last season’s first round playoff series. He’s shown flashes of his signature explosiveness but he hasn’t been the consistent defensive pest that he was a year ago.
Ronnie Brewer, a career-long defensive stopper, has been relegated to the bench since Shumpert returned but Woodson might explore a return to the rotation for Brewer.
“It’s a possibility,” Woodson said. “Right now I don’t like the way we’re starting games. I gotta go back to the drawing board and figure out what we’re going to do in terms of who starts.”
The Knicks’ second half schedule is daunting.
There are 18 road games, nine back-to-backs,and 19 games against teams over .500.
They play Miami and Oklahoma City at home in the first week before going on a five game road trip featuring games at Golden State (30-22), Denver (33-21), the L.A. Clippers (37-17), and Utah (30-24).
“March is going to be a tough schedule for us,” Woodson said. “And guys have got to really lock in get their proper rest and be ready to play.”
Despite the injuries, the defensive issues and the difficult second-half schedule, Tyson Chandler remains confident in the Knicks’ potential to win a title.
“I was just talking to some of the guys…and I was telling them, ‘Look you’re not going to have too many times in your career when you can say that you have a legitimate shot to win a championship,’” said Chandler, who will also play in the All-Star Game.
“I only had that one time in my career and that was the year we won. This year we got a shot. So when we come back we gotta let everybody understand that. You don’t want to pass up an opportunity like this in your career…Because you’ll always look back and wish you could have done things differently.”