Monday, March 4, 2013
Failed Adjustments Give Way to a Loss To Heat For the Knicks
Though the Knicks have defeated the Heat twice already this season in quite dominant fashion, the team New York put on the floor in late 2012 doesn't look like the same one that's been competing in 2013.
From the returns of Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, to injuries to the likes of Raymond Felton and Rasheed Wallace, and most recently, the struggles of Jason Kidd, the Knicks have had to overcome certain obstacles and make adjustments throughout the season.
With that all in mind, New York's Sunday afternoon matinee against Miami could have been considered more of a statement game, and more of a true test, than any single contest they've had so far. Would Mike Woodson's squad rise up to the challenge?
Fortunately, for a large audience watching the nationally televised game, the Knicks sure did. With Carmelo Anthony leading the way, his team eventually caught hold of a double-digit lead. But as NBA champions like the Heat truly understand, it's not about how you start a game, but rather how you finish it. With the game on the line, LeBron James took over as he helped Miami come from behind and sink the Knicks' hopes of a victory. As dominant as a player like James is, the Knicks were undoubtedly in this game until the end. If it wasn't King James who caused New York to falter most, then who was it?
Unfortunately, the blame for Sunday's loss should fall heavily on Coach Woodson's shoulders.
To start things off, the James White experiment needs to end. It's understandable that Woodson may want to keep that necessary boost the Knicks receive off the bench present by keeping J.R. Smith on the pine, but the fact is the Knicks need a worthy competitor to begin games too. If New York opted not to play small ball to start games, the likes of Kurt Thomas, Chris Copeland, and now Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby are all available. Each of them would be a better option that White.
White's struggling efforts set a negative tone for the Knicks early on. His three fouls in the first quarter were certainly a result of him defending James (an early mistake in itself by Woodson). One has to wonder if James is so skilled that just about anyone would have picked up those foul calls, but as White committed them, it didn't look as though James was simply getting the benefit of the doubt. The Knicks swingman's fouls not only put him in a tough predicament, but also propelled his team into the penalty early on, giving way to a bevy of early free-throw attempts by the Heat.
Perhaps White's leash is truly running short with Woodson, though. With Anthony owning two fouls late in the second quarter, his coach took him out to avoid a third before the end of the first half. Ironically enough, Woodson subbed in White instead, who as mentioned, had three of his own. That has to be a slap in the face with regard to valuing the guard's potential contributors (or lack there of) for the rest of the game.
Aside from White, Woodson is still having difficulty finding the right balance to his rotations. Finding the right combinations of players who thrive from playing with one another is key. It's also important to know when to pull the plug (if necessary) on players who are cold and can't seem to hit a stride to save their lives. Sometimes allowing these young guns to play through their struggles isn't the best policy if a key game is on the line.
Woodson is a very solid coach, and has proven to be successful where past coaches like Mike D'Antoni failed to in the past. Still, D'Antoni seemed to know who clicked with who. A big part of this is understanding which teammates will set each other up effectively, and where each player needs to be on the court in order to cash in on the easiest of opportunities offensively.
Taking that mindset into consideration, it's clear Woodson hasn't cracked the code for getting players like Steve Novak and Iman Shumpert involved in the offense.
Though Novak is clearly a one-dimensional player at this point, he can still be utilized. That said, he's needs to be planted at the corners to be successful. Not only is the corner three the easiest and closest long range shot, but it's one the forward is comfortable knocking down in his sleep. Why make him fight through screens, only to break open for a second for straight away threes in front of the basket...by the time he goes up to shoot, a hand is already in his face. This may mean Novak isn't all that versatile, but he's nevertheless a piece on the team. There are easy ways to find in order to be able to use him.
Furthermore, Woodson may praise and appreciate Shumpert for his defense, but the fact remains he can be an offensive threat as well. Putting him in place to shoot spot-up threes is not one of those ways, though. A confident neophyte, "Rook" is comfortable controlling the ball and the game's tempo. His coach needs to allow him to do that, so that he can pass around the rock or choose to drive to the basket.
Many fans may blame Smith's poor decision making, and a sloppy last second pass to Anthony as the key to the team's loss. That said, the only reason the game was on the line at the point was because of the team's failures and struggles throughout the entire contest. It's up to Woodson to recognize these things as they come, and make the fine adjustments necessary to keep the Knicks afloat instead.