After a slow start the Knicks turned it on halfway through the first quarter and left Orlando in the dust. A firing-on-all-cylinders win was just what the Knicks needed heading towards consecutive games with Chicago and the Battle of Milwaukee. That’s exactly what they got, winning 96-80. Milwaukee was off last night, so the Knicks are now 1.5 games up in the race for the last playoff spot.
The thing that really stood out to me last night was the play of J.R. Smith and not just because he’s my favorite “sleepy” basketball player. It stood out because it reflects the most significant difference between Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson, at least as far as we can tell by observing what goes on publicly.
On Tuesday night in Indiana, Smith had a crappy game. He went 3-11, had a key turnover down the stretch and was ejected for throwing Leandro Barbosa to the ground (later downgraded to a flagrant-1, but still). As detailed here by Howard Beck of the New York Times, at practice on Wednesday Mike Woodson sat with Smith and talked about the need for Smith to maintain his composure and to be a professional.
Of course there is no way to conclusively establish the connection, but last night Smith led the Knicks as they took control of the game in the second quarter. He went 5-5 in the period, scoring thirteen points. Overall, he had fifteen and nine assists (a career high). I’ve never seen him play like this before.
Smith deserves credit for his play and Woodson just as much for his coaching. He’s a communicator. Not through the media but in person, both on the sidelines as soon as issues present themselves and man-to-man later on. It’s a professional way of doing things and it seems to be working. I’m developing a lot of respect for Mike Woodson and as things stand now, I think he should be the coach of the Knicks next season.
Some other notes:
- What the hell is going on in Orlando? Brief synopsis: Stan Van Gundy confirms for reporters that Dwight Howard wants him fired and Dwight walks in on SVG and the reporters as the press conference is happening and they are talking about him, unaware of what’s going on. And hugs SVG. You could cut the awkward with a knife. Now, Dwight denied that he’s made the request. He also proceeded to come out and score just eight points with his first basket coming with seconds left in the third quarter. Actions speak louder than words, big fella. My take: the Magic coddled Howard and did whatever he asked - adding Gilbert Arenas for one thing. Now they are going to get what they deserve: another year of the Dwightmare. Otis Smith is going to get fired with a reputation for being the worst GM in the league. If he’s lucky the Nets will hire him after they get rid of Billy King. Stan Van Gundy will get fired, which he only deserves in the Mike D’Antoni “he can’t reach the star so he has to go” way. He’ll catch on somewhere. The owner will die without the championship he so badly wants. Dwight’s legacy will be badly damaged, which is what he deserves more than all the others.
- My buddy The Teacher suggested that the Knicks hire both Stan and Jeff Van Gundy next season and install them as co-head coaches. OK, for that I might dump Mike Woodson.
- A ref was nearly killed when Landry Fields ran into him last night. He was fine in the end but Clyde just laughed and laughed and blamed the ref. Seemed a little mean-spirited. Also, the ref laid there like he was dead and then just got up and was fine. I think he flopped. Heyo!
- Carmelo only had to play 28 minutes, which is a very good thing, and finished with 19. That included a ridiculous flying-kicking baseline turnaround for an and-one. He’s locked in right now. Perfect timing. Let’s see if he can keep it up against Luol Deng starting Sunday. Also: he fell for a Jason Richardson pass fake so hard he fell down like a sniper got him. He then came down and drained a three. This is one of many differences between guys like Carmelo Anthony and normal people: he can just forget about shit. When he gets the ball with an opportunity to score, that’s all there is. No memory of the absurd spill he took just a second before. I mean seriously, like Jason Richardson was going to pass.
- Iman Shumpert couldn’t shoot. Then he started working out with Allan Houston. 3-6 last night, 1-1 from three. It’s coming along. A strong nine points for Iman, including a ridiculous put-back dunk at the end of the first quarter that he followed with an awesome guttural scream.
- Toney Toney Toney: The Rehabilitation Project continues. Big strides last night. He finished with fifteen points, six assists and only two turnovers. He shot the ball well, going 7-12. Sure, a lot of that line came in garbage time but Orlando was up 19-11 when he checked in with 4:47 to go in the first quarter. It was 40-33 Knicks when he left with just under seven to go in the second. The Knicks played good defense when he was out there and his willingness to simply move the ball made the Knicks offense ball-movement heavy. A recipe for success.
- Don’t let that be a knock on Baron Davis who had a pretty good game, including a five assist third quarter that featured an old school Baron Davis boogie, with a behind the back between the legs dribble that led to a kickout for a Landry Fields three. He finished with five and five in nineteen minutes.
- Tyson Chandler can guard Dwight Howard one on one. He did it very well last night, holding Dwight (to the extent you don’t chalk the whole thing up to DH being a baby) to fewer than ten rebounds or points. He also added twelve and twelve of his own.
The Knicks beat up on a team that has been ravaged by injuries and is dealing with a great deal of turmoil last night so let’s keep things in perspective. But they played really well and seem to be getting their legs under them. That’s especially true when you add Jared Jeffries’ expected return on Sunday to the mix. Sometimes a win against a mediocre opponent can get a team playing the right way and will carry over. That’s definitely possible right now. The timing couldn’t be better.