The Knicks have a habit of playing down to their competition, until finally shaking the doldrums, and Wednesday night wasn’t any different, as they edged past the hapless Orlando Magic, 113-97.
Although the Magic (14-31) entered the game winners of just two of their last 19 games, they managed to hang tough with the superior Knicks (28-15) deep into the contest. Orlando’s misery continued as they dropped their seventh-straight loss. The game was tug-of-war until the Knicks were able to pull away late — opening up an 14-point lead by the midway point of the fourth quarter — as the undermanned Magic eventually fell to the Knicks’ depth. But the contest was so competitive throughout, that as up until the :52.1 mark of the third quarter, the Knicks’ largest lead was a mere seven points.
Knicks’ head coach Mike Woodson only cares about the end result, though, so he was happy to see his squad able to shake the cobwebs and do what elite teams do, and that’s put away the also-rans.
“We started slow, but I thought the second half was much better,” Woodson said. “We rebounded the ball better and we got enough stops in the second half. Our big guys did a great job, but we also had [Carmelo Anthony] step up, because he’s also a big guy.”
The big guys were spearheaded by center Tyson Chandler, as the All-Star had 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting. It was the first time all season Chandler topped the team in points. He also added seven rebounds and five assists.
The only other big man that’s currently active on the roster, Amar’e Stoudemire, continued his upward offensive arc as he posted 14 points on 7-of-7 shooting. His fellow super-sub, J.R. Smith, contributed 11 points to give the team a spark.
Stoudemire was pleased with his outing, but noted he’s still a work in progress as he’s trying to round out his game.
“I’ve put in the work offensively this summer and it’s starting to come together, but ultimately the defense is where I need to pick it up,” he said, then relishing the idea of playing alongside Anthony more going forward. “It’s going to be great to be on the court at the same time. Experience is the best teacher, so the more we play together and the more we watch film together, it’ll help us improve. … It’s going to be fun to see what happens.”
The Knicks’ bench outscored the Magic’s reserves, 45-27, as three reserves reached double figures, including Pablo Prigioni’s 11 points in 15 minutes. Prigioni is unselfish — almost to a fault at times — so it was a good sight for the Knicks to see his aggressive side.
Woodson continues to stress defense first, but he wondered aloud about all the fuss over the offense. As he tried to emphasize that he’s not worried about the offense, he then ran down the team’s overall offensive statistics.
“We have five guys in double figures this season, so that’s never been a problem and I like that our pace was where it needed to be,” Woodson said, acknowledging that his big scorers are starting to jell together. “As those guys [Anthony, Stoudemire and Smith] play more together, it’ll get better, and it’ll be huge for us going forward.”
The Knicks’ supporting cast was huge, as they had such great balance that Anthony wasn’t needed to take over. The MVP candidate had only 20 points on a pedestrian 8-of-17 shooting, but that’s a good thing, according to Woodson, as it meant the team wasn’t so Anthony-dependent.
Anthony did provide some highlights, though, especially when he broke the franchise record of 30 consectuve games with at least 20 points, besting Richie Guerin’s mark from the 1961-62 season. Guerin’s streak began on the exact same day 52 years ago.
The offensive execution as a whole was great to see, said Woodson, but ultimately the coach said it’s all about the other end, as he refused to let anyone off the hook — especially after the Knicks allowed the Magic starting backcourt to total 50 points, including a game-high 29 points from point guard Jameer Nelson.
“We still have to get better in that area, because everyone is running the pick-and-roll. But there were still some breakdowns and we’ll have to watch the film and figure it out,” said Woodson. “It starts up front with the guards. I thought James [White] was a bit soft early, but we all have to get better in that department. … I expect everyone to defend.”
»Jason Kidd sat out, as the 39-year-old point guard is suffering from lower back pain. Kidd, who battled the same ailment earlier in the season when he missed four-straight games in November, wasn’t able to fight through the discomfort. Kidd has only played 20 total minutes since Raymond Felton returned to the lineup last Saturday night in Philadelphia, but he had the look of someone playing too many minutes anyway while Felton was recovering from his fractured pinkie. It’ll be interesting to see if or when Kidd can return to his level of effectiveness when he wasn’t bestowed the burden of extended minutes.
»Felton looked fresh and comfortable in his customary role, as he had 15 points and nine assists. He set the tone early with 12 points in the first quarter.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.