By Tommy Rothman
The Knicks headed down to Texas this past week, into the teeth of the Western Conference for matchups with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks over the course of four days. New York came away from the trip with two wins and one very close loss, a solid showing for any team tasked with venturing into the "Texas Triangle."
New York's first game of the New Year featured a matchup with a well-coached and talented Spurs team that was one rebound away from an NBA Championship last season. The Knicks went in knowing they would need to bring their A-Game to reel in a victory, and they did just that, beating San Antonio by a score of 105-101.
Carmelo Anthony was his usual dominant self, putting up 27 points and pulling down 12 rebounds while also getting his teammates involved with four assists. But the star of the game was Iman Shumpert.
Shumpert broke out of his slump with his best game of the season and possibly the best performance of his young career. Iman finished with 27 points and was on fire from downtown, hitting six of his eight threes -- none bigger than his huge basket in the final minute off a nice pass from J.R. Smith.
Shumpert also had six rebounds and three steals, and the excellent defense he played on Spurs star Tony Parker was just as crucial as his contributions on the offensive end. The Knicks badly needed a big-time win against a big-time team, and they got it in San Antonio.
The Knicks played another excellent game in Houston the following night. Anthony was again solid with 25 points, and Tyson Chandler played his best game since returning from a broken leg, scoring 13 points, grabbing 11 boards, and playing solid defense on Houston star Dwight Howard.
Beno Udrih chipped in with 10 points and seven assists as he directed the offense, and rookie Toure' Murry looked good running the offense and played fantastic defense throughout the game. Once again, the story of the night for New York was Shumpert, who scored 26 points and knocked down all six of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Despite playing a terrific game, the Orange and Blue were unable to come away with a victory. A wild sequence of events made for a hectic final minute after James Harden led the Rockets' comeback. Udrih's shot at the buzzer went in and out and the Rockets got the win by a score of 102-100. Although they lost, the Knicks played very well against an elite team on the road and there were several positives to be taken from this game.
On Sunday night, the Knicks made the necessary adjustments after the Rockets game and came out guns blazing in Dallas, jumping all over the Mavericks en route to a 17-point lead at the half. Although the Mavericks went on a run to make the game close late, the Knicks were never rattled, and a couple huge buckets from -- who else? -- Shumpert sealed the deal and ensured that the Knicks' trip to Texas would be a succesful one.
Anthony played a solid all-around game, finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a highlight block on a fastbreak. Shumpert continued his strong play with nine points on 60% shooting, six rebounds, three steals, and the big shots in the final minutes that put the Mavericks to bed.
Andrea Bargnani was also solid with 13 points, and Kenyon Martin--- stepping in for Chandler after the Knicks' starter left the game early with an illness--- played his best game of the season. K-Mart hit seven of his eight shots as he put up 14 points and grabbed six rebounds. Murry was solid once again as he continued to show his mettle running the point off the bench. Hardaway Jr. put up 10 points and played with incredible intensity on defense, at one point running all the way accross the court to contest a shot and force a miss. Amar'e Stoudemire provided a nice scoring punch in the post with 11 points, two of which came on one of his trademark emphatic dunks. The Knicks ended up with a 92-80 victory as they put the finishing touches on a fantastic road trip.
This three-game stretch was by far New York's best of the season. The team did not get off to the start they would have liked, but there are still many games to be played, and if the Knicks can continue to play with the skill and intensity they displayed in Texas this week, this team can make some noise in 2014.