The Knicks are still undoubtedly Carmelo Anthony’s team, but thanks to a replenished roster, he’s no longer the whole team.
A couple of road wins lately have confirmed that Anthony is no longer needed to carry the load for an undermanned Knicks squad. Team president Phil Jackson has done what many thought was impossible – make New York a complete roster and relevant again. And by doing so, Anthony isn’t needed to be perfect or go out guns blazing just to give the Knicks a chance at victory.
Whether it’s the more well-known veterans like Kristaps Porzingis, Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, or Brandon Jennings or unsung characters like Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Kyle O’Quinn, or Willie Hernangomez, the Knicks (14-10) are beginning to look like an actual Eastern Conference contender, in large part due to a roster that’s starting to gel and no longer becoming superstar dependent.
Sunday’s win over the pesky Los Angeles Lakers (10-16) was a good sign for a Knicks squad that featured a struggling Anthony, who shot 4-of-12, but still won, 118-112. That’s an occurrence that probably wouldn’t have happened last year or the previous two campaigns when the Knicks missed the playoffs.
He also scored 33 points against the Sacramento Kings two nights earlier, but shot 41 percent on 22 attempts to do so. The Knicks still hung on to win that game, becausethe supporting cast picked up their star.
Porzingis chipped in with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds, Jennings added 13 points in place of Rose (back), and even O’Quinn, who has been an admirable fill-in for the banged-up Joakim Noah, registered 11 rebounds and tough defense on All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, who shot 9-of-25 from the field.
It’s been a different guy each night for the Knicks, and that bodes well for their long-term fortunes.
“All this does is build confidence and trust,” Jennings recently said, noting how well the team comes together in the clutch.
New York is 6-0 in games decided by four points or fewer, which shows guys aren’t afraid of the moment. They’re winning close games late and having a new face regularly step up, much like the Lakers game where the Knicks staved off a furious comeback attempt behind Porzingis’defense, Jennings’s ability to break down the defense, Lee’s timely 3s, and Rose’s clutch shots.
Rose, who missed the two previous games with a back issue, gave the Lakers fits late with easy runners in the lane and a mid-range jump shot that was pristine, en route to 25 points. He noted that while the team is “improving every day,” even they still “don’t know how good we can become.” The Cleveland Cavaliers (17-5) and Toronto Raptors (16-7) are still the cream of the crop in the conference, but the rest of the franchises battling for the remaining six playoff spots need to take these Knicks seriously – and that feels like it’s been a long time coming for the Garden faithful.
-The Knicks are 2-0 on its current five-game road trip, with the Phoenix Suns up next, Tuesday night. Phoenix was the previous stop for current Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek.
-The Knicks are a season-best four games over .500.
-Porzingis became the first player since 1983 to have 25 points, 10 rebounds, (career-high tying) seven blocks, and at least three 3s in a single game when he did so against the Lakers.
-Porzingis, who made a pledge to donate $500 to a Harlem youth club for every blocked shot, was more than happy to cut a check for $3,500: “I was telling teammates not to foul them and I’m going to go for the block. I was able to do that -- and donate some money as well.”
-Jennings, a Compton, California native, earned his first career win at Staples Center.
-It wasn’t a total waste of a game for Anthony in Los Angeles, as he added eight rebounds, three steals, and a season-high seven assists.