Knicks take time off to recharge batteries before trip
The Knicks have a few days off to recharge their weakening batteries before heading to London for their matchup with the Pistons on Thursday. And at the core of their preparation is trying to figure out how to not play down to inferior teams.
Swingman J.R. Smith, who has rarely been known as the voice of reason throughout his sometimes tumultuous career, said just because they knocked off the Hornets (11-26) in Sunday’s matinee, doesn’t necessarily mean the Knick s have gotten back on track.
“We’re starting to see progression, yeah, but we were also playing against a team that’s not going to be in the playoffs,” Smith acknowledged. “We’re better than that [tight games against lesser opponents], so we should expect to play better than that.”
Smith knows the rebuilding Pistons (14-24) are up next, and while he doesn’t mean any disrespect toward the struggling franchise, he said he thinks the Knicks need to recognize the huge overall talent gap and come out strong on Thursday.
“We talk about being a championship-caliber team, so games like [Sunday and Thursday] shouldn’t be close,’’ Smith said.
The biggest problem for the Knicks right now has nothing to do with age or injuries — although both are starting to rear their respective heads — but rather how slow the team has started games recently, specifically against lesser teams.
Head coach Mike Woodson has reaped a lot of praise for changing the culture following the Mike D’Antoni era, so he’s also due to garner some criticism for the slow starts. The Knicks have not stepped onto the floor prepared to play lately, and that’s an indictment against both Woodson and the players.
The Knicks have been outscored in 10 of their past 11 games in the first quarter, including Sunday’s tilt, and five of those games occurred on their own home floor.
“We’ll need to get off to a great start, just for own sake,” said Carmelo Anthony. “We need to get out there, get our confidence back, get off to a fast start, and win some basketball games in a row. … There’s no better time for this [trip] than right now.’’
Amar’e Stoudemire, who forms the other half of the Knicks’ bookend franchise players, agreed, saying it’s time for the Knicks to start resembling the squad that began the season on such a torrid pace.
“It takes a lot of energy to always play catch up, so, yeah, you can lose the game in the first quarter,” said Stoudemire. “We need to correct some things and get back on track.”
» Stoudemire’s minutes restriction isn’t necessarily etched in stone, as he’s hovering at about 21 minutes per game. While Woodson said the power forward will remain a reserve for the foreseeable future, Stoudemire is playing efficient minutes. He’s averaging 9.4 points per game and shooting .442 percent from the field. If he does see extended minutes going forward, it could pay dividends for the team, as his per-36 minutes efficiency is already in the team’s top 5 (16.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game).
» Iman Shumpert (ACL) thinks he’ll be back sooner rather than later, as the Knicks’ training team officially cleared him for full-contact workouts. And while he didn’t commit on a timeframe, both he and Woodson have hinted that he could actually get some playing time in London. But more realistically, according to someone familiar with his progress, Shumpert is shooting for his season debut to come during the next Knicks’ home game, next Monday against the Nets.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.