The Knicks got back to work Tuesday, expecting to stay in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, while also expecting to see the same players that practiced to remain a part of the team when the trade deadline passes Thursday.
Head coach Mike Woodson saw his aging team limp into the All-Star break on a 1-3 skid, but as Tuesday’s session brought back forwards Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby — albeit on a limited basis — Woodson said he believes what he had on the floor for Tuesday’s workout will be “the same guys” who’ll fight for Atlantic Division and conference supremacy going forward.
“I don't think we have anything working,” Woodson said about the many floating trade rumors involving the Knicks. “You always talk, but we like the makeup of our team.”
Woodson also likes the makeup of his starting five, regardless if Jason Kidd seemingly ran out of gas down the stretch before the break, and shooting guard Iman Shumpert struggled while playing out of position as the starting small forward.
Tuesday was the first time all season all 15 guys on the roster worked out together. The sightings of Wallace and Camby were particularly encouraging, specifically since both forwards offer the type of defensive flexibility Woodson craves.
The Knicks (32-18) have tailed off for an extended period since starting 18-5. And without the services of the 6-foot-11 Wallace, they’ve gone 15-13 since he last played played on Dec. 13. Wallace didn’t practice fully with the team — nor talk to the media following practice — instead choosing to get his foot fitted with protective footwear. But grumpy disposition aside, his teammates were happy to see him back in the mix — although no one knows for sure when he’ll actually return to game action.
Center Tyson Chandler said that he feels with guys like Wallace and Camby back in the mix, the Knicks’ defense will get back to its stingy ways.
“We have to get back on the same page throughout entire games and throughout entire streaks,” Chandler said. “We've shown that we can play with the best, especially in spurts. But in order to be the best, it can’t be spurts. It has to be full-time. … Definitely getting those guys back will help.”
These next few days leading up to the trade deadline will be critical for the Knicks, especially for Wallace. He may be one of Woodson’s favorites, but should Wallace’s stress reaction worsen into a stress fracture, he’ll be of no good to the Knicks. These next few workouts will be crucial, because if Wallace’s foot doesn’t appear to be getting better, the rumors of adding free agents like Kenyon Martin or Louis Amundson will get louder — and make Wallace expendable.
Chandler basically scoffed when asked if distractions like rumors of trading Shumpert or jettisoning Wallace will harm the team’s renewed focus, saying the veteran-laden team knows what it has to do to remain a title contender.
“You’re going to have your ups and downs,” Chandler said. “What you have to do is take a deep breath and understand ultimately what the goal is — to keep your eyes on [the title hopes] and never stray from it.”
» The Knicks better get back on track quickly, because the second-half schedule isn’t very kind to them. New York has 19 games against teams with winning records, including two each against the Heat and Thunder. And while they’re actually 2-0 against the Heat, Miami is looking like a team that’s starting to peak. The Knicks also face the challenge of having only 14 of its remaining 32 games at home, so they can no longer afford to drop games to inferior teams like they did in Washington before the break.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.