The conclusion of 2013 was a perplexing time for the New York Knicks. Following a 54-win campaign, the team could not replicate the cohesion on and off the floor that propelled them to an Atlantic Division title. Roster changes, injuries, and a loss of bravado placed the Knicks in an uncomfortable spot near the cellar of the Eastern Conference standings.
Before the ball dropped in Times Square roughly 30 miles from MSG Training Center, the team convened for a pivotal period of time to save its season.
“We had three days to kind of reflect and start thinking about where we were going to go as a team after the New Year’s,” head coach Mike Woodson acknowledged after New York captured a win in Philadelphia on Saturday night.
At the time of the three-day mini training camp, the Knicks were coming off back-to-back demoralizing defeats to the Raptors. New York firmly believed it had a golden opportunity to seize control of the division but by falling short, the team dropped to 9-21. In all fairness, Carmelo Anthony was sidelined with a sprained ankle and he did not suit up in three crucial games to end the 2013 calendar year. Additionally, the Knicks were missing their starting point guard Raymond Felton and back-up veteran signal caller Pablo Prigioni.
So, facing a mountain to climb and injury issues plaguing the team, the NBA’s reigning scoring champ returned to practice as New York began the arduous road back to success while searching for the joy that eluded them throughout the first three months of the season.
“That was a big push for us,” Anthony disclosed. “That was a big swing right before we went to San Antonio, some time to really focus on tightening up some things that we needed to tighten up, just taking it one day at a time and that San Antonio game kind of sparked a lot.”
Amar’e Stoudemire agreed with Anthony’s assessment, “Once we get the guys together and play a little bit out there practicing, building camaraderie, going over our strategy and actually scrimmage against each other and try to sharpen up then it turns out that in the games it feels pretty easy for us.”
Despite the injury woes, the Knicks marched into Texas a different team. All of the sudden, the mode of operation resembled the 2012-13 club in wins over the Spurs, Mavericks, and even in the narrow defeat in Houston.
“Going into that Texas trip, we were talking about taking it a half at a time, a quarter of a time, a possession at a time,” assistant coach Jim Todd explained. He later added, “We’re trying to compact every game a little bit more.”
Following a win over Detroit, the real litmus test would occur against the defending champs at Madison Square Garden. In its most impressive outing of the season, New York knocked off the Heat 102-92 without Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith in the lineup.
The “Knicks Tape” seemed to reemerge as Woodson’s crew started to display patience, spacing, ball movement, bench play, and improved effort on the defensive end of the floor. Even Iman Shumpert’s famous flattop appears to be growing back with each big time 3-pointer falling through the net.
“I think for the most part, it’s our confidence as a team now. I said this before, guys are starting to play more relaxed out there, really locking in on the defensive end and that’s starting our offense, getting our confidence back on the offensive end. Guys are just playing like themselves again,” Anthony stated.
In the Knicks 5-1 stretch to start 2014, they own a 107.5 offensive rating and 100.3 on the defensive side. The net rating of 7.2 is a significant jump considering the team registered -8.0 in 13 November games. New York’s effective field goal percentage is 52 percent in January; it is scoring more fast break points and tallying the most points off of opponents’ turnovers this season. From a -7.8 point differential, the Knicks are now registering 6.3 this month. New York has not allowed a team to score 100 points in the recent four-game winning streak that has pushed the squad to 14-22 and a half game out of the top eight in the East.
“This month is important in terms of staying in the race and we’re talking about still winning our division, which I still think can. Every game is important rest of the way out,” Woodson declared.
The dark clouds are starting to separate with the light shining brightly on the New York Knicks. Raymond Felton has returned to the starting lineup, Chandler and Prigioni are expected back in the near future and Woodson’s vision for a healthy team will finally come to fruition. There’s a lot left to accomplish for this team but the three remaining days of 2013 might prove to be the impetus to the Knicks turnaround in 2014.