The Knicks had a very light day of practice on Monday, perhaps as a reward for the effort they exuded in Sunday’s win against the 76ers. Head coach Mike Woodson was more than obliging in giving a number of the team’s top stars a “recovery day off.”
Woodson was particularly happy with the way the team adjusted to some defensive tinkering, specifically with their trapping defense, as they stymied the Sixers to shoot just 42.4 percent from the field, including 30.8 percent from behind the arc.
The coach is hopeful such a stifling performance can jumpstart a team that’s been in a rut for months, making that 18-5 start to the season a distant memory.
“From a defensive standpoint I was pleased, so that’s what we need more of,” Woodson said, acknowledging that his team needed a win to regain some confidence. “[Winning like that] has a lot to do with it, because when you’re not used to losing, you lose your confidence. Last night was a confidence booster in trying to get our heads back to where we need to be mentally.”
J.R. Smith agreed with his coach about maintaining that aggressive edge and not falling back into a funk. The sometimes erratic shooting guard has never been known for his philosophical approach to the game, but he noted that he noticed a change in the overall mentality of the team during their bad stretch and said it was encouraging to see the team rebound from adversity the way they did.
“I think we can still pick up the intensity even more, [and] be more physical,” Smith said. “We need to start off all the games that way, get to the rim early, draw fouls and get in a rhythm shooting free throws. … We need everybody focused and locked in and not allowing teams to feel comfortable playing us.”
Woodson went on to say that the Knicks need to remain focused and stay the course, even when times get tough as they did during their four-game skid. One of the tasks he presented to his team going forward was to remember that their goals are still achievable — such as staying atop the Atlantic Division (they’re currently in first place) and staying on course to remain a Top-4 seed (they’re currently the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference), which would earn the Knicks homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The real trick to regaining that early success, said Woodson, was to re-establish dominance and not overthink too much when adversity strikes.
“We need to get back to what we do and not let teams get us on our heels. We need to get back to dictating,” said Woodson. “We’re still winning. We’re still atop of the division. It’s not a panic mode type of thing.”
» Woodson was noncommittal about Kenyon Martin’s availability on Wednesday against Golden State. He said it’s still up in the air, but noted Martin was involved in Monday’s light session, working on the halfcourt offense and particular sets: “He might be [available]. It’ll take some time to get him up to speed. He’s been without basketball for a while. We’re just taking it a day at a time.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.