Knicks facing must-win with flu bug limiting roster

Head coach Mike Woodson doesn't seem inclined to expand his rotation despite offensive struggles. Credit: Getty Images
Head coach Mike Woodson doesn’t seem inclined to expand his rotation despite offensive struggles.
Credit: Getty Images

The Knicks essentially face a must-win game tomorrow night in Indiana, because as good as they are, they do not want to face the prospect of being down 3-1 to the Pacers.

And with such an important game, it should mean that all hands on deck.

But if this series has taught Knicks fans anything, it’s that head coach Mike Woodson only trusts a select few to play meaningful minutes. Woodson’s rotation has been very light on minutes for the fringe guys, even though those same guys have shown they can offer the team quality minutes in spurts.

But with an apparent flu bug that’s going around the team — J.R. Smith had it first, and now it seems that Kenyon Martin is coming down with it — Woodson may finally be pressed into expanding his rotation.

Following Sunday’s practice session, in which both Smith and Martin sat out, Woodson said he might have to change his strategy to more “mixing and matching” the rotation.

“At this stage of the game, most playoff teams are pretty set [in their rotations], but we’re jumping around a little bit now,” Woodson said. “We’ve going to need everybody playing Tuesday night on all high cylinders, because we don’t want to go back home down 3-1. That would be a tough climb for us.”

As the sense of urgency rises for the No. 2-seed Knicks, they aren’t necessarily in a position to be picky, not with Smith giving virtually nothing, Jason Kidd yet to score a point in the series and Raymond Felton shooting 1-of-8 in Game 3.

Defensively, the Knicks are just as solid as the Pacers, as they’re only allowing 87.6 points per game. It’s on the offensive end, however, they’re struggling immensely. In their two losses they shot 43 percent in Game 1 at the Garden and then 35 percent in Game 3 at Indiana. They were also severely outrebounded in those two losses, 44-24 and 44-30, respectively.

The former stat could see a boost with more time for Chris Copeland, while the latter can likely be fixed with more time for Marcus Camby or Earl Barron. Woodson, though, has routinely used eight players in this series, with a sprinkling of Copeland here and there. The Game 3 loss featured eight players — nine, if Amar’e Stoudemire’s 8:56 minutes of action is included as significant help. Steve Novak (1:53 minutes of action), Quentin Richardson (1:48) and Copeland (58 seconds) were nonentities.

The Game 1 matchup saw nine guys check in, not including Camby who only saw 12 seconds of action. Copeland saw limited time, too, but actually had some success by scoring six points in eight minutes. He hasn’t seen much action since, averaging barely seven minutes per game in the series.

The likes of Copeland, Camby and Barron won’t be game changers, but it’s also not absurd to say they can give the sagging Knicks offense and rebounding a boost.

“When you hold a team to 82 points on their floor, you’ve got to think that you’ve got a chance to win. With our team, I never thought we couldn’t score 82 points,” said Woodson. “We definitely need everybody to do more [scoring], but I’m not OK with [Carmelo Anthony] taking three shots [in the fourth quarter], so he’s got to take more shots, too.”

Knicks notes …

» Amar’e Stoudemire said he’s on a 15-minute max policy for the playoffs and added he’s “fine” with it.

“I’ll follow the doctors’ orders. I have no control over what the doctors say. Whatever they say goes,” Stoudemire said. “My job is with the time that I’m out there, I have to be productive and apply some type of leadership and structure out on the court.”

» Smith and Martin did not practice again on Monday, as they’re both still dealing with illnesses. Woodson called Smith and Martin “gametime decisions.”

» Iman Shumpert (sore left knee) also didn’t practice, as the second-year guard said he’s dealing with “a knee bruise.” Although it’s on the surgically repaired knee, Shumpert vowed to play in Game 4.

Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.


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